InGoal Announces Nominees for 2017-18 “Bunny” Larocque Award for Top NHL Backup
Now that the playoffs have come to a close, the next big event in the hockey world (after the Capitals’ continued escapades with the Stanley Cup, of course) is the NHL awards, held on June 20th in hockey hotbed Las Vegas, Nevada. Two goalie-specific awards will be handed out, as always; the William Jennings trophy for least goals allowed by a team’s netminders, and the coveted Vezina award for top goaltender.
Here at InGoal, we introduced a third last season, the “Bunny” Larocque Trophy for top backup goalie. This award goes to the backup adjudged to be the best in his role, as voted on by the writers at InGoal and a panel of professionals including current NHL goalie coaches and retired NHL backups. Last season, we were delighted to have Bunny’s widow, Hélène, present the award to the winner, Scott Darling. The story and video of the presentation and response is utterly pure and heartwarming.
This season, as last, the criteria for the award are as follows:
– Goaltenders must have started (not merely played in) between 15 and 30 games. Below this, and the significance of their contribution is hard to measure. Above it, the goaltender is moving into tandem territory, sharing starts rather than truly backing up.
– Goaltenders must be true backups, not career starters who fall into the appropriate range of games started because of injury.
– Goaltenders will be judged by the significance of their positive impact on the team. Did they make a real difference with their play?
One thing that has changed somewhat is the voting process. This season, the InGoal staff selected five nominees, and these nominees are voted on by the wider panel including the writers and the NHL pros.
Additionally, because of the unique demands facing a backup goaltender, we calculated some non-traditional statistics that give some context to the difficulty of each goaltender’s usage. The first (B2B) is what percentage of starts came in the second game of a back-to-back (2 games on consecutive days) situation. The higher the number, the more difficult usage the goalie faced playing behind a tired team. The second (Home) is the percentage of total games played at home. The lower the number, the higher the difficulty, since teams tend to have more success at home than on the road. The third (Days/Start) shows the average number of days between starts. For backups, higher numbers suggest more difficulty, as sitting for long stretches may dull a goalie’s mental edge.
And now, ladies and gentlemen, we present the 2017-18 nominees for the Bunny Larocque Trophy, in alphabetical order.
After a strong showing in last year’s Bunny vote, Grubauer returns as a contender. His high start number and low back-to-back percentage are telling indicators of his season – when starter Braden Holtby struggled down the stretch, Grubauer took over the crease, performing admirably to set the Capitals up for what would end up being a historic playoff run. If he wins, we expect him and teammate Alexander Ovechkin to find a way to drink from the Bunny Trophy. I wouldn’t bet against them.
In a season where St. Louis Blues starter Jake Allen struggled to find consistency, Carter Hutton stepped in to give his squad a fighting chance all year long. Hutton’s usage is the most favourable of all nominees, with a low back-to-back percentage and high home-start percentage usually more indicative of a starter.
You might be tempted to dismiss McElhinney’s impressive 93.4 save percentage and remarkable 11.34 GSAA as the product of a lucky run over just 15 starts, but there was nothing resembling a “run” of games for the veteran all season. Facing the very worse back-to-back percentage (87%!) and longest average days between games by a significant margin, McElhinney gets full credit for keeping the rust at bay and getting results behind a tired team.
Ryan Miller’s runway-worthy season could serve as a model for backups across the league. While overshadowed by starter John Gibson’s Vezina-worthy performance, without Miller’s excellent results, the Anaheim Ducks would have been out of playoff contention months before the season ended. His back-to-back percentage doesn’t seem too onerous, but it’s made far more impressive by the fact that Miller started both halves of a back-to-back three times during the season, a real rarity for a backup goalie.
After a slow start to the season, Saros showed why he’s the heir apparent to Vezina finalist Pekka Rinne in the Predators crease. His consistently solid performance since his arrival in Nashville has enabled perennial workhorse Rinne to play fewer games, maximizing the veteran’s abilities while gradually developing the youngster’s own game at the highest level.
The following chart shows all the nominees together for ease of comparison, and adds some additional statistical information:
So, kind readers, are these the right nominees? What deserving candidates did we snub? Who do you think should win? We’d love to hear your responses on social media, and in the comments below.