When it comes to the Vezina Trophy, there’s one question that’s asked more often than others: how much do wins matter? And get ready to hear that discussed a lot in the lead up to the NHL’s end-of-season awards show.
On Saturday, the NHL announced that the Dallas Stars’ Ben Bishop, New York Islanders’ Robin Lehner and Tampa Bay Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy had finished top-three in Vezina voting, and it’s sure to lead to some discussion about the value of wins. You see, while a fair number of those in the media have done away with wins as the most important statistic among goaltenders, it’s become evident in recent years that the win column remains a popular one among the GMs who vote for the award.
So, while there’s no reason to suggest Vasilevskiy isn’t deserving of his nod – and he earned his spot, of that there should be no question – it could turn out that in an awfully close Vezina race, it’s wins that make the difference.
Here’s a look at the top three in Vezina voting:
THE CASE FOR BISHOP
There’s no netminder with a more cut-and-dried case for the Vezina than Bishop, who bounced back from a so-so season with the Stars in his first year with the organization to turn in a career-best campaign in Dallas. But it wasn’t just the best season of Bishop’s career, it was the best statistical output of any netminder this season.
Throughout the 2018-19 campaign, there were 31 goaltenders who saw action in at least 41 games, and of those keepers, Bishop sits atop the list in arguably the two most important base statistical categories: save percentage and goals-against average. His .934 mark in the former is a full four points better than the second-best 41-game goaltender, and Bishop’s 1.98 GAA made him the only netminder in the NHL this season with a sub-2.00 GAA and the first netminder to post such a mark since Carey Price during his Vezina and Hart Trophy-winning 2014-15 campaign. Oh, Bishop also finished with seven shutouts.
As if Bishop’s case isn’t strong enough, his underlying numbers only shine a brighter spotlight his performance. Of the 34 goaltenders who played at least 1,800 minutes at 5-on-5, Bishop ranks second in SP (.938), first in GAA (1.86), first in goals-saved above average (19.9) and second in high-danger SP (.878).
The only possible knock against Bishop is that he only managed 27 wins, which puts him into a tie for 13th in the NHL. Wins are a team statistic, though. His failure to pile up more victories should not be held against him.
THE CASE FOR LEHNER
The greatest story of the season could end with Lehner standing on stage in Las Vegas accepting the top goaltender honor less than one year after he was let walk by the Buffalo Sabres, who didn’t tender the netminder a qualifying offer, and following an incredibly difficult off-season in which he received treatment for addiction and mental health issues.
Like Bishop, Lehner’s case couldn’t be more clear. Though he was platooned with Thomas Greiss this season, the Sabres castoff-turned-Islanders standout was exceptional this season and has the numbers to back it up. In his 46 appearances, 43 of which were starts, Lehner posted a .930 SP, 2.13 GAA and six shutouts, marks which second, second and fourth among all goaltenders with at least 41 games played. And like Bishop, Lehner has the underlying numbers to support his candidacy, too. His .935 SP at five-a-side was fourth-best among the same group of 1,800-minute goaltenders, while Lehner managed a fifth-best 1.91 GAA and fourth-best 16.6 GSAA.
There are, however, two issues with Lehner’s candidacy that could prevent him from winning. The first is that he did, as noted, split time in the New York crease, which resulted in Lehner managing 25 wins this season. The second – and arguably what hurts his case more – is that Greiss’ play could have resulted in some reduced voting numbers for Lehner. The 1B to Lehner’s 1A, Greiss’ numbers were eerily similar. He posted a .927 SP, 2.28 GAA, five shutouts, 23 wins and a .939 SP and 17.7 GSAA at 5-on-5. How did that factor into voting?
THE CASE FOR VASILEVSKIY
Vasilevsky won the most games on the best regular season outfit the NHL has seen in ages, backstopping the Lightning to 39 of their record-tying 62 wins and posting career-best numbers along the way. But don’t let the wins – or his mediocre post-season performance – cloud the rest of his credentials. Vasilevskiy was good, very good, and is the perfect netminder to round out the Vezina top three.
Undoubtedly, it’s the wins total that put Vasilevskiy front of mind for voters, but his other statistics back up his candidacy. For instance, his .925 SP was fourth-best among the 41-game goaltenders. His 2.40 GAA was fifth-best among those 34 netminders. Six shutouts put Vasilevskiy level with Lehner in that category. It should also be noted, too, that the Lightning starter saw more action than Lehner and Bishop, as Vasilevskiy took the crease 53 times.
Where Vasilevskiy’s case gets a bit rocky is the underlying numbers, though. He was not as strong at 5-on-5 as Lehner or Bishop, finishing the campaign with a ninth-best .929 SP, 11th-best 2.22 GAA, eighth-best 13 GSAA and a 23rd-best .815 SP among the 34 goaltenders with 1,800 minutes played. That doesn’t stack up all that well against the numbers Lehner and Bishop posted, honestly.
The thing is, though, that it might not matter. Wins are wins, and the value placed upon those are high. Vasilevskiy won more games than any other goaltender, and that could make his case the strongest of any in the minds of those who voted.
WHO WAS SNUBBED?
There were none. As far as giving the top-three spots to the three goaltenders most deserving of recognition, this one was nailed. So, the question isn’t so much who was snubbed, but where other top contenders finished. Among those whose finishes in voting will be most interesting to see are Greiss, whose numbers were outlined above, as well as Darcy Kuemper and Jordan Binnington.
Kuemper, who took over from Antti Raanta once the Coyotes starter fell injured, was a near season-saver in Arizona, turning in an outstanding .925 SP, 2.33 GAA and five shutouts in 55 games for the Coyotes. He tried but fell short of helping Arizona to the post-season, but he was tremendous in the blue paint.
Binnington was likewise a season saver, though he likely didn’t earn the same amount of consideration as even Kuemper given the Blues netminder had a limited workload. Arriving in December and really making his mark at the beginning of January, Binnington played in 32 games, finished with a .927 SP, 1.89 GAA and five shutouts and had an incredible 24-5-1 record that helped St. Louis go from league basement to divisional contender over the back half of the season.
Others who will be in the mix? Pekka Rinne, Carey Price and Frederik Andersen, though mediocre totals will reduce their vote totals. Sergei Bobrovsky might also get some love given he won 37 games and was on fire during the final weeks of the campaign to help the Columbus Blue Jackets avoid an embarrassing post-season miss.
It should be Bishop or Lehner. The Stars netminder and Islanders split-time starter were better than or equal to Vasilevskiy in almost every single standard or advanced statistical category. It’s not as if there’s some chasm in games played between Bishop, Lehner and the Lightning keeper, either, with the former pair playing 46 games apiece and Vasilevskiy playing in 53 contests. Given the value GMs put on wins, though, would anyone be surprised if Vasilevskiy, who backstopped the single-season wins record-tying Bolts, captures the top-goaltender crown? He sat atop the league with 39 wins, two more than the next-best netminder.
(All advanced statistics via NaturalStatTrick)
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