Sharks Gameday: Is Tomas Vokoun criminally underrated?



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Back by popular demand, it's the obligatory "Goaltender with a question mark in the headline" article that has been making the rounds on Fear The Fin this week. On the docket today is one of the elite goaltenders in the NHL, Tomas Vokoun, who will face off against the Sharks today.

Vokoun has played for two franchises during the course of his 11 year professional career. These franchises, the Nashville Predators and Florida Panthers, have had a history of attendance issues and been largely ignored by the mainstream media. This is not to say that they are franchises that should be relocated to Winnipeg at the drop of the hat-- after all, Florida looks to be locked into Sunrise for the foreseeable future, and reports out of Nashville indicate the team will be there for at least two more seasons. Both organizations have done a fine job of expanding their fanbase and generating interest in their respective clubs despite cries from some in the Canadian media for relocation.

However, this is to say that Vokoun has not had the opportunity to prove himself in a premier hockey market that would elevate his presence, despite being the most consistent and successful goaltenders since the NHL lockout:

SV% Leaders Since Lockout (min. 150 GP)

SV% SO SA/60
T. Vokoun
288 9184 8473 .923 26 32.74
N. Backstrom
220 6069
5576 .919 19 28.75
R. Luongo
334 9784
8977 .918 28 30.26
T. Thomas
254 7750
7115 .918 16 31.68
M. Brodeur
321 8869
8127 .916 33 27.83
R. Miller
302 8924
8171 .916 16 30.09
M. Kiprusoff
359 10066
9201 .914 27 28.62

This is while playing behind some of the worst defenses in terms of SA/60 over the course of this five season data range.

And yet he hasn't ever won a Vezina Trophy; never even been nominated for one in fact. His worst season was a .919 outing in 2005-2006, and another "low" of .919 in 2007-2008. A lot of this has to do with season samples of course-- Vokoun has been in the top five amongst goaltenders 80% of the time, but never cracked the top three until last year, where he was second behind Tim Thomas.

As it turns out, Vokoun is also second this season with a .930, a shade behind Ryan Miller. Both goaltenders have had great seasons, with Miller the front-runner due to his play at the Olympics and the fact that Buffalo is likely headed to the postseason. Florida will probably miss the playoffs for the ninth straight season.

However, if both goaltenders continue to perform at their current pace, it's hard to state that one is superior to the other when using the definition of the Vezina Trophy-- "an annual award given to the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at this position":

Miller vs. Vokoun (09-10)

SV% SO SA/60
R. Miller
56 1721 1602 .931 5 31.08
T. Vokoun
55 1833
1704 .930 7 33.59

As good of a season Sharks MVP Evgeni Nabokov is having this season, the final vote should likely come down to Vokoun and Miller, with a slew of other contenders like Craig Andersen, the aforementioned Evgeni Nabokov, Ilya Bryzgalov, and Miika Kiprusoff (in that order for me) receiving tallies.

And even if Vokoun doesn't manage to beat out Miller, it would be a shame if the 30 General Managers leave him out of the conversation again. He's a top three candidate for certain, and at some point, deserves to be a finalist for an award that measures how good a goaltender is, and not necessarily how good the team in front of him can be.

So is Vokoun the best goaltender in the world right now? That's hard to say-- you can make a strong case for both Ryan Miller and Roberto Luongo, and I wouldn't raise any objections; it's a subjective line in the sand that admittedly is best achieved by throwing statistics out of the window, and the fact that Vokoun has only made one playoff appearance in his career (with another being shortened by injury) could be used as a point of reference. But if I'm a general manager looking to win right now, today, you'd have a hard time convincing me that Vokoun shouldn't be between the pipes.

Thankfully, we only see him once a season. Something tells me last night's comeback wouldn't have been quite so sweet if Nashville had held on to him in 2007.

Prediction: Sharks win 7-0. Vokoun has the worst game of his career and is pulled in the first period, while CTGray bestows yet another "Bringer of Doom" Award in all it's glory.

Go Sharks.