The NHL has announced the three finalists for the Vezina Award, given each year to the league’s best goaltender, as voted on by the league’s general managers. Vying for the trophy at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas this June will be the Winnipeg Jets’ Connor Hellebuyck, the Nashville Predators’ Pekka Rinne, and the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy. This is the first nomination for Hellebuyck and Vasilevskiy, while Rinne has previously been up for the award three times.
At first glance, the three nominees are not surprising. All three have had great seasons and are clearly among the top goaltenders in the league. However, hockey analytics guru Rob Vollman makes a pretty good case for why the evaluation process my be flawed. As Vollman points out, the only category in which the trio were tops in the league is wins, a statistic based entirely off of team performance, not individual performance. Hellebuyck and Vasilevskiy led the league with 44 wins, while Rinne was right behind with 42. Yet, only Rinne was top three in the league among goalies with 41+ starts in save percentage, quality starts percentage, and goals saved above average, Vollman’s stats of choice. By those standards of evaluation, Vasilevskiy should have been nowhere near Vezina contention. Instead, Vollman’s poster boy for proper evaluation is the Anaheim Ducks’ John Gibson, who was a top-four finisher in each of those three categories and a top-ten finisher in wins. Also garnering some more attentions should have been the Vegas Golden Knights’ Marc-Andre Fleury and the Arizona Coyotes’ Antti Raanta, both of whom were excellent statistically, but lacked the number of starts and wins that are apparently requisite for Vezina contention in today’s NHL.
It’s no surprise that the three contenders for best goaltender are who they are. However, that doesn’t mean it’s correct, especially in a season so many other obvious choices. General managers surely do not evaluate goalies based on wins alone when evaluating them for acquisition, so why does a clearly-flawed statistic hold so much weight in the Vezina race? It’s a question worth asking and Vollman’s reaction, as well as others’, may change the voting results come next season. In the meantime, look for Rinne to finally take home the hardware this year in his fourth try, a result that was likely even with proper evaluation.