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At age 33, Rob Zepp certainly does not qualify as a prospect in the traditional sense. He’s basically a known commodity, a career European player who, thanks to injuries, got a chance to finally play in the NHL.
Now, with Ray Emery’s contract expiring, the Flyers will be in the backup goalie market next season. The leading internal backup option is obviously Rob Zepp, so while he’s not a prospect in the traditional sense. Let’s at least try to set a benchmark as to what he could do if given the job for a full season.
There are two real issues at play here. First: we must establish Rob Zepp’s talent level. This will be established using NHLE’s for SV%. Second: we must predict the expected progression in play from a 33 year old goalie to a 34 year old goalie.
Establishing Rob Zepp’s talent is a bit trickier. Save percentage is the best indicator of a goalie’s talent, but having faced fewer than 150 shots at the NHL, the sample size is irrelevant in telling us anything. His .889 isn’t impressive, but it’s likely far lower than Zepp’s actual talent level.
Luckily, it’s possible to attempt to extrapolate an AHL-NHL Save Percentage. While the results show, that goaltending is volatile, a .918 goalie in the AHL will likely produce a .911 SV% at the NHL level, at least, that’s the average. Luckily, Zepp seems to be out-performing the average AHLer who made the jump as he posted a .921 AHL SV% in 672 shots of work. While that sample is a bit small, we can turn to Zepp’s .927 regular season SV% in the DEL since the start of the 2012 Season and hopefully conclude that .921 is a legitimate number. Sadly DEL to AHL SV%’s equivalencies do not exist at the moment due to issues with sample size.
Since goaltending is volatile, we’re better off setting a best case and worst case scenario. The best case is Zepp’s DEL .927 and AHL .921 are true indicators of his talent. The AHL .921 translates to a .914 in the AHL based on the proportion from Habs Eyes on the Prize. A .914 SV% would actually make Rob Zepp basically a league average goalie given the NHL average SV%’s over the last 5 years.
If Rob Zepp is a .914 goalie; he deserves the backup the job. He’d be solid behind Steve Mason as a number 2 and ready to step in if Mason can’t shake his injury woes.
So the worst case option; his NHL .889 on 135 shots is his actual talent level. Well; an .889 is likely too low, given Zepp’s limited AHL work. If anything, his low end talent comes in at replacement level .902; which leaves Rob Zepp in the same boat he’s in now, AHL-NHL flip flop third goalie.
So, in short, projecting Rob Zepp puts him between replacement level and league average. That does in fact make him a backup. The decision would be, how does age affect him? And what is the risk/reward with Steve Mason’s health?
Rob Zepp is 33. He’s not getting younger and likely not getting better. To figure out what the drop off is from 33-34, we can look at the below table from Hockey-Reference that compares several recent goalies who played their age 33-34 seasons in the NHL with 20 or more games played.
Ryan Miller, Scott Clemmensen and Mathieu Garon all basically stayed the same. Nick Backstrom fell off a cliff while JS Giguere and Roberto Luongo actually showed massive improvements.
So, we only have 6 goalies who hit the qualifying amount of games over their age 33 and 34 seasons. Three were the same, one fell apart and 2 improved.
All this really does it make it safe to conclude that goaltending is volatile. You never really know what you are going to get in small samples. For every Michael Leighton miracle, there’s evidence of an Ilya Bryzgalov meltdown.
Zepp might adapt to the NHL and be a solid backup, if so, signing him to backup Mason next season would be wise. However, given the volatility of goaltending projections across leagues and given that Mason may need a lighter workload in order to stay healthy, the Flyers might be wise to let him walk or sign him to a 1-way contract below the AHL-bury threshold and hope he survives waivers.
In a perfect world for the Flyers, Zepp actually hits the high end .914 talent level as a cheap backup next season giving the Flyers two solid NHL goalies.
However, for the sake of caution with Mason’s health, the Flyers might be wise to return with Zepp as the third goalie and get a better option via UFA or trade as the backup.