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Better Than You Remember: Roman Cechmanek

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The Czech's much-maligned 2003-04 is underrated. No, really.

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"I don't know what he was thinking." (Rick Nash on Roman Cechmanek)

Nash, then of the Columbus Blue Jackets, was referring to a Cechmanek stickhandling gaffe that led to his squad's win over the Los Angeles Kings. But he may as well have been recapping the Czech netminder's entire NHL career, from the bedazzling stops...

...to the bewildering surrenders...

Most famously, Roman featured and flopped for the Philadelphia Flyers:

"Cechmanek was 92-43-22 in three seasons with the Flyers and had a 1.96 goals-against average, the lowest since 1943-44 among goalies with at least 150 games. But he was 9-14 in the playoffs, and fans tired of his diving, sprawling, flopping style that paid dividends on most shots, but stole the proceeds on other shots." (LA Times)

So in the summer of '03, Cechmanek was exiledfrom Broad Street to La La Land and for just a second-round draft pick. Unfortunately, what would prove to be his North American swan song closed in a shower of Staples boos, and Kings fans have relegated Cecho's 2003-04 to the pre-Quick scrapheap of LOLBarbera, Garon, Storr, Fizz, and weep.

Andy Murray's "joking not joking" quip summarizes Roman's reign well: "I think his style has added about 10 years to my life, which I don't need right now."

But what if one of "The 10 Worst Kings of the Last 10 Years" was way better than you remember? Better than Felix Potvin. Better even, in most seasons, than Jonathan Quick.

For starters, let's review Los Angeles's goaltending in 2003-04:

Year W L T Sv % GAA SO
Roman Cechmanek 2003-04 18 21 6 0.906 2.51 5
Cristobal Huet 2003-04 10 16 10 0.907 2.43 3

Okay, that's not good. Roman appears to have been outperformed by backup Cristobal Huet. Consider too league-average save % that season was .911.

How about we sharpen our focus to even strength save % among goalies who played 41+ games that year?

NHL Rank Team ES Sv %
1 Andrew Raycroft BOS 0.941
2 Dwayne Roloson MIN 0.94
3 Roberto Luongo FLA 0.937
4 David Aebischer COL 0.937
5 Jose Theodore MTL 0.934
6 Evgeni Nabokov SJS 0.93
7 Martin Biron BUF 0.929
8 Roman Cechmanek LAK 0.929
9 Ed Belfour TOR 0.928
10 Kevin Weekes CAR 0.926

Bonjour, Cristobal:

NHL Rank Team ES Sv %
18 Jean-Sebastien Giguere ANA 0.921
19 Chris Osgood STL 0.92
20 Nikolai Khabibulin TBL 0.92
21 Olie Kolzig WSH 0.919
22 Patrick Lalime OTT 0.919
23 Rick DiPietro NYI 0.913
24 Tommy Salo EDM, COL 0.913
25 Pasi Nurminen ATL 0.909
26 Cristobal Huet LAK 0.907
27 Mike Dunham NYR 0.905

This is out of 27 qualified keepers.

So why is even strength save % an important statistic? ES save % "measured over a large number of shots, is a significant predictor of future performance...SH save percentage, on the other hand, is essentially random...lots of shots...give us a better estimate of a goalie's talent level than a small number at any other strength."

So was Cecho's 2003-04's ES success an aberration? Nope:

Year ES Sv % NHL Rank Qualified Goalies
Roman Cechmanek 2000-01 0.932 1 30
Roman Cechmanek 2001-02 0.923 10 33
Roman Cechmanek 2002-03 0.937 2 29
Roman Cechmanek 2003-04 0.929 8 27

Still not impressed? Since 1997-98, the first season that the NHL officially tracked the stat, only four other qualified goalies have finished in the top 10 in ES save % in four consecutive years (qualified means playing at least half that season's schedule):

  • Patrick Roy (1997-03)
  • Roberto Luongo (2000-09)
  • Tomas Vokoun (2005-10)
  • Henrik Lundqvist (2009-14)

Roy, Luongo, and Lundqvist are goaltending giants of their respective eras. Even fellow Czech Vokoun earned some fanfare on retirement.

Coming back to SH save %, Cechmanek was dead last in 2003-04 among qualified goalies with .814, which of course, upset his overall output. Supporting the point about the year-to-year randomess of SH save %, here are his career penalty killing results:

Year SH Sv % NHL Rank Qualified Goalies
Roman Cechmanek 2000-01 0.864 15 30
Roman Cechmanek 2001-02 0.922 1 33
Roman Cechmanek 2002-03 0.878 14 29
Roman Cechmanek 2003-04 0.814 27 27

Well, Roman, it's been in the mail for over a decade, but here's your apology from this Kings fan!

And on that note, how does Cechmanek's 2003-04 ES campaign stack up against other LA keepers since 1997-98?

Year ES Sv % NHL Rank Qualified Goalies
Jonathan Quick 2011-12 0.933 3 30
Jonathan Quick 2013-14 0.929 7 25
Roman Cechmanek 2003-04 0.929 8 27
Stephane Fiset 1998-99 0.92 11 24
Stephane Fiset 1997-98 0.917 12 31
Jonathan Quick 2008-09 0.926 12 31
Stephane Fiset 1999-00 0.917 14 28
Jamie Storr 2000-01 0.919 14 30
Mathieu Garon 2005-06 0.916 14 27
Felix Potvin 2001-02 0.917 16 33
Jonathan Quick 2010-11 0.921 19 30
Jamie Storr 1999-00 0.913 20 28
Jonathan Quick 2009-10 0.919 20 33
Felix Potvin 2000-01 0.911 24 30
Felix Potvin 2002-03 0.907 26 29
Jonathan Quick 2012-13 0.91 26 29
Jason LaBarbera 2007-08 0.916 27 33

Not bad! Remember too that "The Christmas Carp" accomplished this while battling persistent groin and hip injuries throughout the year. And the 2003-04 Kings set the unofficial NHL record with 629 man games lost.

It's a shame that Cecho never received a chance to repair his rep in LA. Jeered out of both Philadelphia and Los Angeles, he remained in the European leagues for good after the last year of his NHL contract was wiped out by the lockout.

Now who knows how the Kings would've fared going forward with Roman? He was nicknamed "The Bipolar Goaler"...by his own teammates (for incidents like this). He came to camp out of shape. He didn't exactly dominate Europe after going home. He perhaps preferred brewing beer (just kidding...and unfortunately, his pub went out of business recently).

But there's reason to believe that Cechmanek could've concoctedpair his ES consistency with a SH rebound, then sprinkle a dash of good health—a 2004-05 (and beyond) to remember.

Special thanks to @TomDanicek for lending his post-hockey Cechmanek knowledge. All stats courtesy of NHL.com.