SB Nation writers were recently asked to vote on the seven major NHL awards. Starting today, the results will be unveiled at the main site beginning with the Vezina Trophy, "an annual award given to the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at his position". Here's how Fear The Fin (okay, just me) voted.
Winner: Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers. There were quite a few terrific goaltending seasons across the league this year with qualifying goaltenders posting their highest combined SV%, both at even-strength and overall, since the lockout. But the Vezina Trophy really came down to a two-horse race between Lundqvist and Jonathan Quick. There are certainly a lot of great reasons to choose Quick here; he received next to no goal support for the majority of the season yet he still gave his team a chance to win nearly every night, he appeared in more games than Lundqvist and was a vital component of the Kings' surge late in the year that secured them a playoff spot in the season's final week.
On the surface, trying to separate these two goalies' seasons statistically leads to little more than splitting hairs. Lundqvist and Quick both posted .933 even-strength save percentages with Lundqvist's overall SV% slightly better than Quick's at .930 to .929. What swayed my vote in favor of the King over the guy who plays goal for the Kings was this excellent post over at Brodeur is a Fraud making the case for Lundqvist. The Contrarian Goaltender shows that Pacific Division netminders combined for a .925 EV SV% while those in the Atlantic combined for a .916 EV SV%, perhaps suggesting it's harder stopping pucks in the Atlantic Division than the Pacific. This seems to square with intuition seeing as Lundqvist had to face the likes of Sidney Crosby, Ilya Kovalchuk, Evgeni Malkin, Zach Parise, Claude Giroux, James Neal and Jaromir Jagr on a regular basis while Quick needed to stop...Corey Perry and Patrick Marleau having down years? Michael Ryder enjoying a fluke season?
Of course, on the other hand, there was also pretty clearly a disparity in goaltending talent between the divisions - Niemi-bashers may disagree but the Pacific sported five above-average starters while Marc-Andre Fleury and Martin Brodeur were sub-par at best and Ilya Bryzgalov had the worst season of his career. So while the division quality disparity alone isn't enough to clinch the award for Lundqvist, when combined with the Contrarian Goaltender's point that Quick posted much better numbers at home than on the road while Lundqvist's statistical profile was the opposite, suggesting Lundqvist benefited from any potential scorer bias to a much lesser degree than Quick, and the essentially identical nature of both goalies' statlines, Lundqvist gains a slight edge in my eyes. Additionally, although it's not really within the spirit of a single-season award, I think it's also important to consider the respective goaltenders' histories. Goalie performance over one season is subject to a lot of variance; given that Lundqvist has repeatedly demonstrated that he's one of the best goalies in the league while Quick (who, granted, has only been in the league a few seasons now) has never had a year anywhere close to this one we can probably guess that Lundqvist's results were more talent-driven than Quick's.
2nd place: Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings. There isn't much to add about Quick's season that hasn't already been said. It was a phenomenal year by any measure made all the more impressive by the Kings' extended run of horrendous shooting luck that left Quick as the only route to success for Los Angeles on many nights through the first half of the season. Before hiring Darryl Sutter the Kings weren't even making Quick's task much easier by keeping the play away from his end of the rink as Los Angeles hovered around being just a 50% Fenwick Tied team under Terry Murray. Almost any other year I'd be voting for Quick here and I think he'll probably end up taking the real-life Vezina but Lundqvist edges past him based on the things I outlined above.
3rd place: Mike Smith, Phoenix Coyotes. A great tool to determine how tough a given goaltender's job is and highlight the differences in team quality at the NHL level is calculating a team's "win threshold," or the SV% that team would need over the full season in order to score as many goals as they allow (which would give them somewhere in the neighborhood of 92 points and a fighting chance at a playoff berth). It's calculated using the formula [(shots against - goals for)/shots against]. The Coyotes, who scored 2.56 goals and gave up 31.6 shots a game, had one of the highest win thresholds in hockey at .919. Only ten starters in the league posted save percentages this year that, over a full season, would have given the Coyotes at least an even goal differential and they carried an average cap hit of $4.2 million. Smith, at a tidy cap hit of $2 million, was one of them. Most other years Smith would have been a lock for the Vezina and one of the most interesting storylines heading into the 2012-13 season will be whether he can continue to make Phoenix GM Don Maloney, who ditched Bryzgalov last summer to pick up Smith, look like a genius.
Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators - The Preds were an awful possession team all year long with Rinne facing a Herculean workload. Although his numbers were slightly down from his banner year as a Vezina finalist in 10-11, Rinne made more saves than any other goalie in the league en route to the seventh-best overall SV% among qualifying goaltenders at .923 and the 12th-best EV SV% at .928.
Kari Lehtonen, Dallas Stars - After years of being forced to backstop terrible Atlanta teams that were almost uniformly undisciplined, the always-talented Lehtonen finally put it all together to post some very impressive numbers that kept Dallas afloat through the first half of the season before rookie coach Glen Gulutzan finally figured out how to optimize his lineup. Lehtonen posted the eighth-best overall SV% among qualifying goalies.
Jaroslav Halak, St. Louis Blues - It's difficult to really evaluate the Blues' netminding tandem for a host of reasons. Primarily, neither appeared in a substantial number of games this season, making it hard to chalk up their results to a whole lot more than variance (as we saw, Brian Elliott came crashing back down to earth in the playoffs). Additionally, without the proper data it's impossible to suss out how much (if any) of their through-the-roof SV% numbers were a result of Ken Hitchcock's system. Regardless, Halak played more games than Elliott and posted a ridiculous .938 EV SV%.