Photo courtesy of Rob Ferguson. All rights reserved.
Yann Danis is having an amazing season as the number one goaltender for the Oklahoma City Barons. It’s a season that has been unmatched at any other time in his professional career. Statistically speaking, the closest he’s come to resembling this year on the farm was way back in 2003-2004 in his Brown University days. At Brown he was the big man on campus, in terms of hockey. Ivy League recognized and a Hobey Baker finalized, Danis had a pretty nice career with the Brown Bears. But no one could have expected a pro season, at age 30, that he’s currently having in Oklahoma City.
Through 31 games, Yann Danis is number one in GAA (1.94) and SV% (.928). He’s second in wins (21), second in shutouts (5).
Full year-to-date stats:
Through 31 games last season in the KHL his stats were the complete opposite. 3.5% GAA, .910 SV%, 8-17 in regulation, and just overall a defeated player. What a difference a year makes. This last weekend he continued to prove just how solid a player he’s become by not allowing a goal in over 170 minutes of play. Very few goaltenders, in any league, are capable of posting those numbers. He’s considered by some to be the leading candidate for the league’s MVP, and there’s no doubt that he’s been good enough to be considered. Ironically, David LeNeveu is right behind Danis on the stat sheet, but as the back-up he’s played 11 fewer games. But to have two really solid goaltenders in the month of February is absolutely gift from the hockey gods.
So I take a deep breath, exhale slowly, and seek to understand where Danis is at not just on this Barons squad, but where he’s at in the league.
Diluted Goal Scoring
The interesting stat line that evades most of us is goals for when considering minor league goaltending. Simply put, when you look at the goals that teams score it’s interesting to note how often they score. Danis and the Barons play a ton of games inside the Western Division of the Western AHL Conference (nearly half of the now 49 games played). That specific division has only scored 675 times the entire season. By comparison the Midwest and North Divisions are greater at 721 and 689 respectfully. The point being that we also see this in the overall number of saves by Danis which is at 758 – 16th best in the American League. This doesn’t take anything away from Danis, but rather points out two things. First, the Barons are a really good defensive team not just in net. They don’t give up much room in front of their keeper, and they don’t turn the puck over with glaring regularity. Second, the Barons don’t face stout offensive prowess on a game-by-game basis. There just isn’t much scoring going on in the Western Div nor in the Western Conference. The stats are still pretty strong, but with a very minor asterisks.
The ability to have the best goal tending tandem in the league is more than an asset, it’s why and how the Barons win with such consistency. David LeNeveu’s stats are incredible for a back-up guy on a minor league contract. In the important goal tending stat columns, LeNeveu is in the top ten but with 11 fewer games played than Danis. David is certainly the best backup in the minor league business.
Full year-to-date stats:
And although Danis is considered the number one guy, I think he’s also had to earn that title. His really stellar November and Decembers won him the top spot. But being able to rely on the number two guy for consistency also adds to Danis’ effectiveness. When Yann had to miss a game or two for family reasons (new baby) LeNeveu stepped in with little warning, and the Barons didn’t miss a beat. Having the weight of winning on your shoulders can be tough when you are the only guy doing so. Case in point. Ben Bishop in Peoria is a very strong goaltender with Danis-like numbers. He has been a solid part of that St. Louis farm club for three seasons. Behind him in the lineup is Jake Allen, who’s nowhere near the level that Bishop conducts himself. Thus Peoria finds themselves in third place in the Midwest Division. If Jake Allen were to win at least two of the games he’s lost this season (4-10-1 in 16 games) the Rivermen would be closer to first rather than fighting for the third spot. Taking the pressure off the number one guy goes a long way both in the regular season and the post season. Just a year ago, Martin Gerber was the run-away number one tender in OKC, and quite frankly, he had to pick up a lot of slack for Deslauriers. I think that ultimately crippled them down the stretch. That’s not the case this season.
From this point forward, both will need to be exceptional for the team to finish the regular season strong, and make a charge through the Calder Cup Playoffs. Does LeNeveu make Danis a lesser goaltender? Absolutely not. They actually compliment each other nicely.
The Oilers goal tending situation this year isn’t atrocious by any means, but it’s certainly no tea party either. There’s no doubt that Oilers fans want to know, “Is Danis capable in the NHL?”. To which I quickly retort, “Did anyone think Gerber was ready last season?”. The play at the AHL level is quite different, obviously, than that in the NHL. Both speed and pressure are greater. However, if I had to pick just one character trait I admire most about Danis’ work on the ice I’d go with coolness. In a very Martin Gerber like fashion, Danis rarely gets rattled. We all have heard the stories of goalies being somewhat of a strange bunch. Well in most situations they have to be. It’s a high pressure situation. One with which I never want to endure even in an old man league. If a callup were to come, the Barons would survive (see above), but Danis’ success with the Oilers could be fun to watch. With that classic butterfly, Danis is a cool customer who’s also a really smart stick user. Very little gets in on the glove side, the five hole, or over the blockers. You’ll have to go high shoulder corner to beat him, and that’s hard to do with a cool customer that runs angles beautifully.
Tracking his NHL readiness is nearly impossible. But given the chance, I think he’d surprise a few.
Is Yann Danis the AHL MVP? Today, I’d absolutely agree with anyone that said “YES” to that statement. With a lot of hockey to play down the stretch it’s too early to even wager a bet on who’ll finish near the top. It would be an incredible turn of events for Yann given where he has been throughout his career. I like his style. I admire his intensity. And more than anything, he’s a really great human being. Those are a rare commodity in the sports world we live in today. I’m grateful to see him perform feats of hockey that no one saw coming. So I’ll continue to think diplomatically about Danis while simultaneously praising his incredible season.