Earning the Vezina 2018, Part 1: Who’s Going to Win (but maybe shouldn’t)
Every other list of Vezina (top goaltender) finalists is fatally flawed because they unwittingly conflate 2 distinct kinds of evaluation: who is likely to win based on common voting patterns, versus who should win based on superior goaltending. The difference between the two arises from a discrepancy between what the voters (general managers) see and value in goaltending performance, and what the growing depth of statistical information can tell us about the same.
Part one of this series examines (with reference to previous in-depth InGoal research) who the general managers are most likely to choose based on their historical biases and tendencies, an analysis not of goaltending performance, per se, but of how that performance is viewed by the people who decide the award.
Part two will take the analysis to another level, using more advanced statistics to go beneath wins and raw save percentage to get a better picture of who really earned the Vezina, when as many variables as possible (like shot difficulty and performance above expectation) have been taken into consideration. This is the analysis the GMs should do (or have someone do) before casting their ballots.
Below, you will find Part 1, the “who should I bet money* on winning?” list. Part 2, the “who really should have won” list will follow tomorrow.
Pekka Rinne is going to win. This should come as no surprise, but let me explain why it’s going to happen.
If you want to know who’s going to win the Vezina trophy in a given year, the (unwritten) rules general managers follow when voting are outlined here. To summarize, the winning goalie should have the highest raw save percentage among those who have played over 50 games (55+ is better), sport a winning record, and make the playoffs. A low goals-against average and high number of shutouts are useful tiebreakers. Reputation and a very high wins total can – rarely these days, thankfully – drive votes to a goaltender who otherwise wouldn’t be in the running (Like Braden Holtby in 2015-16), but require highly improbable records (like 48+ wins, meeting or exceeding the all-time mark). This season, things look likely to be very predictable.
Among goalies playing at least 50 games, Pekka Rinne leads the NHL in save percentage (92.7%), has 42 wins in 59 games played (good for third), has the lowest goals against average at 2.31, and is tied for the league league in shutouts, with 8. Though it’s slightly more than a basic statistic, goals saved above average (GSAA) has been a very good predictor of Vezina success, because it combines two measures general managers value highly – save percentage and games played (really total shots faced, technically speaking) – to show how many goals a given keeper saved above league-average. As you can see here at Hockey Reference (click on GSAA to sort by it), Rinne ends up on top of the pile once again. It would be a huge surprise, flying in the face of very well-established trends, if anyone but Rinne won the award this season.
As far as likely finalists go, I think John Gibson’s strong season (2nd-ranked 92.6 save percentage in 60 games, 2nd in GSAA) is going to be overshadowed by the story of Connor Hellebuyck’s impressive bounceback. His 92.4 save percentage and tie for the most wins (44) checks the boxes general managers prize. Andrei Vasilevskiy, tied with Hellebuyck for the lead in wins, and Rinne for the most shutouts, was the Vezina frontrunner for three-quarters of the season, and, I believe, had already done enough by that point to secure enough votes to be the third finalist, despite his poor final quarter and relatively low 91.9 save percentage. Expect Antti Raanta and especially Marc-Andre Fleury to garner some votes for excellent seasons despite injury keeping them below the unofficial minimum 50-game threshold. Fleury gets an additional boost because of his exceptional narrative: a fan favourite in Pittsburgh, beloved by all, gracefully ceding the net to his heir as he rides off to certain doom with a terrible expansion franchise – but lo! – the terrible team is not terrible and Fleury has a career season as a central part of a historic rookie franchise. It may even be compelling enough for him to sneak into the top 3, but I think it’s a long-shot.
And so, to summarize:
Expected Finalists (in order)
You can take that (especially the winner) to the bank*.
If Rinne is the likely winner, who, you must be asking, is the most deserving? One hint as you await the answer in Part 2: his name appears nowhere in Part 1. (Click here to see Part 2)
*The “lawyers” would like to clarify that InGoal Magazine does not actually recommend betting on this award, and assumes no liability for any such losses.