Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Steve Mason, Vezina Candidate?

Rookie Steve Mason has been getting a lot of awards attention this year. He is very likely to win the Calder Trophy, but there has also been some buzz about him being in the Vezina race as well, and I have even seen his name getting brought up in connection with the Hart Trophy.

Mason has some interesting splits stats that I think should be highlighted, and that may lead to some further discussion over whether he really deserves those accolades or not. For one thing, Mason has not been very consistent at all. The main reason for his excellent season is that he was absolutely lights-out in December (7-5-0, 1.41, .950, 3 SO). Since January 1, however, he has slowed considerably. The team has still been winning with him in net (20-11-6), but Mason's other numbers have been fairly ordinary in the New Year: .908 and 2.51.

Mason has 10 shutouts, but to counterbalance that he has allowed 4 goals or more 12 times, and he also has had a sub-.900 save percentage in 23 out of 58 starts.

Mason also has a very mediocre record against his own conference. Against Western Conference opponents he is 20-17-6, 2.58, .905. If you are familiar with his overall record, you can put two and two together and figure out that means he must have absolutely crushed the Eastern Conference, and you would be right about that to the tune of 12-1-1, 1.12. ,959.

One other surprising thing is Mason's shot quality against this season. Many people have pointed out Pascal Leclaire's 9 shutouts last season and Ken Hitchcock's typically strong defensive coaching and suggested that was the primary reason for Mason's numbers. The data suggest this is actually not the case. Columbus has allowed more difficult than average shot quality against this season. I looked in some more detail at the shots Mason faced during his December run and they didn't look to be any easier than normal. I don't think it is fair to say that Ken Hitchcock created Steve Mason. I think a better explanation is that Mason just rode a hot streak and played well over his head for about a month and a half before dropping down to a more typical level of play for a rookie goaltender.

As a matter of fact, from quickly looking at some past Hitchcock teams it looks like a lot of the great defensive play of his teams is a result of shot prevention, rather than a very easy shot quality against. That has held true this year, as the Blue Jackets have allowed the 4th fewest shots against per game this season. As a result, we would expect a Hitchcock goalie to have a lot of shutouts, but not necessarily a high save percentage.

Steve Mason was very, very good in the month of December. However, I'm not sure that one extremely good month, 2 decent months and 2 mediocre months makes you the best goalie over an 82 game season. Based on cumulative performance, though, Mason probably wouldn't be out of place in the top 5.

I don't think the Calder Trophy should be a slam dunk either. It is pretty much a dead heat between Mason and Nashville's Pekka Rinne. They have very similar statistics, including shot quality neutral stats. Nashville has done relatively better with Rinne in net (2.28 GAA, .652 win % vs. 2.93 GAA, .394 win % for backups) than Columbus has with Mason (2.22 GAA, .623 win % vs. 3.36 GAA, .432 win % for backups), although both of them have way outperformed their teammates. Mason has played more games, but games played as a rookie depends on a lot of factors other than goalie skill, first and foremost being the talent and health of whoever's job they had to steal. I'm pretty sure Mason will win it, but Rinne certainly wouldn't be a bad choice.

1 comment:

JLikens said...

Good post.

I too was surprised to see that the Jackets' SQA has been worse than average, considering that they led the league in SQA last year and were among the league leaders the year before. I wonder if they've changed their shot recorders from last year -- after all, their SQF is quite high as well.

There is one point of disagreement, that being the notion that Hitchcock teams have not generally excelled in terms of preventing quality shots. Both of the 02-03 and 03-04 Flyers were top five in SQA, while the 05-06 Flyers were top ten. And although data on SQA doesn't extend back further than 02-03 -- therefore depriving us of any insight as to how the Hitchcock Stars performed in this regard -- I suspect that they were also quite good, given the club's reputation as being a trapping team and what not.