2021 NHL Award Watch: Evaluating the Vezina Race

This is the second part of a five-part series examining the award races for the major awards (Hart, Selke, Calder, Vezina & Norris) as the season comes to a close. The first volume in the series took a look at the Hart Trophy race. This is the second volume looking at the Vezina race. Along with the winner and two finalists, there will also be an honorable mention section.

It is important to note that this series will emphasize analytics and take into account other critical elements. In this shortened season, there are some clear frontrunners while some races are very close. Unless something dramatically changes in these final games, this is my final ballot for each award.

Vezina Race

The award is given to the goaltender adjudged to be the best at this position

Andrei VasilevskiyTBLWinner
Marc-Andre FleuryVGKFinalist
Semyon VarlamovNYIFinalist

Andrei Vasilevskiy has been vastly criticized by the analytics community because his underlying numbers haven’t been near the top of the league. This season, however, has been a very different story. He has cemented himself as the best goalie in the league and the likely winner of the Vezina Trophy for a second time in three years.

Vasilevskiy is sporting a .928 save percentage (SV%) through 40 starts. He leads starting goalies with a .880 high-danger save percentage (HDSV%), which looks at his save percentage from the high-danger areas with the highest probability of the shots turning into goals.

Andrei Vasilevskiy Tampa Bay Lightning
Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Likewise, his 21.86 goals saved above average (GSAA), which essentially looks at the average save percentage league-wide and workload, ranks first among all goaltenders. Furthermore, he has saved 15.79 goals above expected (GSAx) based on the quality of shots he has faced, which is second behind Fleury. He also ranks first in wins above replacement with 4.7, which is a little higher than his closest competition.

Fleury has a major case to be the Vezina frontrunner, as he leads all goaltenders with 16.45 GSAx, which is the best goaltending metrics available. With that said, the Golden Knights’ tandem, which includes Robin Lehner, is a huge reason I have him second. To me, the Vezina runner can’t be sharing significant time. Vasilevskiy has more valuable to the Lightning than Fleury with the Golden Knights.

Marc-Andre Fleury Vegas Golden Knights
Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

That isn’t to downplay Fleury’s fantastic season, though. His .926 SV% and .847 HDSV% are both near the top of the league. Likewise, he has the fourth and second highest wins above replacement (WAR) and GSAA, respectively. There is no doubt he deserves recognition for his incredible season, but he doesn’t have a big enough profile to edge out Vasilevskiy.

If there is one goalie that has flown under the radar, it would be Semyon Varlamov. He has a .930 SV% through 34 starts this season, which goes nicely with his .848 percentage of stopping high-danger shots. His 8.94 GSAx is the fourth-best among goalies who have played more than 25 games.

Semyon Varlamov New York Islanders
Semyon Varlamov, New York Islanders (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

In terms of saving goals above average, his 21.16 GSAA is just behind Vezina frontrunner Vasilevskiy. He also is fourth in WAR. There is no doubt he has had a phenomenal season that hasn’t garnered enough attention by the league. After struggling his last several seasons with the Avalanche, it is positive to see the veteran goaltender reclaim his impact.

Honorable Mentions

Alex Nedelijovic CAR
Connor HellebuyckWPG
Juuse SarosNSH

Alex Nedeljkovic has had an incredible rookie season, and if it wasn’t for his lack of games played, he would have probably had a chance to be at least a finalist for the Vezina Trophy. He has saved 12.96 goals above expected, which is good for third in the league, a very impressive feat for a rookie to be within distance of two of the best goalies in the league. He’s also rocking one of the best SV% at .932, GSAA at 13.89, and a .871 HDSV%.

The reigning Vezina winner, Connor Hellebuyck, has had another great season, as his 11.82 GSAA ranks fourth league-wide. Despite his other metrics not being as strong in comparison to the other candidates, he holds 4.2 WAR, which is the second-highest in the league. Consistency isn’t very common for goaltenders, which makes Hellebucyk very valuable because he has been a model of consistency.

Juuse Saros has really flown under the radar too. After a very slow start, he has really excelled in the second half of the season — he has a .927 SV% and has saved 6.61 goals above expected. Likewise, he has saved 19.25 goals above average, which ranks third in the league behind Vasilevskiy and Varlamov. He has displayed that he has what it takes to be the Predators’ number one goalie of the future.

Final Thoughts

The Vezina Trophy race has been very entertaining this season, especially with several challenging the consensus winner in Vasilevskiy. While he is the frontrunner and will likely win, there are several who have had very good seasons and deserve immense recognition.

(All Data Via Evolving-Hockey, Natural Stat Trick & Hockey-Reference)

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