Why Braden Holtby isn’t lock for Vezina Trophy (Trending Topics)

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Why Braden Holtby isn’t lock for Vezina Trophy (Trending Topics)
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The other day on we at Puck Daddy were asked to hand out mid-season awards to various players and teams, and when the question came as who should win the Vezina, I had a pretty easy answer ready to go. 

Braden Holtby.

Shut it down, see ya later. The .932 save percentage through 34 appearances alone makes him the midseason favorite, right? Has to. How about the career .922 save percentage? That makes you think even if he drops off, he won't drop off all that far. Also people are eating up the fact that he hasn't lost in regulation since mid-November, and with good reason.

There are other guys having great seasons, sure. Roberto Luongo, for one. But he's on the wrong side of 35 and, while great, one has to think a season that is this much of an outlier on a team that isn't very good deserves a nod right now but will probably not last the full 82. Likewise, Cory Schneider is keeping a not-very-good team semi-respectable. Corey Crawford has been great. So has Ben Bishop. So has Devan Dubnyk. The list goes on and on.

It's been a great year for goaltenders, if you couldn't tell by the league-wide save percentage of .916 this year, and the top of the league is packed pretty tight. So I got to wondering whether Holtby was as much of a slam dunk as I originally thought.

The first thing you have to look at when considering this kind of thing is, of course, how effectively a goaltender stops the puck. That is, after all, his job.

The two situations in which a goaltender is relied upon most is at 5-on-5 and the penalty kill. You give up a shorthanded goal and that's usually the fault of the team in front of you. That can still be the case for 5-on-5 and the PK, of course, but that's where a goalie is asked to make the saves that get him his paychecks, and it's measure how effectively one does so.

To figure out a decent crop of goalies who could be theoretically up for the Vezina, I narrowed the list down to those who had played at least 1,500 minutes at 5-on-5 prior to Thursday night's games, and who carried a quality-adjusted 5-on-5 save percentage of at least .920. The latter requirement only eliminated Pekka Rinne from the discussion, but Rinne's play dictates that he not be in it anyway. If you can't be .920 at 5-on-5, you have bigger problems than your awards candidacy.

So those two qualifications alone gave us a field of 11 goaltenders, more than a third of the league's starters.

NHL
NHL

As you can see, Holtby and Bishop have somewhat separated themselves from the rest of the pack. One has to keep in mind that it's better to be higher on this than to the right, simply because you play far more time at 5-on-5 than you do killing penalties. And the fact is that Jake Allen's absurd shorthanded save percentage, which is just about equal to what he does at full strength, is kind of breaking the graph anyway.

Bishop and Holtby are not so far behind the other reasonable candidates directly below them (Schneider, Crawford, Quick, Luongo, Dubnyk) in terms of shorthanded save percentage that they should somehow be disqualified from consideration. But the gap for Allen, Martin Jones, and Craig Anderson all necessitate that they be trimmed from the group as well.

So that whittles it down to eight goaltenders that should receive at least some consideration for the Vezina at this point.

Now, when it comes to this group, it's clearly one that's pretty well established as being good in this league, Dubnyk aside. So what separates the very good from the great in this group if all their stats appear very similar on the surface? To some extent, the answer has to be the quality of the team in front of them. Tuukka Rask (who barely missed the minutes cut here) and Tim Thomas before him were often criticized for being “systems goalies,” insofar as they played behind Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, and Zdeno Chara for most of any given game.

Goalies on good teams often get maligned in this way, though it must be acknowledged that the jury is still out on whether teams have an influence on shot quality in the long-term. Shot volume, there's no question, but quality is hard to nail down. Nonetheless, we can only judge these guys on what they've done, rather than what they're likely to do, so with this in mind, it's important, I think, to look at how often these guys are facing shots of varying quality, and what they're doing to prevent those shots from going into the net.

That is to say, if a guy faces 650 shots at 5-on-5 over 35 games, what percentage are high-, medium-, and low-quality? And how is he handling what the other team offers?

And this might surprise you, but the guy who faces more high-quality shots on goal per 60 minutes is Ben Bishop, for whom 27.2 percent of the shots he faces are from high-danger areas right around the net. No one else is north of 26.6, a spot occupied by Jonathan Quick. Current Vezina favorite Holtby is fourth among these eight goalies, but well behind the pack at just 24.9 percent.

Interestingly, the order of largest percentage of high-quality shots faced is nearly inversely proportional to the number of total shots faced. Bishop has faced the fewest shots at 5-on-5 of any goalie in the group, quick is next, and so on. Only Corey Crawford is getting hung out to dry, facing more shots than anyone here, but also the third-highest percentage of high-danger chances.

But that doesn't address the ability of these guys to actually stop the shots they're facing. So when it comes to save percentages across the various types of shots they're facing, you often get widely disparate numbers. For example, Lundqvist has the seventh-lowest save percentage in the group on high-danger chances, but is third and second on low- and medium-quality shots, respectively.

But when it comes to across-the-board quality, Holtby is clearly having the best season. He is, in fact, the only one in the top half across all three categories.

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NHL

Bishop, however, really isn't all that far behind him, and if the Lightning get hot — which they very easily could, based on the talent level throughout the lineup there — there's no reason to think his name doesn't get moved much farther up the list than most people likely have him right now. Again, he's a little better than Holtby in terms of both 5-on-5 and shorthanded save percentage overall, but the fact that his team hasn't been that good is clearly hurting his candidacy. His name has barely been mentioned this entire time.

So these are my two guys right now, but which one is playing better?

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NHL

Clearly Bishop has hit a little bit of a slump after a lengthy run of supreme success, but seems to be coming out of it, while Holtby has been consistently great since around Game 9, when he broke out of an early-season funk.

In short, this award is a lot more up-for-grabs than a lot of people, myself included, give it credit for.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

All stats via War on Ice unless otherwise stated.