There are many goalies at the top of the league who are worthy of being called the best. However, there is only one goalie who distinguishes himself to be the best of the best, and that goalie is Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Russian netminder is entering the first year of his 8-year, $76 million contract. Vasilevskiy is currently the second-highest-paid goaltender in the league for value, and he is the third-highest paid in terms of annual average salary behind Sergei Bobrovsky and Carey Price.
Giving goaltenders huge contracts has not gone well the majority of the time, an example being Sergei Bobrovsky’s 7-year, $70 million contract. Bobrovsky has played 16 games this season, with a save percentage (SV%) of .905 percent and goals against average (GAA) of 2.95. Although Carey Price has been good recently, his .907 SV% and 2.66 GAA do not fit the standard for the highest-paid goaltender in the league.
Vasilevskiy is living up to his contract so far, performing at an unbelievably high level.
Vasilevskiy’s Vezina-Caliber Season
The former Vezina Trophy winner is once again having a spectacular season, a season worthy of winning the Vezina. Vasilevskiy could be on pace to win his second Vezina trophy in three years.
In the NHL, Vasilevskiy is first for goalies in games won with 19. He only lost three out of 23 games, and one of them was an overtime loss, which is absolutely insane. In the 21 games he played, he’s second in the league with a SV% of .932, behind Marc-Andre Fleury. Vasilevskiy and Fleury are the only goaltenders who have a SV% of above .930. He is also top 3 in GAA.
Vasilevskiy’s Advanced Stats
Vasilevskiy is on his own tier when it comes to analytics. He is first in the NHL for goalies in goals saved above average at 15.12 (GSAA), and first in goals saved above expected (GSAx) at 13.91.
In this chart, you can see that Vasilevskiy is elite at even strength when it comes to saving unblocked shots. According to Evolving-Hockey, he leads all goalies in wins above replacement at 4.1, goals above average at 23.2, and standing points above replacement at 7.7.
The Backbone of the Lightning
The Tampa Bay Lightning are currently the best team in the league with the absence of their superstar and leading playoff scorer Nikita Kucherov due to a hip injury.
You might be thinking, how is this possible? The answer is simple: Vasilevskiy.
Vasilevskiy has held the fort for the Tampa Bay Lightning many times this season. Even with the injury of the former Hart Trophy winner, the Lightning are fourth in the league in goals against/games played. This is the result of top-tier defence and elite goaltending.
One could say that the Lightning are playing in arguably the easiest division in the NHL, with teams like Detroit Red Wings, Dallas Stars, Nashville Predators and Columbus Blue Jackets in the bottom 20, and Chicago Blackhawks in the bottom 15 for standings. However, the top three teams in the Central Division include the Lightning, Florida Panthers and the Carolina Hurricanes, which are all top four in the entire league.
Stanley Cup Run
Vasilevskiy’s contribution to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s success was overshadowed by big names such as Kucherov, Brayden Point and Conn Smythe winner Victor Hedman.
Vasilevskiy had an underrated playoff run. During Game 1 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, five overtimes were necessary to determine a winner. While Point had the game-winning goal, Vasilevskiy gave the Lightning a fighting chance by making 61 saves.
In total, Vasilevskiy won 18 games in 25 games played, with a GAA of 1.90 and SV% of .927. He was first for all goalies in GSAx with 13.72, and second in GSAA with 7.41.
If Vasilevskiy keeps up his performance, there is certainly no doubt that he will be able to win the Vezina. As for now, he has established himself as the best goaltender in the NHL.
(All Data Via Evolving-Hockey & StatMuse)