Hellebuyck a Glaring Omission from Vezina Trophy Finalists

The reigning Vezina Trophy winner has been snubbed a chance to repeat.

The Winnipeg Jets’ Connor Hellebuyck, who captured the hardware last season in a landslide, was left off the list of finalists for NHL’s top goaltender in 2020-21.

Connor Hellebuyck Winnipeg Jets
Connor Hellebuyck was snubbed of a Vezina Trophy nomination. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Hellebuyck Somehow Left off the List

The three-man-slate, revealed Tuesday morning, was just as notable for who wasn’t on it as who was.

The finalists, voted on by the NHL’s general managers, are the Colorado Avalanche’s Philipp Grubauer, the Vegas Golden Knights’ Marc-Andre Fleury, and the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy.

All three had excellent seasons, but Hellebuyck — who was a key reason the Jets made the playoffs in a season where many wrote them off before it began — was the leader in a number of major statistical categories that one would think would bag him at least a nomination.

As the Winnipeg Sun’s Scott Billeck notes above, Hellebuyck was first in shots against, saves, minutes, and games played.

Basic Stats Don’t Tell the Whole Story

While it’s true Hellebuyck’s GAA (2.58) and SV% (.916) were not as good as any of the three finalists, there are many more advanced stats that should go into determining which goalie is “the best at the position.”

Such stats include Expected Goals Against Average, which indicates how often a goalie stops pucks that should, by all means, find twine. In this state Hellebuyck shines over Grubauer and Vasilevskiy.

Hellebuyck ranked second in the league in Goals Saved Above Average (13.72) and Wins Above Replacement (8.9), compared to Grubauer ranking 13th in the league in GSAx (4.26) and 14th in WAR (2.5), the Twitter account All Sportlytics noted.

Hellebuyck was better than all three finalists in WAR, in fact. He had more Quality Starts than Vasilevskiy (25 to 24) and his Goalie Points Share (9.1) was better than Grubauer’s (7.4) and Fleury’s (8.0.)

The defense in front of Hellebuyck was far weaker than that of the Avalanche, Golden Knights, or Lightning. Hellebuyck’s numbers would have been even better if he played for one of them.

Why Did GMs Not Recognize Hellebuyck?

We can’t say for certain what was in the minds of the league’s GMs as they made their selections, but a number of factors could have come into play.

Connor Hellebuyck Winnipeg Jets
There are a number of possible reasons Hellebuyck didn’t get a Vezina nomination. (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

One may be a perception that the North Division was weaker than the others, even though it had the highest average total goals scored per game at 6.71 (no other division was even above 6.0.)

The North Division also had more star power than any other — goalies had to deal with heavy doses of Brock Boeser, Elias Petterson, Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Tyler Toffoli, and other high-end talents.

Related: The North Division is the Most Exciting to Watch

It’s also possible American GMs just weren’t paying attention to the North Division at all, because their teams didn’t have to head to Canada during the shortened season.

A second reason may be that Grubauer was nominated simply because of his outstanding 30-9-1 record, even though the outstanding team in front of him made many of his nights quite easy.

Nick Bonino Minnesota Wild Philipp Grubauer Colorado Avalanche
Phillip Grubauer likely got the nomination based on his record alone. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

A third reason may be that Fleury got some votes due to recently moving into third place all-time in career wins and for never having been nominated for the Vezina before.

Fleury had a good story as well: the 36-year-old wasn’t pegged as the starter this season, but stole the crease from the newly-extended Robin Lehner and made 36 starts.

Hellebuyck Will Use the Snub As Motivation

Hellebuyck said after being nominated for the Vezina last season that he was honoured, but that his main goal is to win the Stanley Cup. He has a chance to do just that: the Jets will begin their second-round series with the Montreal Canadiens tonight after sweeping the heavily-favoured Edmonton Oilers in the first round. He was rock-solid against the Oilers, posting a 1.50 GAA, .950 SV%, one shutout, and only allowing eight goals.

Related: Jets’ 3 X-Factors Ahead of Second-Round Clash with Canadiens

The ever-confident goaltender always plays with a chip on his shoulder, and it should be even bigger now.

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