Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Vezina Trends

"First, he leads the NHL in the one stat that trumps all others: wins." (Scott Burnside, ESPN)

Going after Scott Burnside on goalie analysis is not dissimilar to shooting fish in a barrel, but my real beef is with how he is parroting the conventional wisdom that people within hockey consider wins to be extremely important. It might be Burnside's opinion that wins are the most vital stat, which is obviously misguided but he is allowed to personally believe whatever he wants. The problem is that when he explicitly claims to be handicapping the Vezina race, then at a minimum I would expect that he should be aware of what stats have actually been considered to be important in past voting.

Here is how the last 20 Vezina winners have ranked in five key goalie stats (GVT is Goals Versus Threshold):


Some readily apparent observations from the above table:

1. It is very rare for the consensus best goalie to win the most games. Only 4 of the last 20 Vezina winners led the league in wins. In contrast, for each of the other four stats, the Vezina winner was more likely to lead the league than not. Wins are in fact easily trumped by save percentage, GAA, shutouts, and GVT.

2. The data suggests that the emphasis on shutouts may be decreasing as well, although that could just be variance.

3. The 1996, 2003 and 2004 decisions stand out quite starkly relative to the others. The unwillingness of voters to rank non-playoff goalies as the best in the league was a big factor in the '96 and '04 votes, which is at least somewhat understandable although I disagree with the logic. That leaves the '03 Vezina as the most unusual result of the last two decades. Voters overlooked a playoff goalie that had 1-1-10-5-1 ranking based on the above table, a pattern that much more closely matches the overall averages than that year's winner.

4. The historical pattern that goalies require an excellent GAA to win a Vezina has continued. I would suggest that a low GAA on a strong defensive team seems to be the biggest source of error in the current voting, as those goalies appear on ballots much more frequently than average goalies that rack up a lot of wins on strong offensive teams.


Robert V said...

Quality Starts, Absolute and Percentage

2007-08 Brodeur 1 1
2008-09 Thomas 4 1
2009-10 Miller 1 2
2010-11 Thomas 6 1

Anonymous said...

Hasn't it been pretty well established that Brodeur in 2003 got his Vezina for sympathy (since he hadn't gotten one til then)?

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

I think games played had something to do with at as well in the minds of the voters, but yes, reputation almost certainly was a huge factor.

Agent Orange said...

Out of curiosity who is your front runner for Vezina at the half-way point?

I know Burnside is, well, Burnside but is your tiff with his selection of Howard as the front runner or his use of wins as the measuring stick?

mikb said...

"Going after Scott Burnside on hockey analysis is not dissimilar to shooting fish in a barrel..."

FTFY. Seriously, he's terrible.

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

To be fair to Burnside, his article is a little bit dated, I was planning to write on it at the time but it took a while to get the post together. I am not sure whether he'd still be backing Howard, although if he does sincerely believe that wins trump everything then I guess he would be as Howard is still the wins leader.

My real target here is the perception that wins are considered important. I've heard some smart people kind of throw up their hands when they hear about a weird voting result or a bad contract signing and say, well, they love their wins, that's just the way it is, and I think this post proves why that's actually not giving the GMs as a group enough credit. Even traditional goalie analysis has come a long way since 1990.

As I see it the 2012 Vezina looks to be between Lundqvist and Thomas at this point, with Lundqvist slightly ahead for now. Quick has some nice stats too and remains in the running, but I expect him to fall off some as the season goes on based on his historical pattern and his very high special teams SV%. I'd also think Quick would have to strongly outplay either Lundqvist or Thomas to win the award to make up for their advantages in terms of reputation and exposure, and I don't really see that happening.

Agent Orange said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Agent Orange said...

1) Lundqvist
2) Thomas
3) Quick
4) Howard (?)

Pretty interesting that 3 of those top 4 (not exactly sure where you put howard) are US born goalies.

Is there any point at which things like wins/gaa/SH (the more team/playing time oriented stats) become the tie breakers? I.E. how close do 2 goalies have to be in sv percentage before you give a goalie with a lesser save rate number the vote due to counting stats?

I'm not sure how to evaluate Howard/Lundqvist/Thomas.

Looking at back-up play Thomas has Rask behind him who is playing at 0.946 sv% in 16 GP. Lundqvist has Biron at 0.927 sv% in 12 GP. Now small samples sizes apply but it you have 2 back-up goalies playing at more than 0.01% higher than their career best save rate seasons.

Howard on the other hand has Conklin at 0.892 which is about his low-end performance range for his career.

Rask has very limited experience so we might just be learning that he is fantastic/playing against poor competition but at the very least we can conclude that Boston/NYR aren't bad places to play goal.

Quick is way outperforming Bernier but we don't really know a lot about Bernier at the NHL level.

If we get to the end of the season and the goalies discussed (back-ups included) maintain their rates (GP winning% SV% GAA etc) is it really fair to drop Howard and Quick behind the Thomas/Lundqvist's of the world given back-up performance?

If Thomas ends up with rate stats less than Rask's give a 55/27 split can you really give him a Vezina vote?

*deleted/reposted to clarify some wording and correct spelling mistakes*

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

Are you asking what I would do or are you asking what I think the Vezina voters would do? Based on past history, the voters would certainly use GAA and shutouts to break ties, or else take the guy with more games played if two goalies have a similar save rate.

I'd tend to go with save percentage over everything else. If two guys are dead equal games played could be a reasonable tiebreaker, but as the above table shows GVT does track pretty closely with save percentage, even though GVT is weighted for playing time while save percentage is not.

(When I say I'd go with save percentage, I would consider factors like team discipline, EV SV%, scorer bias, shot prevention, shot quality, etc. rather than just go with a goalie's final number, but the point is that you're still essentially adjusting or modifying save percentage rather than looking at the other traditional stats.)

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

As for the backups, we always need to be careful about dealing with small sample sizes. I used to put a bigger emphasis on backup performance, but now I'm really cautious about using it unless it's over a multi-season stretch and there is additional evidence to suggest a shot quality effect. The incredible success of Boston's goaltending in recent seasons means that one has to at least consider a shot quality effect there, although I haven't seen any conclusive proof of it yet. Therefore, I think Lundqvist, Thomas, Quick and Howard should be primarily judged on their own performance this season.

I have also been doing some research lately on backup utilization which adds an additional complicating factor. For example, all of Conklin's starts this season have come on the road, with 5 out of 8 on the second night of back-to-backs and another one as the third game in four nights. Meanwhile, Rask has started 11 of his 15 games at home and played only twice on the second night of back-to-back games, while also facing lower scoring opposition than Thomas. We should expect Rask's numbers to be better anyway because he is a better goalie than Conklin, but the situational factors would only help to increase the gap.

Anonymous said...

I think it's fairly safe to say that Conklin is a mediocre (at best) goaltender. I think we're all aware of his horrible play in Edmonton despite being behind a rather good D. Even being in the clockwork machine of Detroit didn't help him much.

(Then again, maybe the Oil in 2006 and the Wings in 2009 were actually poor places to play in goal despite their defensive numbers, considering that all of their goalies ranged from terrible to barely average in performance.)

Back to topic, a real dark-horse Vez candidate this year is Brian Elliott, a minder that has pretty widely been panned up until this season. How would you feel if Elliott got it?

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

Elliott won't even come close. He had two amazing months to start off the season (.951), and has been merely decent since (.920). Expect the rest of the season to be a lot closer to the latter mark than the former one, which means that he's not going to be in the .930+ range for too much longer. And even if he somehow does manage to continue to defy his past career results enough to do that, Elliott still wouldn't have enough games played to beat out someone like Lundqvist who has the same save percentage in 50% more playing time right now. At least Elliott gets a trip to the All-Star Game out of it, but he has almost no chance at the Vezina.

Doug Norris said...

I've never shot fish in a barrel (or while wearing regular clothes, for that matter), but I enjoyed your analysis.

I'd done something similar, but I can't find it and I believe that it was on my laptop hard drive when it fried.

Agent Orange said...

Agree with the small sample size comment. I have a hard time dismissing back-up play for New York considering both goalies (who have quite a few GP) are both about 0.01 above their career best.

I'll concede Thomas as he has picked up where he left off last year but it will be interesting to see what Rask does.

I hadn't realize Conklin had played the 2nd of so many back to backs. I knew he played all road games which obviously has an impact. I didn't intend to oversell his career numbers. However he is under perforning considering the team in front of him.

But you are likely right that the back to backs have a lot to do with that.

Agent Orange said...

To clarify my first comment I mean I put Thomas over Lundqvist. Not that I think Lundqvist doesn't belong in the Vezina talk.

Anonymous said...

Don't you think you are selling Brian Elliott just a bit short? Most of his career has been spent on so-so teams. I'm sure his career S% could have been better than it is had he been on some really competitive clubs.

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

In Ottawa Elliott had a .902 save percentage while his goalie teammates combined for .908. That's not a typical split for a great goalie being held back by the team in front of him. If Ken Hitchcock had been his coach for his entire career maybe Elliott's numbers would have been a bit better, sure, but prior to this year he really wasn't that good. I'll be interested to see whether he can keep it going in the second half.

Anonymous said...

At what point do you decide that a goalie's true skill level has improved, rather than he just got lucky for a spell? We often say that Cam Ward is in that category but this year makes one wonder.

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

There's no simple rule, it's always hard to properly derive meaning from a small sample size. On the other hand, the more extreme the result the more significant it is. For example, I think Brian Elliott has improved because it would be very unlikely for a goalie with a .901 career save percentage to play half a season at .937, and subjectively he looks better in the net this year. However, I'm still not convinced that he is an above-average goalie, we'll see how he keeps it up over the second half of the season.

Kath said...

I am not sure how you can raise small sample size with Rask. He has 17 games to Thomas with 30 (and Thomas had his starts inflated by the first month of the season).

Wins might not be so important, but I do think the fact Thomas is likely to play no more that 50 or so games is worth considering vs goalies who get far less rest.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to see you post on the '08 Pens. Both M-AF and Conks posted way above their normal save percentages that year. That tells me that the 08 Pens were better defensively than Pittsburgh in other recent years.

Willfergus said...

Brodeur is not a fraud, simply an overated goalie who played all his life for one of the most defensive team in the NHL and he always had 2 of the top defensemen in the NHL with him!


Hostpph said...

hmmmmm it was not that clear to me that term you use in the title, Vezina trends, could you expand on that pretty please?? thanks in advance!

Eva Wilson said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I really appreciate your efforts and I will be waiting for your further post thank you once again.

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