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Lightning Round: Is Andrei Vasilevskiy an early Vezina Trophy favourite?

A couple of Lightning’s rookies made their pro debuts last night

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Tampa Bay Lightning v Carolina Hurricanes Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Last night the Tampa Bay Lightning shut down the Dallas Stars in their long-awaited first game since the last year’s Stanley Cup Final. The Stars offense wasn’t particularly dangerous as they generated just 0.67 xGF% at 5v5 and Andrei Vasilevsky faced only 20 shots in all situations. That was enough for the Lightning goaltender to record his second shut out of the season. Both shutouts were recorded during this week in two consecutive starts for Vasilevskiy.

As Vasilevskiy has proven over his career with the Lightning, his performance has always been key for the overall success of the team. During the start of the previous 2019-20 season Vasilevskiy struggled, which resulted in a slow start for the whole team, however as he managed to find his confidence over the course of the season, the Lightning’s results also improved. Also, he was one of the biggest parts of the Lightning’s Stanley Cup run, helping his team bring a trophy back home to Tampa.

This year is also the first year of Vasilevskiy’s huge eight-year contract, which is worth $9.5 million per season or $76 million in total. Giving such a big contract to a goalie has always been a risky move. Carey Price is a perfect example: after signing a long $10-million dollar contract his numbers have dropped dramatically, this season he isnt even breaking a .900 save precentage mark, sitting at .888 SV% after 12 games. Our former managing editor Alan wrote a brilliant article about Vasilevskiy’s new contract when it was signed in summer of 2019, mentioning that measuring goaltenders is still one of the most complicated things in hockey analytics.

In some ways, the Lightning were boxed into a corner by Vasilevskiy’s stellar start to his career. He played on a great team, he put up the traditional metrics that are valued in the goalie market, and he won the hardware that gets net minders paid. In the current market, Vasy is worth $9.5 million per year. The question is whether being the team to pay him that is a blessing or a curse.

If I have one specific gripe with this contract, the timing is it. They didn’t have to do this now. They could have waited until next summer. Maybe he has another similar season and the cost increases. Maybe he has a bit of a down year and the cost dips. But given how hard evaluating goalies is, taking as much time as possible to make a decision would seem to have been the prudent move in this case.

As Alan mentioned in his article, while Vasilevskiy’s traditional stats has always been at the top of the league, his modern and advanced stats weren’t that good. Before the start of current season, Vasilevskiy had finished just twice with positive numbers at goals saved above expected: the first time was his first NHL season, when he played just 16 games and the second time was the 2018-19 season, when he won his only Vezina Trophy so far. Even last season, during which he posted his record breaking 21-game point streak, Vasilevskiy finished with -5.21 GSAx due to poor start of the season.

The start of the 2020-21 season is arguably the best start in his career. According to Vasilevskiy leads the whole league in goals saved above expected at 5v5 at this moment with 10.68 GSAx, while his closest opponent Marc-Andre Fleury has just 6.45 GSAx. He also leading the NHL in goals saved above average with a pretty big margin ahead of the second Mackenzie Blackwood.

As usual, Vasilevskiy is also on top of the league in traditional stats. He’s leading the league with 12 wins this season – the most favourite category for the NHL’s GMs, who are responsible for the Vezina Trophy voting. In save percentage and goals against average he’s second amongst players who played more than 10 games this season and trailing only Fleury.

Earlier this week Dom Luszczyszyn of the Athletic wrote an article breaking down early favourites for each major player award. Not only is Vasilevskiy a frontrunner of the Vezina Trophy race, but he also snuck onto a list of potential Hart Trophy winners, ending up in third place by game score, which is a metric developed by Dom Luszczyszyn for hockey.

In his yesterday’s article Dimitri Filipovic has also valued high Vasilevskiy’s performance at the start of this season.

This season is different from other seasons: the teams play in isolated divisions, which makes it hard to evaluate players and compare them between the divisions. However Vasilevskiy’s performance still has been one of the positives this season. The Russian goaltender keeps improving from season to season, which is a very encouraging thing to see at the start of such a long contract.

Lightning Links

As mentioned above, the Lightning defeated the Dallas Stars in a Stanley Cup Final re-match 5-0 last night. Anthony Cirelli played his first game after missing six games due to injury and celebrated his return with a shorthanded goal. Hardev was on duty to recap the last night’s action [Raw Charge]

The Lightning gave themselves the opportunity to win by killing several key penalties early in the game. The Lightning weren’t creating sustained pressure in the offensive zone, but by keeping the sheet clean in their end and finding a lucky goal, they were able to build on those moments and break out in the second. Once Stamkos scored the fifth goal in the third period, the game was over. The Lightning had it locked down and the Stars didn’t have the oomph to push against them.

The Syracuse Crunch weren’t that successful last night, losing to the Utica Comets 2-4. Otto Somppi and Ryan Lohin scored for the Crunch, but the team continued their losing streak.

Jaydon Dureau and Gage Goncalves made their pro-debuts with the Crunch last night. Goncalves also recorded an assist in his first professional game.

The Orlando Solar Bears earned a point in an overtime loss against the Jacksonville Icemen

Hockey News

In other Central Division games, the Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Florida Panthers 4-3 in a shootout.

The Detroit Red Wings won over the Chicago Blackhawks, posting their second consecutive win, which doesn’t happen often.

The Columbus Blue Jackets extended their losing streak to four games after losing to the Nashville Predators on Saturday’s afternoon.

After one month and a half of the regular season, the Tampa Bay Lightning sharing first place in Central Division with the Panthers in points, but leading the division in points percentage. The Detroit Red Wings temporarily escaped last place after two wins in a row, but played seven games more than the Dallas Stars.

The Boston Bruins have claimed Jarred Tinordi off the waivers.

Rasmus Ristolainen returned after suffering a complicated bout of COVID-19.

Jake Virtanen is involved in trade talks between the Anaheim Ducks and the Vancouver Canucks.