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Vezina Race: What Do The Numbers Say?

Vezina Race: What Do The Numbers Say?

Now that the season is over, it’s time to hand out the awards. This year’s Vezina race is a close one, with a number of players working their way into the conversation. There will be a lot of statistics tossed around this year, sometimes haphazardly. This is a good time to take a closer look at them. Overall, the numbers indicate that the most well-rounded season isn’t that of popular Vezina frontrunner Braden Holtby or Rangers hero Henrik Lundqvist at all.

Marc-Andre Fleury probably deserves more credit more his performance than he has gotten this year.

Marc-Andre Fleury deserves more credit for his performance than he has gotten this year.

Statistics are, of course, only part of deciding who deserves to be “adjudged the best at his position,” in the words of the award criteria. The General Managers, when voting for the award, tend to use criteria such as overall save percentage and GAA, but these aren’t really the most informative statistics we have available to us. In debating who should get the award (as opposed to predicitng who will get it), I’d argue for using a different set of measures.

So what statistics are the best to look at?

1. 5v5 save percentage – This covers the majority of the time a goaltender sees in a season and gives a broad starting point for comparing seasons to each other. It is preferable to overall save percentage because it compares apples to apples in terms of manpower.

Braden Holtby is the popular frontrunner for the award.

Braden Holtby is the popular frontrunner for the award.

2. PK save percentage – Still, penalty killing is a critical skill for a goalie. Some players who do well at 5v5 don’t do well on the penalty kill, where luck may have a greater impact or where their weaknesses may be more exposed. However, since every goaltender sees a different amount of time shorthanded, it’s best to separate it out for evaluation, rather than combining it with other situations. Again, apples to apples as much as possible.

3. High Danger save percentage –  “High Danger” shots are shots from the slot plus some rebound and rush shots not taken from the slot. These are known to have a lower save rate league-wide and HD save percentage makes up most of the difference between goalies in the NHL. Used in conjunction with 5v5 save percentage, HD save percentage helps to differentiate between an elite season and a good one.

4. Adjusted GSAA/60 (also called Mercad/60) – GSAA is Goals Saved Above Average. It compares the goals a goalie saved to the number of goals that would have been saved at league average save percentage on the same volume of shots. collects this stat but doesn’t separate out either 5v5 time or take into account the amount of time a goalie has played.

Adjusted GSAA uses location data in the NHL play by play files to determine how many or fewer goals a goalie has saved than a league average save percentage on the same volume of shots in each of three danger zones–high, medium, and low. In other words, adjusted GSAA applies save percentage in each zone to shot volume in each zone to get a “better/worse than average” number.

5. Adjusted Save Percentage – Found at, Adjusted Save Percentage applies this location adjustment to a goalie’s 5v5 save percentage to get a sort of normalized save percentage. While it is generally considered an improvement over 5v5 save percentage, my concerns about it have been growing recently. I don’t think it tells us what we have been assuming it does and I will thus weight it much less heavily than others will. But for the time being, it is part of the equation and so I present the data here.

After pulling the data from (or via Nick Mercadante on twitter in the case of AdjGSAA/60),  I made a cutoff of 50 games played, which is a minimum for being considered for a season-long goaltending award. That gave me 20 goalies to consider. I ranked them by each of the above statistics. Then I simply weighted each player’s rank by the following formula. Lower scores are better.

(5v5 sv% + HD sv% + AdjGSAA/60) + (2 x PK sv%) + (3 x Adj sv%)

Thus goalies who ranked better in the most important measures were rewarded more than those who ranked better in the less important measures.

This table shows the ranking in each stat for every goalie who made the top ten in any of the measures. [For AdjGSAA/60, ranking is among those goalies who faced the most shots, above around 1000 shots at 5v5, or those who show up in blue in the graph found here.]

 5v5 Sv%PK Sv%HD Sv%AdjGSAA/60Adj Sv%Rating

Notably, although Corey Crawford’s name has floated around edges of the Vezina conversation for a little while, this method ranks him and Marc-Andre Fleury higher than most other analysts do. Ben Bishop is ranked third mostly on the strength of his penalty killing results, while Henrik Lundqvist and Steven Mason are both dropped from the top ranks because of their HD and PK results. A stronger weighting for Adjusted Save Percentage, making it equal to the top three measures, would not change the top four goalies, but Schneider would jump to fifth and Holtby to sixth.

Of course, none of this predicts who actually will win. It just shows that when looked at using the set of measures that best capture all aspects of a goaltender’s season, Crawford and Fleury have the strongest statistical cases for the award.

About The Author

Clare Austin

Clare Austin is a reluctant "stats nerd" living in Nashville, where she has never worn a cowboy hat or boots.


  1. John Alexander

    Interesting article, Clare. Perhaps this type information could/should be part of the Vezina race discussion by those who select. It does point out some revealing informaiton. However, I am unsure it analytics have quite “made” it there yet, But perhaps, some day

    • Clare Austin

      I would never say that this is “the” answer. It’s my best shot at looking at the statistical side of things. “Advanced” stats for goalies are really not very advanced and these all have problems. But it’s what we’ve got to work with at the moment.

  2. Steve

    Great analysis, and thanks for not taking each metric at face value. Stats like these are in my opinion more crucial to consider than team-based stats like Wins and GAA, but we all know those are like Wins and ERA in MLB for the Cy Young – they have and will continue to dominate for quite some time. They are not completely valueless though, as we goalies know how our performance can inspire or sink a team even if we’re not facing a lot of shots. Wonder if we can take those into account, as well as a metric that tracks the consistency/volatility in a goalie’s performance from game to game.

  3. Ralph

    If you would remove, say 4 of all these goalies worst games I wonder how it would affect the rankings. I truly think it would put Crawford over the top far beyond all others.

  4. Nadim Adatia

    I think the most interesting thing about the Vezina, from the perspective of how the winner is selected, is what the number’s DO NOT say. As we know, politics plays a role (like the Oscars) in picking the best goaltender of the season and there are lots of components (that the numbers are trying to incorporate) that are un-written rules: The candidate in question must play more than 50% of the team’s games, the team must make the playoffs, etc. But I also think there is something intangible in determining if the goalie “won” the team games (almost) single handedly, strung together key wins vs. tough division opponents or during playoff clinching runs. There are also some interesting statistics, that we as goalies consider when determining “greatness” that ought to be considered: consistency, bounce back (after loss) performance would be interesting to evaluate also.