What We Learned: Vezina Trophy race is wide open now

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What We Learned: Vezina Trophy race is wide open now
What We Learned: Vezina Trophy race is wide open now

(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.)

Just a few months ago, it seemed like Braden Holtby would inevitably win the Vezina Trophy as the league's top goaltender.

There was, of course, a conversation to be had that perhaps a guy like Ben Bishop or Petr Mrazek deserved to be in the conversation, but a lot of that has dropped off as the wins continued to pile up for Holtby. As of Monday, Holtby leads the league with 41, and should become the first goaltender to win 50 in the history of the league. He could, in fact, obliterate the record of 48 held by Martin Brodeur.

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Not that you should judge goaltender quality on wins and losses, of course. You can be a very good goalie with a very bad record if the team in front of you stinks; Cory Schneider lost 31 games last year despite a .925 save percentage. Meanwhile, Kari Lehtonen went 34-17-10 last season despite a save percentage of just .903. So in general that kind of thing can have absolutely no bearing on whether you yourself helped your team's cause. Of course, Holtby has been very good this year (.922) which is just about de rigueur for him. He's been among the league's best for years, and this season could, if nothing else, be seen as something of a record-breaking coming-out party. He hasn't been a passenger for this incredible Washington club, which could go down as one of the best regular-season teams in league history.

However, Holtby hasn't been the actual best goaltender in the league this year. The problem that's left is figuring out who has.

Travis Yost wrote last week about why Henrik Lundqvist should win the Vezina, and it's a pretty good argument. He plays a huge amount of his team's available minutes and has the best 5-on-5 save percentage in the league by a decent enough margin, and for a bad enough team, that you can logically say he's dragging the New York Rangers kicking and screaming to a pretty favorable playoff position. No goalie in the league faces a smaller average shot distance. Without him, they would basically be nowhere.

Meanwhile, Bishop continues to hang around the conversation as well, with a 5-on-5 save percentage to more or less match Holtby's, but a very high overall number as well at .926, good for second among big-minutes goaltenders, and hovering right around where it's been all year. A few months ago, I wrote that Bishop deserved serious consideration for Vezina, and that hasn't changed at all.

And despite the somewhat recent drop-off in Mrazek's play (which will disqualify him from contention in the eyes of many voters, no doubt), he still has a .924 save percentage in all situations behind a team that's not particularly good. His .882 save percentage in his last 10 games leaves plenty of room for doubt, obviously, but before that he was .934 in 37 appearances, so while he's dropped off, he's done so from basically Mount Olympus.

Then there's Corey Crawford, of whom the hockey world seemingly still thinks very little despite the fact that he's been a .917-plus goaltender in each of the last four seasons, and five of the last six. He currently leads the league in overall save percentage, and his 5-on-5 number is top-five as well. Simply put, if the Chicago Blackhawks were relying on anyone else, it probably wouldn't be even be close to the top of the Central. By Yost's reckoning, Crawford probably has probably saved his team about 20 or 21 goals, which is worth four wins all by itself.

So what we have here, then, is a group of five guys who in any other season would probably be comfortably on their way toward clearing a spot on the mantle for the Vezina. Most of them have strong arguments for them, and only two have strong arguments against.

In evaluating goaltenders, quality-adjusted 5-on-5 save percentage is probably the best way to examine actual performance level. That's what controls for the most variables in the “cleanest” game state, and is helpfully also the game state at which by far the most minutes are played. For example, Crawford has played nearly 3,200 minutes this season, and more than 80 percent of them have been at 5-on-5.

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However, I do also think it's important to look at “all situations” save percentage as well, because that does help to effectively evaluate how well they're stopping the puck when shorthanded, at 3-on-3, and so on. Not that these are situations over which goaltenders have a terrible amount of individual control, but you can pretty effectively “steal games” if you're good in these situations. In the NHL these days, the vast majority of games are decided by a single goal and if you're having a good season in specialized situations, I think that merits consideration.

To that end, the chart above provides no surprises that Bishop and Crawford have the two highest shorthanded save percentages in the group, while Lundqvist and Mrazek have the lowest. Bishop and Crawford also check in as having the highest save percentages in the group at 3-on-3, with Lundqvist third and Holtby last.

Moreover, we should also consider the number of shots these guys face on a nightly basis. And when examining just about any gave state in this regard, Crawford faces the most shots per 60 minutes by far. Chicago, it seems, gives up a lot of shots, though not necessarily from the most difficult of areas, but he still has to make the saves.

The game state in which saves are made is a factor very much determined by issues well outside the goaltender's control. It's hard to stop shots when you have fewer guys on the ice than the other team, and it's harder to stop shots at 3-on-3, where odd man rushes and breakaways typically rule of the day. But we give other players awards for luck all the time, such as when they win scoring titles because they shot some absurd percentage. At some point, when the end of the year rolls around, you have to say that regardless of outside issues, yeah, they stopped shots the most often. It's hard to begrudge them that success.

There are just arguments in favor of everyone. Holtby was a great goalie on an even better team and won a ton of games. Probably no one has provided his rather average team with more wins than Lundqvist. Crawford faces more shots a night than anyone and leads the league in save percentage. Bishop is keeping pace with Crawford. Mrazek is very much still in the conversation despite a very rough month.

Point being, it's hard to look at almost any of these guys and say, “Well, he doesn't deserve the Vezina.”

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks are losers of three straight. Quick, take away Boudreau's Jack Adams candidacy before he gets that trophy he's deserved for years! 

Arizona Coyotes: Bad goalie misses almost half the year and returns against the Oilers? You should have seen that 44-save shutout coming a mile away.

Boston Bruins: Know who loves to complain about the OT format? Goalies who lose in it. And hey, the Bruins are 5-7 in overtime. Who would have guessed!!!

Buffalo Sabres: Everyone's talking about the Jack Eichel overtime goal and for good reason, but look at the highlight-reel play on his first of that game. Can't draw up a net drive better than.

Calgary Flames: This is just awful

Carolina Hurricanes: Jordan Staal might think he has some sort of candidacy for the Selke, but he plays in a league with Patrice Bergeron, Anze Kopitar, and Jonathan Toews, so that's just about the end of that discussion.

Chicago: It must be really nice to say, “This team only has 88 points in the toughest division in hockey, so they can figure out all their problems in the last 15 games or so.” Luxury of winning three Cups, I guess. 

Colorado Avalanche: Five Avs within two steps of the puck, and Drew Stafford scores anyway. What a world. 

Columbus Blue Jackets: Brandon Saad is back! Just in time for it to not even matter a little bit and in fact it'll probably hurt Columbus's draft position.

Dallas Stars: Being able to just rescue points like this at will is a pretty useful skill to have.

Detroit Red Wings: Congrats, you beat the damn Rangers. Who cares? 

Edmonton Oilers: What do you mean, “This year?” This implies it was an excuse in the past. And it certainly was not.

Florida Panthers: Sasha Barkov is 5 for 6 in the shootout this season. He was only 1 for 4 last year and 2 for 9 as a rookie. That's better. 

Los Angeles Kings: Remember when the Kings beat the Devils in a Cup Final? That was four years ago and you're old.

Minnesota Wild: Let's just say the Wild are lucky the team against which they are going head-to-head for a playoff spot is coached by Patrick Roy.

Montreal Canadiens: It's a little late for these kinds of stories, folks.

Nashville Predators: Well that's embarrassing

New Jersey Devils: In their last two games the Devils have successfully held the Sharks and Kings to one goal total, in California. That makes plenty of sense.

New York Islanders: John Tavares is already up to 200 goals. Where does the time go?

New York Rangers: The lack of team speed isn't the Rangers' big problem. The lack of competent defensemen is.

Ottawa Senators: Mark Stone and Jean-Gabriel Pageau each had three points in a win over the Leafs. That is a good amount of points for one game, especially for Pageau. 

Philadelphia Flyers: This Gostisbehere kid. He is good.

Pittsburgh Penguins: That sound you will hear for the next six to eight weeks is continuous wailing from Penguins fans. Flyers might just close this gap after all.

San Jose Sharks: This was a pretty impressive win, right here. Another two points for Joe Thornton, too. Ho hum. 

St. Louis Blues: Why would you watch any division besides the Central for the rest of the season? That's where the fun is.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Win nine in a row, lose three in a row. What a roller coaster season for this team.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Imagine the horrible feeling of being swept in a four-game season series by the Ottawa freaking Senators. Yeesh. 

Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks are looking to sign Boston College goaltender Thatcher Demko, a second-round pick, when the NCAA season ends. That's because he's arguably the best goalie in the country this year.

Washington Capitals: The Caps are so good it almost becomes hard to remember John Carlson has been out for quite a while now. He hasn't played since Feb. 24. 

Winnipeg Jets: Mark Scheifele has points in each of his last seven games, and 18 points in his last 12. That is good, in my opinion.

Play of the Weekend

Yeah no kidding. 

Gold Star Award

Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP
Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP

Gotta hand it to Mike Smith. Don't see too many 44-save shutouts in this day and age.

Minus of the Weekend

AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee
AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

In furtherance of the point about wins and losses not meaning anything with respect to goalie quality, Roberto Luongo finished Saturday's game against Philadelphia allowing four goals on just 26 shots and didn't lose.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Year

User “Talisman” is bout it bout it.

Malkin to ottawa

Erik Karlsson to Penguins

Signoff

It's more of an Albany expression. 

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

(All stats via War On Ice unless otherwise noted.)

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