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 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 solely 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. Considering a goalie’s workload is important when attempting to crown the best goaltender of any given season. Consequently, netminders must play in at least 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 feature in the final edition of the 2022-23 Vezina Trophy power rankings.
March Rankings: 5. Andrei Vasilevskiy (Tampa Bay Lightning); 4. Connor Hellebuyck (Winnipeg Jets) 3. Juuse Saros (Nashville Predators); 2. Linus Ullmark (Boston Bruins); 1. Ilya Sorokin (New York Islanders)
5. Igor Shesterkin, New York Rangers
2022-23 Stats: 58 Games Played (GP) – .916 Save Percentage (SV%) – 2.48 Goals-Against Average (GAA) – 27.7 Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAx)
Kicking off the last edition of the Vezina Trophy rankings is Igor Shesterkin, who makes his first appearance in the top five this season after navigating an uncharacteristically nervy campaign.
The New York Rangers’ netminder experienced a slight decline from his Vezina-winning numbers from last season, but a late-season surge saw the 27-year-old rebound to something approaching his stellar form from 2021-22.
After hovering outside the top 10 league-wide in terms of SV%, GAA, and GSAx through the end of December, Shesterkin’s performance in 2023 vaulted him back among the NHL’s elite in the crease.
Although Shesterkin’s raw SV% dipped, he performed better against expectations. In 28 games prior to January 1, he posted a .918 SV% and saved almost 11 goals above expected. In the 30 games afterwards, he only posted a .914 SV% but saved over 17 goals above expected, helping the Rangers lock in an automatic divisional playoff berth.
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On the year as a whole, Shesterkin ranks 10th in both SV% and GAA, but has saved the fifth-highest total of goals above expected this season among qualified goalies (minimum 20 games played). He wasn’t at the level he showed last season, but it speaks to his quality that 2022-23 could be considered a down year.
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Shesterkin figures to be a Vezina contender for the next half-decade at the least, but don’t expect him to be named a finalist this season.
4. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets
2022-23 Stats: 64 GP – .920 SV% – 2.49 GAA – 33.5 GSAx
It speaks to the caliber of this year’s Vezina field that Connor Hellebuyck, who submitted one of the best regular seasons of his career and may not even be named a finalist for the award.
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Hellebuyck made a league-leading 64 starts this season and faced the third-most shots in the league. Despite facing such a heavy workload, the 2019-20 Vezina winner finished the year tied for fourth in SV% among qualified goalies with only the three netminders slotting in ahead of him on these rankings saving more goals above expected on the year.
In tandem with the Winnipeg Jets’ slide heading into the postseason (they were 20th in points percentage since January 1), Hellebuyck’s traditional numbers dipped beyond his usual standard.
Since the turn of the year, Hellebuyck posted a .913 SV% and a 2.64 GAA (both ranked 18th among goalies with at least 10 games played in that span), but his advanced metrics paint him in a much more favourable light. He still saved 15.8 goals more than expected, sitting seventh in the league since January 1.
Given the Jets’ underwhelming lack of offensive output over that time (22nd in goals per game), it’s hard to pin the team’s struggles on the goalie who kept them afloat. All goalies go through rocky stretches and even recent Vezina winners are no exception.
It’s only fair to judge Hellebuyck on his campaign as a whole and luckily, he’s shown he’s still one of the NHL’s best, and should earn plenty of Vezina votes even if he doesn’t end up winning the award.
3. Juuse Saros, Nashville Predators
2022-23 Stats: 64 GP – .919 SV% – 2.69 GAA – 45.1 GSAx
On the surface, Juuse Saros‘ statistical resume doesn’t look particularly impressive compared to his peers in the Vezina conversation. His SV% only ranked ninth in the league with his GAA coming in at 19th among qualified goalies (minimum 20 games played). When accounting for his playing environment however, it becomes readily apparent why the 27-year-old deserves numerous plaudits for how he anchored a scrappy Nashville Predators squad.
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The Predators finished the season 25th or lower in terms of the rate at which they condeded shots (SA/60), expected goals (xGA/60), scoring chances (SCA/60), and high-danger chances (HDCA/60) per-60-minutes at 5-on-5. Quite frankly, Nashville had no business hanging around the playoff picture as long as they did. Those defensive metrics put them in the realm of some of the bottom-feeders vying for the best lottery odds, rather than postseason hopefuls.
The nature of Saros’ workload means that the traditional metrics of SV% and GAA don’t exactly do him justice, as any goalie playing behind team allowing such a high frequency of scoring opportunities would concede a higher rate of goals.
When using GSAx – which accounts for chance quality – Saros rockets up to second among all goaltenders this season. By Evolving Hockey’s count, his 2022-23 effort is the third-highest total ever since the statistic was first calculated during the 2007-08 season.
You might be asking how it’s possible that he doesn’t lead this list but he’s beaten out by one goalie with incredible traditional metrics and another who is one of only two goalies to accumulate a higher single-season GSAx.
The Predators failed to secure a playoff spot in the Western Conference, but little blame should be assigned to Saros, who should be a Vezina finalist once again this season. Voters will find it difficult to overlook the cases put forth by the final two goalies, but Saros deserves recognition for standing on his head behind a weak Nashville squad.
2. Linus Ullmark, Boston Bruins
2022-23 Stats: 49 GP – .938 SV% – 1.89 GAA – 38.1 GSAx
You may be wondering how the Boston Bruins’ Linus Ullmark – the starting goalie for the best regular-season team in NHL history – isn’t leading this list. After all, he paces all netminders in both SV% and GAA, as well as ranking seventh in HDSV% (.859).
Yet, fairly or not, the talent of the team around Ullmark detracts from his argument for the Vezina. That’s not to say he didn’t contribute to the Bruins’ success or is solely a byproduct of his environment, but no sound analysis can be done without being objective about his shooting environment.
According to Natural Stat Trick, the Bruins rank seventh in xGA/60 and SCA/60, and 10th in HDCA/60 at 5-on-5. Of the netminders in serious contention for the Vezina, only Ullmark plays behind a defensive unit firmly entrenched in the top 10 according to those metrics.
Another strike against Ullmark is his overall workload. Of the goalies in the top five, he’s the only one with fewer than 50 starts, and has only faced the 17th-most shots this season, the lowest of the group. A goalie experiences less of both a mental and physical toll when their nightly and season-long workload aren’t as strenous, and has the luxury of playing alongside a competent backup, like Jeremy Swayman.
Again, that’s not to completely dismiss Ullmark’s season – he does own the eighth-highest total of GSAx since 2007-08 – but it’s to add important context to the debate. Solely relying on raw statistics without adjusting for chance quality is a poor and outdated method of goaltender evaluation.
If he does end up winning the Vezina, I won’t argue that he doesn’t deserve the honour. To me, the fact that the last goalie on this list posted sparkling numbers behind one of the NHL’s worst team defences this season is more impressive than Ullmark backstopping a historic juggernaut.
1. Ilya Sorokin, New York Islanders
2022-23 Stats: 62 GP – .924 SV% – 2.34 GAA – 50.2 GSAx
Rounding out this edition of the Vezina Trophy power rankings is Ilya Sorokin of the New York Islanders, who arguably submitted one of the best individual netminding seasons of the analytics era.
For reference, Sorokin’s total of 50.2 GSAx according to Evolving Hockey ranks second all time behind only Henrik Lundqvist’s 2009-10 season (51.7). Further, among goalies who meet my Vezina criteria (at least 41 games played), Sorokin ranks second in SV%, third in GAA, and fifth in HDSV%. By both traditional and modern metrics, it’s difficult to pick a clear cut winner between Sorokin and Ullmark.
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The most important factor in this discussion is the difference in shooting environments faced by both goaltenders. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Islanders rank 21st or worse in SCA/60, xGA/60, and HDCA/60 in all situations, and grade out slightly worse when isolating for 5-on-5 play.
That Sorokin somewhat kept pace with Ullmark in the traditional metrics and bested him in GSAx speaks to the level of his performance considering the differences in the quality of scoring chances each faced on a nightly basis.
Sorokin signficantly bolstered his case by leading the Islanders to a playoff spot. Team success can sometimes be a differentiating factor and although the Bruins established new records for the most wins (65) and points (135) in a season, it’s difficult to dismiss each goalie’s influence within their respective situations.
That may seem like more of an argument for the Hart Trophy discussion, but the advanced numbers support my argument. Whether others agree with me remains to be seen, but Sorokin has been the league’s best goaltender in my opinion.
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 this season: Andrei Vasilevskiy (Tampa Bay Lightning); Jake Oettinger (Dallas Stars), Alexandar Georgiev (Colorado Avalanche); Ilya Samsonov (Toronto Maple Leafs); and Stuart Skinner (Edmonton Oilers).
Is there anyone else who should’ve made these rankings? Let me know in the comments, and thanks for following along with each update of the 2022-23 Vezina Trophy Tracker!