With two weeks left in the NHL regular season, it’s time to take a look at some of the Lightning stars and see if any of them can bring in some individual hardware. In this piece, we’ll look at everyone’s favorite goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy, and his case for a Vezina Trophy.
We’ll look at a variety of statistics to come to a conclusion. Before we begin let’s get some of the noise eliminated from the conversation. It’s always befuddled me why wins and goals against average (GAA) are so important to the general managers (the group who votes for this award) when those are team stats more than a goaltender’s.
You’ll note that nearly every Vezina winner in the past 20 years has won between 30-48 games. That’s merely what the general managers look for, and it’s not wholly representative of the goaltender. I’m not a general manager so I won’t be taking wins into account for my pick, however, I cannot dismiss it completely given the importance GM’s put on that statistic.
The stats that we will be looking at will be save percentage (SV%, at all strengths), goals saved above average (GSAA, both overall and 5v5), high danger save percentage (HDSV%, 5v5), shot volume, and games played (though, this is to establish a threshold). The lowest amount of games a Vezina winner has ever played in the salary cap era was 38 when Sergei Bobrovsky won the award during the lockout shortened 2012-2013 season. Every other Vezina winner played 40 or more games in a season, so we will use that as our cutoff.
A quick note on GSAA if you are unfamiliar with the stat. GSAA represents the goals a goaltender has not allowed compared to a league average goaltender. Thus, Vasilevskiy’s overall GSAA of 27.65 means he’s allowed 27 less goals than the average NHL netminder would under his workload.
Here’s how Vasilevskiy ranks among every NHL goaltender who’s played at least 40 games this season.
At all strengths, Vasilevskiy has seen the ninth most shots against this season and has posted the third best save percentage. He trails only Ben Bishop (0.932) and Robin Lehner (0.928). His high danger save percentage ranks 18th in the league while his goals saved above average ranks second (trailing only Bishop’s 28.60).
At 5v5, Vasilevskiy’s seen the 11th most shots against and has posted the fifth best save percentage. Thomas Greiss (0.937), Bishop (0.935), Lehner (0.933), and Matt Murray (0.930) are the only goaltenders ahead of him. His HDSV% ranks 19th in the league while his GSAA ranks sixth behind Bishop (16.42), Greiss (15.80), Frederik Andersen (14.41), Murray (13.87), and Lehner (13.23).
The only blemish on Vasilevskiy lies in his high danger numbers. They’re not terrible, but they aren’t at the top of the league. This is an area he’s struggled in all season and is partially on the team in front of him.
Give him credit for pulling his HDSV% out of the 0.700’s from the early part of the season, but the struggles in the high danger area have been there since the first game of the year. The Lightning aren’t a bad defensive team, they’re actually one of the better units in comparison with the league. However, when a shot map is shown there is a clear area of concern that Tampa Bay has struggled to get under control.
The center slot is mayhem.
Even with his high danger numbers not being as lofty, he’s still posting a phenomenal season for the Lightning. What hasn’t been shown is how downright dominant he’s been on the penalty kill. Vasilevskiy has the best SV% (0.918) and the highest GSAA (13.69) while on the penalty kill and no other goaltender is even close. T
here is a hiccup in his high danger numbers again as his HDSV% ranks 21st on the penalty kill at 0.823, but the volume has thankfully been reduced compared to 5v5. It helps that the Lightning as a whole have been one of the best penalty killing teams in the league this season.
There are two real competitors with Vasilevskiy for the Vezina this season: Ben Bishop and Robin Lehner. Both Bishop and Lehner are in the upper echelon of nearly every goaltending statistic this season. Lehner probably has a slightly less compelling argument given he’s split time with Thomas Greiss (who has also been brilliant this season) and the “Barry Trotz effect” on the team in front of him. Still, Lehner’s play deserves recognition.
As for Bishop, it’s fitting that a former Lightning goaltender who set franchise records is standing in the way of a current Lightning goaltender who’s breaking said records. Bishop’s only negative is his battle with injuries this season, but he’s still managed to play 44 games this year. Also, Vasilevskiy missed a month earlier in the season due to injury and is only at 50 games as of this writing.
Vasilevskiy does have one advantage on Bishop and Lehner though; workload. Bishop’s shots against numbers ranks 21st while Lehner’s is 25th. They haven’t seen the amount of vulcanized rubber Vasilevskiy has this season and the Big Cat is still up there with them in most categories. Taking that into account shifts the conversation a little bit more toward Vasilevskiy.
Take a look at the 15 goaltenders who have seen the most work this season (in terms of shots against).
Only Darcy Kuemper is even close to Vasilevskiy’s overall numbers and Vasilevskiy’s HDSV% is still the seventh best among these goaltenders. The amount of shots a goaltender faces is impactful and the sizable gap between Bishop and Lehner compared to Vasilevskiy alters the conversation between the three goaltenders.
Side note: Jordan Binnington should be in the conversation as well, but he’s only played 28 games this season and will likely be overlooked as a serious contender for the award. I expect him to be mentioned, but it’s unlikely the GM’s won’t put him very high on their ballots.
Also, John Gibson isn’t mentioned because his herculean efforts during the first half of the season for a terrible Anaheim team wore him out to the point that he can’t be realistically viewed as a Vezina candidate (even with his 0.928 5v5 SV% bolstering his overall 0.915 SV%). Someone save John Gibson, please.
The Winner Is...
It’s a toss up between Bishop and Vasilevskiy in my honest opinion. Given the lack of goal scoring in Dallas this season the fact that Bishop has been that good for the Stars while missing time is phenomenal. His easier workload makes room for Vasilevskiy to have a shot, especially since he already leads the league in wins and this award has always leaned heavily on a goaltender with a bevy of wins (thanks GMs). Lehner, in my opinion, has the easiest workload of the three and has split time almost evenly with another goaltender. A nomination is definitely in the works for him, but the Vezina has never gone to a tandem netminder.