Thursday, June 18, 2009

Vezina '09: Who Should Have Been Runner-Up?

I think the consensus is pretty clear that Tim Thomas is going to win the 2009 Vezina. One of the reasons I have little doubt is that I don't think either Niklas Backstrom or Steve Mason were one of the top 3 goalies in the league last year, which makes the disparity between them and Thomas even more glaring in my eyes.

Both Mason and Backstrom played on strong defensive teams and had high save percentages on the penalty kill. Backstrom led the league at .918, which is just an off-the-charts figure, and Mason was in the top 10 among starting goalies at .885. The evidence seems to suggest that penalty kill results are more team-dependent than even-strength results, and the smaller sample size means that those results are more variable, so it is tough to tell whether they were playing great on special teams or benefitting from some lucky bounces and/or excellent defenders in front of them.

Backstrom's save percentage at 4 on 5 was almost identical to league average at 5 on 5, which either suggests that Backstrom was absolutely phenomenal when the Wild were down a man or that Minnesota is doing something special on the PK. I haven't seen much of the Wild this season, so I'm not really sure how the credit should be split up. Hockey Numbers has the Wild ranked 3rd in the league in shot quality against at even strength and 6th in the league in shot quality against on the penalty kill, so I'm pretty sure Backstrom is getting some quality help.

Mason, as I've observed before, only really had one spectacular month, and has been pretty ordinary in the 2009 calendar year.

Even-Strength Save Percentage Leaders (min. 500 SA at ES):
1. Tim Thomas: 1320 SA, .940
2. Roberto Luongo: 1156 SA, .936
3. Tomas Vokoun: 1514 SA, .935
4. Jonas Hiller: 899 SA, .934
5. Nik Khabibulin: 912 SA, .933
6. Martin Brodeur: 667 SA, .933
7. Mike Smith: 961 SA, .931
8. Scott Clemmensen: 913 SA, .929
9. Craig Anderson: 753 SA, .928
10. Manny Fernandez: 636 SA, .928
18. Steve Mason: 1266 SA, .925
19. Niklas Backstrom: 1633 SA, .923
(League Average: .919)

What is interesting is that there are 2 Bruins, 2 Devils, and 2 Panthers in the top 10 in even-strength save percentage. That seems to me to be pretty unlikely to happen in a 30 team league if there is little to no variation in terms of shot quality against across teams at even-strength. That might raise a few question marks about the results for Thomas and Vokoun, but I think both Fernandez and Anderson are above-average backups. Thomas probably had an easier job than average in Boston, but his performance is still likely far enough ahead of everyone else's that he remains in front, all things considered. It is possible to put up a great goaltending performance on a good team, and that's what Thomas did this season.

Who should have finished 2nd and 3rd in the voting? I don't think it really matters all that much, because there is a clear separation between the winner and the runners-up, but I think I would have picked Vokoun and Luongo as the #2 and #3 guys this year. Hockey Numbers has Vokoun ranked 5th and Luongo ranked 7th in shot-quality neutral save percentage, ahead of Mason (8th) and Backstrom (14th), and both faced several hundred more shots against than anyone else ahead of them other than leader Thomas. Behind the Net also has shot quality ratings for 5 on 5 play, and Thomas is ranked 1st, Luongo 3rd, and Vokoun 5th. In 2nd is Khabibulin, and in 4th in Lundqvist, who likely benefits from MSG's biased scorers. I think Khabibulin is another guy who should get consideration as one of the year's top goalies, as he quite possibly outperformed Backstrom and Mason.

Mason vs. Luongo is a pretty close call, since they had pretty similar seasons. Both of them had a terrific first half, with one month each where they were almost unbeatable, then had some health issues and weren't able to play up to the same level late in the season. They also both significantly outperformed their backups, and their teams did much better with them in net than in their absence. Their overall numbers are pretty similar as well. There's not much between them, and I don't think it is necessarily wrong to put Mason first, but given their track records it's a lot more likely than Mason got lucky than that Luongo did, and that Luongo was better 5 on 5 is enough of a tiebreaker for me.

I think the top 5 were probably Thomas, Vokoun, Luongo, Khabibulin and Mason, with the latter 4 close enough together that it really doesn't make a huge difference how you rank them.

I think 2008-09 will mostly be remembered for goalie injuries. Over 75 starts, which is what he was pretty much assured of hitting without getting injured, Luongo's numbers project to 45 wins and 12 shutouts. That probably would have taken the Vezina over Thomas, especially since one of these years Luongo is going to benefit from the "I can't believe he's never won a Vezina yet!" narrative (see Brodeur in '02-03). I think Martin Brodeur would have put up some gaudy team stats as well, considering his numbers and how well Scott Clemmensen managed in his absence, so it likely would have been similar to 2007 with Brodeur and Luongo facing off for the hardware if fate didn't intervene. Oh well, luck's a part of hockey, as we all know, and this time the guy who benefits the most is Tim Thomas.


Anonymous said...

No Jonas Hiller? The kid is amazing, and he faces more power-play shots than almost any other goalie in the NHL.

I'm not saying he should win the Vezina by any means, but he is way better than Mason, and is at least as good as that tender whose initials are R and L.

overpass said...

Now that the final voting has come out, it's apparent that the method of grouping the top 3 finishers as "finalists" was deceptive this year. Backstrom and Mason finished well behind Thomas, essentially in a 3-way tie for second with Luongo.

I think the top 5 were probably Thomas, Vokoun, Luongo, Khabibulin and Mason, with the latter 4 close enough together that it really doesn't make a huge difference how you rank them.

The voting wasn't too different in the end. Considering that Thomas was the only goalie named on over half the ballots, it's hard to tell the "true opinion" of the group of GMs on the rest of the goalies.

Bruce said...

Didn't see the full vote distribution (link?) but I saw that Thomas copped 22 of 30 votes which is as it should be. A clear choice for the Vezina and first All-Star team, my favourite active goalie had great personal stats (1st in Sv%, 1st in GAA, 2nd in Pts%) and helped lead his team to an outstanding season.

The 34-year-old journeyman has written an incredible story. Yet another underdog success story from the University of Vermont Catamounts, who for the same 4 years (1993-97) featured Tim Thomas, Eric Perrin and Marty St. Louis. None of the three was even drafted, yet collectively have won the Hart, Ross, Jennings and Vezina Trophies as well as 2 Stanley Cup rings. Feel-good stories, every one of them.

Bruce said...

Oops, my mistake. Thomas was drafted in the 9th round, 217th overall, in the 1994 draft by the Quebec Nordiques.

Since then he has spent all or parts of:

4 seasons in the ECAC
1 season in the ECHL
2 seasons in the IHL
4 seasons in the AHL
4 seasons in Finland
1 season in Sweden

... playing >500 games outside of the NHL before finally earning a big-league job at the advanced aged of 31 and three years later, the Vezina Trophy. Shades of Johnny Bower.

Bruce said...

Found the voting results on Mirtle's blog. Here's my favourite:

Calder Trophy
1. Steve Mason 33-20-7, .608; 2.29; .916
121 first place votes (of 132)

4. Pekka Rinne 29-16-4, .633; 2.38; .917
0 first place votes

Say what??

Mason came second in Vezina Trophy voting, Rinne never got a single top 5 vote. I repeat, say what??

What am I missing? Is it an age thing? Not much to choose between these guys otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Mason for the Calder is the most ridiculous choice I have seen in ages. The kid had ONE good month and a whole lot of mediocre-or-less months. He might be a great goalie in a few years, but did absolutely nothing to earn the Calder IMHO.

The award clearly should have gone to Bobby Ryan, who put up 33 goals despite playing less than 3/4 season.

Jonathan said...

I think Steve Mason got a lot of credit for getting good stats on a terrible team.

Personally I could care less whether a goalie/player is consistent month-by-month or if he just get "hot" or "streaky." The guy who has one great month and one horrendous month gets the same results as the guy who is average for two months.

What if Steve Mason had his great month start on the 15th? Would we give him more credit for having two good months instead of one great month?

Mason is definitely better than Rinne. Or rather, he had a better season. This is one scenario where you have to take games played into account. Especially when you consider that Mason dominated his backups. Just owned them.

Maybe Ryan should have gotten the Calder. I'd have given it to him. But I don't think Rinne should have gotten any first place votes. It's hard to compare goalies to players, but Rinne vs. Mason is a clear choice IMHO.

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

"Mason is definitely better than Rinne. Or rather, he had a better season. This is one scenario where you have to take games played into account. Especially when you consider that Mason dominated his backups. Just owned them."

Pekka Rinne owned his backups, too. In fact, in terms of win/loss record, Rinne owned his backups by even more than Mason did. And Rinne's backup was the guy who led the NHL in save percentage last season.

Rinne: .633, 2.38, .917
Backups: .394, 2.93, .900

S. Mason: .608, 2.29, .916
Backups: .432, 3.36, .879

Why exactly should games played come into account? Mason was given the starting job when Leclaire got injured, while Rinne had to take Ellis' job away. It's not particularly surprising that Mason ended up playing more often.

Rinne may not have deserved any first place votes, but he got fewer top 5 votes than Mason got 1st place votes, and I think that's ridiculous. I guess maybe some writers only had one spot on their ballots for a goalie or something. I think it's pretty obvious that Columbus' playoff run and Mason's shutout totals were what attracted all attention to Mason.

By the way, I think it is simply absurd that Mason finished 4th in Hart Trophy voting. Take a look at Columbus' goals for/against stats for the last two seasons:

2007-08: 193 GF, 218 GA
2008-09: 226 GF, 230 GA

They scored more and allowed more, and the difference was because of the goaltender? The shots were almost identical (2381-2240 last year, 2370-2272 this year). Sure Mason didn't give up much (2.29, .916), but neither did Leclaire last year (2.25, .919). The difference is that last year the Blue Jackets couldn't score to save their lives, and this year, while their power play was pathetic, the Blue Jackets were top 10 in the league in scoring at 5 on 5, scoring 155 and allowing 134. Last year: 113-126. That's a 42 goal improvement at evens over one season, and the goalie gets all the credit. Doesn't make sense to me. Some credit, sure, but far from being voted as the 4th most valuable player in the league.

Anonymous said...

"I think it's pretty obvious that Columbus' playoff run and Mason's shutout totals were what attracted all attention to Mason."

You are absolutely right. A very streaky .916 SP on a very defensive team, followed by one of the most humiliating playoff debuts by a goalie in the last fifteen years, is not Calder performance in my eyes. As you pointed out correctly, Leclaire was better last year.

Anybody with a modicum of a brain should have been able to see that Bobby Ryan deserved the Calder hands-down. He put up 33 goals despite missing a LOT of games; had he played the whole season, he might have topped 40 or even 45. But the Ducks have the perception of being a "thug" team, and so nobody wants to honor any of them for anything.

If the voters wanted to go with a goalie it should have been Pekka Rinne, who put up better results on a less-defensive team and was much more consistent than Golden Boy Stevie. I still say it should have gone to Ryan no matter what, but Rinne at least you could make a case for.

Jonathan said...


sorry about the utterly delayed response.

I'm not saying Mason is better than Rinne, I'm just saying he had a better season than Rinne, due to unfortunate circumstances surrounding Rinne. To answer your question, more GP for Mason means that he's exerting greater upward pressure on the team's sv% numbers. The fact that both goaltenders had vastly inferior backups indicates that Mason's extra GP were crucial to the team's success.

Rinne's sv% was 1 point better than Mason's. Rinne started 12 fewer games and played in 9 fewer. Suppose Rinne had 10 extra starts and maintained a .917 sv%. Those starts would have boosted the team's sv% stats by 2 or 3 points. If Mason had 10 fewer starts, then theoretically his team's sv% would have gone up by 5 points. In reality it probably would have been closer to 3 or 4 points, but it's more than enough to make up for his microscopic deficit in sv%.

Again, Mason was somewhat lucky to be in that situation. Next year I doubt Rinne will be any less valuable than Mason. But luck is a part of sports. If there was no luck involved, Luongo would be a Vezina finalist this year. In any case, I wouldn't put money on Mason beating Rinne next year.