Welcome to THW’s 2022-23 Vezina Trophy tracker, which hopes to rank the NHL’s leading goaltenders using a blend of traditional and more modern analytical tools on a monthly basis for the duration of the regular season.
Briefly, goals saved above expected (GSAx) is a new statistic used to evaluate goaltenders and helps account for the difference in their quality of workload. All shots are not created equal – think of a shot from the point compared to a shot from the slot – and GSAx uses expected goals to gauge how well a goalie is performing relative to the cumulative quality of shots they may face. Although public expected goals models are limited, they represent a significant leap forward from simply relying on more flawed metrics such as raw save percentage (SV%) or goals-against average (GAA).
Before we set out to the rankings, some parameters for inclusion on this list should be established. A goalie’s workload is an important factor to consider when attempting to crown the best goaltender of any given season. Consequently, netminders must play in over half of their team’s games to merit consideration for these rankings. With those guidelines in place, let’s dive into the five goaltenders (and five additional honourable mentions) who will kick off the first Vezina Trophy rankings of the 2022-23 NHL season.
5. Linus Ullmark, Boston Bruins
2022-23 Stats: 15 GP – .935 SV% – 1.96 GAA – 8.12 GSAx
The league-leading Boston Bruins have been outstanding on every front this season – enacting even-strength dominance, converting at will on the powerplay, and have received elite goaltending from 29-year-old Linus Ullmark. Considering the veteran Swedish netminder split the workload with rookie sensation Jeremy Swayman, seeing him emphatically wrest away the starting role in 2022-23 can be categorized as a surprise, even if Swayman has had injury troubles.
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Ullmark posted a solid, but unspectacular debut campaign with the Bruins after signing with the team as a free agent during the 2021 offseason. He submitted a .917 SV% (eighth among goalies to have played in at least 10 games last season) but allowed over two goals more than expected, sitting outside the top 50 in this regard. As the team committed to Ullmark for four years at $5 million a season, getting below-average goaltending represented a subpar return on their sizeable financial investment. Fortunately for the Bruins, his performance in 2022-23 is more in line with what is expected of someone residing in his tax bracket.
To this point, Ullmark’s .935 SV% is tied for the league lead among those with a minimum of five appearances, and he’s fifth overall by cumulative GSAx even though the Bruins are an elite defensive unit at 5v5. They allow the third-lowest rate of expected goals against per 60 minutes (xGA/60), but Ullmark has still vastly outperformed his low expected total. That he’s done so as the Bruins navigated significant injuries to start the campaign is even more impressive, and he’s vaulted himself into the Vezina conversation as a result.
The Bruins’ ability to dominate the run of play gives their goalies a bigger margin for error since they can reliably outscore their problems. Swayman is in the midst of the dreaded sophomore slump – he owns a .890 SV% and a minus-1.47 GSAx through five games – so Ullmark maintaining his run of form makes the Bruins a complete team without any significant faults. He can keep his name at the forefront of Vezina discussions if Boston continues to rack up wins and judging by their start, that should continue to be the case for the foreseeable future.
4. Jake Oettinger, Dallas Stars
2022-23 Stats: 13 GP – .929 SV% – 2.18 GAA – 10.76 GSAx
After doing his best Dominik Hasek impression in the first round of the 2022 Playoffs against the Calgary Flames, many wondered what the Dallas Stars’ rising star Jake Oettinger could do for an encore. For starters, the 23-year-old has disproven questions around being a one-hit-wonder by being tied for second in SV% (minimum five games played) and owns a mark of nearly 11 GSAx, the fourth-highest total in the league.
Related: 2022-23 Hart Trophy Tracker
Although the Stars are an above-average possession team, on the whole, their increased prioritization of attacking play over depending on a stingy defensive structure has caused some repercussions. According to Natural Stat Trick, Oettinger faces the seventh-highest rate of high-danger chances (HDCA/60) at 5v5 (minimum 10 games played), demonstrating the increased risk taken on by the Stars in the hopes of generating offence. They remain a net positive by most shot and chance quality metrics, but the effects of the switch in coaches from Rick Bowness to Pete DeBoer are already evident.
In combination with a revamped offensive strategy instilled by DeBoer, Oettinger has helped rocket the Stars to the top spot in the Central Division and earned them a nod as darkhorse Stanley Cup contenders. If nothing else, expect the 2022-23 season to be the campaign in which Oettinger cements himself as a bonafide difference-maker in the crease. If his early-season numbers are to be believed, he may already be firmly within that lofty stratosphere.
3. Ilya Sorokin, New York Islanders
2022-23 Stats: 14 GP – .926 SV% – 2.37 GAA – 13.04 GSAx
Like the Stars, the New York Islanders swapped the cozy confines of Barry Trotz’s smothering defensive philosophies for the more daring attacking principles espoused by Trotz’s longtime assistant Lane Lambert. After finishing fourth in 5v5 xGA/60 twice since the start of the 2018-19 season, the Islanders are conceding the third-highest rate of xGA/60 this season, running a much leakier ship in the first year of Lambert’s reign. Despite sacrificing the defining trait of Trotz’s successful tenure, Ilya Sorokin‘s play has them sitting third in the Metropolitan Division and on the more favourable side of the playoff picture as a result.
Like his countryman on the other side of New York last season, Sorokin has overcome a barrage of shots and scoring chances to drag a woeful 5v5 possession team into playoff contention. Largely due to their high concession rate, the Islanders sit in the bottom third of the NHL by expected goals share (xGF%), giving Sorokin little reprieve by way of keeping the play in the opposing end. Regardless, Sorokin is one of three goalies to have saved over 13 goals above expected this season and ranks ninth in high-danger save percentage (HDSV%) in all situations according to Natural Stat Trick (minimum 10 games played).
The Islanders may no longer be the suffocating boa constrictor they were under Trotz, but Sorokin’s presence gives them license to expand their attacking schemes and more effectively utilize center Mat Barzal. The process of handing out NHL trophies is as much based on narrative as it is on the numbers and if the Islanders make the playoffs, the Russian netminder could reap the rewards come awards time.
2. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets
2022-23 Stats: 13 GP – .935 SV% – 2.07 GAA – 13.24 GSAx
By traditional metrics, the 2021-22 campaign appeared to be the most disappointing of Connor Hellebuyck‘s career. His .910 SV% represented the lowest mark since his sophomore season (2016-17) and he conceded the highest single-season GAA (2.97) of his NHL tenure. Mix in a middling Winnipeg Jets’ attack (17th in goals per game) and rumours of a toxic dressing room environment and you have all of the ingredients for a disaster-filled season. By the advanced numbers, however, Hellebuyck performed admirably under a relentless workload and shouldn’t bear the brunt of the blame for the Jets’ misgivings.
Hellebuyck’s plus-12.08 GSAx was good for 10th overall last season, and was accrued while facing the highest cumulative total of both shots and expected goals against in the entire league. If those results constitute a down year, the rest of the league is in trouble if the Jets can ever figure out the optimal roster composition to surround their American superstar.
In a wholly unsurprising turn of events, Hellebuyck has triumphantly returned to the forefront of the Vezina Trophy conversation with his play through the first two months of the 2022-23 campaign. Although the Jets are once again bleeding quality chances at 5v5 (they rank 22nd in xGA/60 and 25th in HDCA/60), the 29-year-old has stonewalled the opposition. He’s tied with Ullmark for the highest SV% in the league despite facing a much more difficult workload, and only one other goalie has saved more goals than expected this season (spoiler: he ranks first on this list).
For all of the misguided hand-wringing about his supposed demise, Hellebuyck looks like a man possessed to start 2022-23. The Jets’ poor underlying results suggest they may be a team who falls off the pace as the season goes along but if Hellebuyck stands on his head, they have a puncher’s chance of maintaining their hot start beyond November.
1. Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers
2022-23 Stats: 14 GP – .920 SV% – 2.68 GAA – 14.64 GSAx
With a nod to his draft pedigree, there may not be a more surprising story in the NHL at the moment than the resurgence of Carter Hart, especially considering the state of the Philadelphia Flyers lineup this season. After posting a .917 and .914 SV% in his first two NHL seasons, Hart failed to exceed .905 in the following two campaigns. His struggles were punctuated by an abysmal showing in 2020-21, finishing the season with a .877 SV% in 27 games. This year, despite playing behind arguably the worst Flyers team of his tenure, he’s flashed the elite potential projected of him based on his play in the Western Hockey League (WHL).
According to NHL Injury Viz, the Flyers have accumulated the second-highest Cap Hit of Injured Players (CHIP) this season, calculated by adding up the per-game cap hit of any absent players. Considering the Flyers are notably without the services of Sean Couturier and Ryan Ellis, among many others, it’s no surprise to see them rank highly in this metric. The extensive injury list and the resulting shallow lineup depth made the Flyers one of the favourites to land Connor Bedard in next summer’s draft, but Hart has done everything in his power to change that reality.
The 24-year-old is tied for sixth in SV% (minimum five games played), but has saved the most goals above expected this season while playing in an incredibly taxing environment. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Flyers are allowing the second-highest per-60-minute rate of unblocked shot attempts (FA/60), the fourth-highest of both scoring chances and high-danger looks, and the third-highest rate of expected goals.
The only team consistently worse than the Flyers in those metrics is the Anaheim Ducks who sit 32nd overall in the league standings. Unlike Hart, however, Ducks netminder John Gibson (long considered a prime trade target) last boasted a positive GSAx in the 2018-19 season and has already allowed over five goals more than expected in 2022-23 – ranking 64th out of 70 qualified goalies.
Although the Flyers own a record of 7-8-4 and only sit four points out of the last Eastern Conference wildcard place, the narrative tide may already be moving out of Hart’s favour. Philadelphia is 2-6-2 in their last 10 games and is quickly ceding ground to their divisional rivals. If he somehow dragged them to a playoff spot, one would think that the Vezina would be all but his considering the quality of the Flyers’ roster.
Yet, if the abhorrent underlying numbers begin to foster abhorrent results, it’s difficult to see voters choose Hart over any of the aforementioned goalies on this list who have the team wins to match. I choose to look beyond the narrative in my evaluation and don’t hold Hart’s team quality against him, but I also understand that’s not always how voting shakes out. For now, Hart should be commended for his efforts and holds the top spot in these rankings, just for how long remains to be seen.
2022-23 Vezina Trophy Honourable Mentions
To round out the top 10 Vezina Trophy candidates, here are five more goaltenders worthy of an honourable mention for their play so far this season: Karel Vejmelka (Arizona Coyotes); Alexandar Georgiev (Colorado Avalanche); Martin Jones (Seattle Kraken); Igor Shesterkin (New York Rangers); and Stuart Skinner (Edmonton Oilers).
Is there anyone else who should’ve made the first edition of these rankings? Let me know in the comments! Look for the next edition of the 2022-23 Vezina Trophy Tracker sometime in December after another month of play has been completed.
Marko is an aspiring sportswriter with a passion for crafting stories while using a combination of the eye-test and (shudder) analytics, which is complemented by an academic background in criminology and political science.
When not covering the Colorado Avalanche and Pittsburgh Penguins for The Hockey Writers, he can also be found pouring countless hours into various sports video games franchises, indulging in science fiction novels, and taking long runs around his neighbourhood.