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Breaking Down the 2014 Vezina Trophy Candidates

Breaking Down the 2014 Vezina Trophy Candidates

Battle For VezinaTuukka Rask, Ben Bishop and Semyon Varlamov have been announced as the Vezina Trophy candidates. All three goaltenders have a decent chance of actually winning, but which one deserves it most?

Sergei Bobrovsky will not repeat as Vezina Trophy winner after having another solid season with the Columbus Blue Jackets. His numbers were good, but he was up against some very stiff competition this year. There has not been a back-to-back Vezina Trophy winner since 2007-2008, when Martin Brodeur repeated for his fourth career Vezina Trophy. It is also the first time since 2008-2009 that all three candidates are receiving the first nomination of their careers.

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The Vezina Trophy is awarded to the goaltender deemed “best at his position” over the course of the season, and that broad description always makes for heavy debate. The question is not which goaltender is most valuable to his team, it is which goaltender is the very best at his position. When comparing the statistics of the goaltenders that have been nominated, there are a few other things to consider.

As opposed to previous years, the sheer amount of information available has increased tremendously.

In the late 70s and early 80s, goals-against average was heralded as the important statistic to look at. Even save percentage was not easily available for many people to look at. Today, save percentage, even-strength save percentage, penalty-killing save percentage and more advanced statistics like goals saved above average paint a much better picture of a goaltenders’ individual performance.

Work load is the other major deciding factor. Shot quality would be a factor, and some excellent work is being done by Chris Boyle over at Sportsnet to track every shot for analysis, but it’s still difficult to come to any conclusions with the information that is available.

So let’s break down this year’s Vezina nominees based on the amount of action they saw and their various save percentages to see if there is a clear front runner.

Save Percentage

NameSave % (All situations)Even-strength Save %Penalty Killing Save %
Tuukka Rask.930.941.873
Semyon Varlamov.927.933,892
Ben Bishop.924.932.900

Tuukka Rask has the best save percentage 5-on-5, but his numbers took the largest dip on the penalty kill compared to the other Vezina candidates. Ben Bishop had the best save percentage on the penalty kill, being the only goalie to stay above .900, but his 5-on-5 numbers were the poorest. Semyon Varlamov’s numbers were right down the middle in all situations.

An argument could be made that Ben Bishop is the goaltender that rose up the most during the high-pressure situation of a penalty kill, but you could call it a wash because his 5-on-5 numbers were the lowest. Rask’s 5-on-5 save percentage was only .008 and .009 higher than Varlamov and Bishop respectively, but his penalty killing save percentage dropped .019 and .027, so the difference is much greater.

Give the edge to Bishop.

Shots Against Per Game

Tuukka Rask29.
Semyon Varlamov33.232.231.532.933.237.235.630.7
Ben Bishop29.428.131.627.331.229.629.326.9

Workload is the other major factor, and as the chart above shows, Varlamov was the busiest goaltender of the group by a fairly wide margin. Boston and Tampa Bay were actually middle-of-the-pack teams when it came to shots against per game, but Colorado gave up an abnormally high amount of shots. It was well publicized how much the Avs relied on their goaltenders, and that was one of the main reasons Varlamov only ended up with 2 shutouts on the season.

In Rask’s most challenging month, he faced 30.3 shots per game in December. It was still easier than Varlamov’s easiest month, when he saw 30.7 shots per game in April. Of the group, Rask also appeared in the fewest games at 58. Varlamov faced 40+ shots a total of 10 times, while Bishop faced 40+ shots five times, and Rask was shelled for 40+ shots only three times in the entire season.

Rask had a harder road than a lot of people are giving him credit for, but it was still nowhere close to the type of season Varlamov had. Even though Varlamov faced an average of only four more shots per game than Rask, over 60 games that equates to 240 more shots against, which is roughly another 20-25 goals against that you can’t fault Varlamov for.

Goals Saved Above Average is the other major statistic to review when trying to decide who should win the Vezina Trophy. If you’re unsure what that statistic involves, take a look at this previous article that breaks it down.

Ben Bishop led the league for most of the season, but a torn tendon in his right wrist slowed down his pace in the second half. He ended up finishing fourth in the league, saving the Tampa Bay Lightning 18.48 goals compared to a league-average goaltender this season. Carey Price was third, and the two other Vezina candidates finished in the top two spots. Despite facing less action, Tuukka Rask still finished very close to Semyon Varlamov thanks to his sparkling save percentage. Rask saved the Bruins 26.40 goals this season, and when you combine that with Chad Johnson’s 8.01 GSAA, it’s clear that the Bruins received some fantastic goaltending this season.

Nobody was as good as Varlamov, though. He finished with a league-best 27.45 GSAA this season.

Semyon Varlamov has been working hard to simplify his play on, and movements to and off, the posts. (InGoal photo by Scott Slingsby)

Semyon Varlamov made a lot of strides under Francois Allaire and is a worthy Vezina Trophy finalist – and maybe winner. (InGoal photo by Scott Slingsby)

If you took a goaltender with a slightly-below league average save percentage like Antti Niemi at .913, and applied it to the amount of action Varlamov saw, you get some surprising results. Niemi would have finished with a 2.89 GAA (instead of the 2.39 GAA that he finished with), and would have allowed 29 more goals against than Varlamov did. That would have turned Colorado from a +30 goal differential team into a +1 goal differential team. They probably would have still made the playoffs, but they would have been scrambling with Minnesota and Dallas to get in. Varlamov alone turned the Colorado Avalanche from pretenders into legitimate contenders.

With everything taken into account, it’s easy to argue Varlamov is the most deserving goaltender to win the Vezina Trophy. He faced the most amount of action out of the candidates by a wide margin and still continued to put up incredible numbers. If Varlamov does end up winning the Vezina Trophy, he will be the first goaltender to win it in Colorado Avalanche history. The changes he has made with coach Francois Allaire have turned him into a Vezina calibre goaltender, and a poor possession team like the Avalanche are lucky to have him.

About The Author

Greg Balloch

Greg Balloch is a Vancouver-based writer for InGoal Magazine, broadcaster for Sportsnet 650, and goaltending coach. His career began in Hamilton, Ontario with the Junior 'A' Hamilton Red Wings, before moving to Vancouver to cover the Canucks on the radio and work with the Surrey Eagles of the BCHL. A lifelong goaltender, he has been teaching the position for over a decade.


  1. Paul Ipolito

    If Varlamov wins (As he should), the Anti-Allaire Squad will have a difficult time spinning that story. Isn’t Allaire the guy that ruined two goalies in Toronto a few years back? Funny, that.

  2. BeninLondon

    It is also kind of interesting to note that Rask was the only one of the finalists whose back-up had a positive GSAA. In the case of Bishop/Lindback, Lindback actually ended up with a -13, that is quite a swing. This might seem more like an argument for MVP to the team but I think that it could also be used to show that the system is Boston could be more ‘goalie-friendly’ compared to one in Tampa or Colorado.

    • Greg Balloch

      Really, really good point!

  3. Matt in Montreal

    Excellent breakdown!

  4. B

    Varly, and it shouldn’t be close.

  5. Mike

    Varly by a landslide. If anybody has watched the the Avs all year they’d know that blue line is porous on their best day. The man-to-man defensive system means few blocks and more shots getting through to the net, especially with a group of younger forwards trying to implement that system. He carried the Avs on his back for long stretches this season, especially during the end when Duchene was hurt and they turned into a one line team. If Rask gets it, that will be a pretty definitive example of East Coast Bias in lots of people’s opinions.

    • Jim E

      Varly is most deserving for sure. He is big, athletic and a sound technician with great positioning. He will only get better under Allaire’s guidance. But it is not just the goalie coach, it is Varly’s drive and work ethic that brought his game up to this level. He put up incredible numbers, and if he would have had a more seasoned and stinchy defence, would have totally blown everyone else away. Hats off to him on a very fine season.