Pekka Rinne, goaltender for the Nashville Predators, has been a finalist for the Vezina Trophy — awarded to the NHL’s best goaltender — twice in his career. Once in 2010-11 when he posted a .930 save percentage and against he following year with a .923 save percentage. This season he leads the league in save percentage (.937) and is once again projected to be on the short list for the award.
Thirty NHL general managers vote to determine the winner of the Vezina Trophy, and have typically focused on wins, but goals against average has also played an influential role. But when you think about it, goal against average is really just save percentage times shots against. And since a goalie has no influence on shots against, we will for the purposes of this article focus on save percentage. Goalies also don’t influence wins as much as the public thinks, after all, a team can’t win if the offense doesn’t score. So instead of wins, let’s look at which goalies give their teams a chance to win, via Rob Vollman‘s quality start metric.
A Quality Start (QS) is when the goalie achieves at least the mean save percentage (for the season) in a game. For the 2013-2014 season that percentage is 91.5%. So, if Tuukka Rask allows only 2 goals on 28 shots (a 92.9% save percentage), that is considered a Quality Start. There is an additional criteria for low shooting games: if a goalie faces 20 or fewer shots, he only needs to get an 88.5% save percentage.
Below is a chart of all goaltenders this season. The x-axis is their save percentage and the y-axis is their quality start percentage, which is simply the number of quality starts divided by their games starts. The higher the better for both metrics. I’ve highlighted Rinne as well as some of the other projected finalists.
As expected, there is a tight grouping of netminders with Rinne standing outside of the group towards the upper right corner. However, we also have some sample size issues. For example, Devils’ goaltender Keith Kinkaid has a .943 save percentage and turned in 100 percent of his starts as “quality.” However, he has made one start and has faced just 53 shots against. To correct for this, we can regress each of these components to the mean to get a truer sense of where each player’s true talent lies. Once we do that, Kinkaid’s save and quality start percentages drop to .921 and 54.6 percent , respectively. Still good, but not near the lofty levels before the regression.
Here is how the netminders look after regressing to the mean to correct for the small sample size. I’ve added a marker for Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby (red circle) as well for comparison.
It’s pretty clear: there is Rinne and then everyone else. Also, if you think Islanders’ netminder Jaroslav Halak deserves Vezina consideration, then so does Holtby, who is right there in terms of stopping pucks and putting his team in a position to win. Plus, those two have slightly higher adjusted quality start percentages than some of the other names mentioned as the league’s best goaltender: Johnathan Quick, Marc-Andre Fleury and Roberto Luongo. And if the general managers weight team wins more heavily, then Holtby and Halak shouldn’t be overlooked.
One goalie perhaps that won’t get his due recognition is Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks. He had a .929 save percentage and 14 quality starts out of 18 for the best team in the Central Division before a foot injury sidelined him for a few weeks.