Right Wing Conspiracy is a weekly column about hockey, with the odd hockey-related conspiracy theory thrown in for good measure.
“Shrimp” and “Bobs” – Two of a Kind?
As the National Hockey League’s 2012-2013 regular season enters the homestretch, playoff buzz mixes with award chatter: Who will win the Hart Memorial Trophy? The Norris? The Jack Adams? The Vezina? And so on.
Of all the hardware handed out by the league this summer, the most controversial might very well be the Vezina Trophy. Awarded to “the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at this position” by vote of the 30 NHL General Managers (per NHL.com), the Vezina has been presented to eighteen different men since the 1981-82 season. In that time, five players have won the award more than once, led by Dominik Hasek with six and Martin Brodeur with four. One common factor unites the eighteen Vezina winners over the last thirty seasons: They’ve all been on playoff teams. The precedent was set long ago.
Prior to the 81-82 campaign, the Vezina Trophy simply went to the goalie(s) on the team allowing the fewest goals during the regular season. As one might surmise, the team allowing the fewest goals during the regular season tends to win quite a few games…and tends to make the playoffs. In fact, to find a Vezina Trophy winner on a non-playoff team, one has to step into the Wayback Machine and travel through time to the 1930-31 NHL season, when New York Americans netminder Roy “Shrimp” Worters (all 5’3” of him) went 18-16-10 with a 1.61 GAA. The Amerks allowed just 74 goals in 44 games. Unfortunately, they only scored 76 goals, tying for league-worst with the hapless Philadelphia Quakers (who finished 4-36-4 and folded at the end of the season). The Americans finished fourth in their division, and only the top three teams made the playoffs.
Roy Worters has the dubious distinction of being the only goalie in NHL history to win the Vezina Trophy on a non-playoff team. If enough of the 30 GMs are willing to break with long-held precedent, however, Worters could soon have company.
Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky is almost single-handedly keeping the Columbus Blue Jackets, last season’s last-place team, in the playoff hunt in 2013. The Jackets face an uphill battle, however, as they’re two points out of eighth and tied with the surging Dallas Stars, who have a game in hand. With five of their six remaining games on the road (@Colorado, Anaheim, LA, San Jose and Dallas, then home against Nashville) and four of those opponents fighting either to secure a playoff berth or to gain a higher seed, Columbus must play near-perfect hockey at both ends of the ice, every single game. And it still might not be enough.
If the Jackets fall short of a playoff berth, it won’t be Sergei Bobrovsky’s fault. At 6’2”, the native of Novokuznetsk, Russia stands almost a foot taller than Roy Worters, but just as “Shrimp” was a giant in net in 1930-31, the man they call “Bobs” has been huge night after night in 2013. His stats are impressive: 32 GP, 16-10-6, .932 Sv%, 2.01 GAA, 4 Shutouts…the first four shutouts of his NHL career. Bobrovsky measures up well against his peers, too – among goalies with at least 25 Games Played, here’s where he stands:
Goals Against Average:
- Corey Crawford, CHI – 25 GP, 1.92 GAA.
- Tuukka Rask, BOS – 30 GP, 1.99 GAA.
- Sergei Bobrovsky, CBJ – 32 GP, 2.01 GAA.
- Henrik Lundqvist, NYR – 36 GP, 2.06 GAA.
- Sergei Bobrovsky, CBJ – 32 GP, .932 Sv%.
- Tuukka Rask, BOS – 30 GP, .929 Sv%.
- Henrik Lundqvist, NYR – 36 GP, .928 Sv%.
- Corey Crawford, CHI – 25 GP, .926 Sv%.
- (Tie) Cory Schneider, VAN; Pekka Rinne, NSH; Mike Smith, PHX – 5.
- (Tie) Sergei Bobrovsky, CBJ; Braden Holtby, WSH – 4.
In all probability, the three Vezina Trophy finalists will come from the four leaders in GAA and Sv% above. Corey Crawford is at a disadvantage due to significantly fewer games played, so for the sake of argument we’ll eliminate him from consideration. Among the three “finalists,” then, King Henrik, who earned the Vezina last season, ranks third in both stat categories. Congratulations on a great season, Mr. Lundqvist; we have some lovely parting gifts for you.
Now we’re down to Rask and Bobrovsky. Their numbers are so close – 1.99 vs. 2.01 GAA, .929 vs. .932 Sv% – what, then, is the tiebreaker? Shutouts (Bobs has 4, Rask 3)? Wins (Rask has 17, Bobs 16)? Or is it simply “playoffs”? The Bruins are one overtime loss away from clinching a playoff berth, while the Blue Jackets are very much on the bubble. Assuming Columbus comes up short, should the award really go to the goalie with the best team in front of him? If team performance must be considered as a tiebreaker for this individual award, one statistic might help settle the matter: Win % When Leading After Period Two (Ld 2%).
Ld 2% is, in essence, a measure of the ability of a team to “lock down” a game, to hold off a trailing, pressing, desperate opponent for the entire third period…or if they tie the game, to blunt their momentum, refocus, and surge ahead again for the win. One of the keys to locking down the game, of course, is a clutch goalie. Columbus (along with Pittsburgh and the New York Rangers) is undefeated when leading after 40 minutes. Boston, on the other hand, has a disturbing Ld 2% of .684. Only Buffalo and Colorado are worse (.667 and .583, respectively).
Which goalie is Vezina-worthy – one who makes a playoff team better, or one who is, on a so-called “bubble” team, perfect in the clutch? The 30 General Managers will decide in a few weeks, but the rest of us won’t find out until June.