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Vezina 2013: Is Antti Niemi the favorite?

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How does Antti Niemi stack up against past Vezina winners and this year's competition?

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Niemi stares intently at a green light across the bay.
Niemi stares intently at a green light across the bay.
Christian Petersen

The Vezina Trophy is awarded each season to the goaltender "adjudged to be the best at this position."

The question, then, is how exactly this "adjudging" goes down. Of course the fact that the people who do the judging are the league's general managers means that assuming there will be some kind of rationality or intelligence on display is, at best, optimistic. But since we don't have access to the dartboards and dice and flipping coins GMs use to make their decisions, we'll have to do the best we can with publicly available information. Let's take a look at five stats that probably go a long way to determining who wins the Vezina each year.

Wins: Not the fairest measurement of goaltender quality, but an obvious one that always gets attention.

GAA: Shouldn't get the focus that it does, as it completely ignores how many shots a goalie is facing, but it's a major part of what GMs look at when picking a winner.

SV%: Probably the best of the mainstream stats at measuring goalie skill. There are better stats available (even strength save percentage, for example) but if you think GMs are going to pay attention to anything like that when deciding who gets the Vezina then you, sir, are high on drugs.

Shutouts: Can be pretty random, but shutouts are still an impressive accomplishment.

Saves: The total number of shots a goalie faces over a season is something to be valued when picking the best one.

With these five stats giving us a solid picture of how well goalies perform in a given year, the next step is to look at how Vezina winners have ranked in these categories over the past few seasons.

Here are the rankings (a 1 means 1st place in that stat) for Vezina winners the past ten seasons, leaving out goalies who played fewer than 20 games. When goalies were tied in a stat, I awarded them the best possible ranking (if three goalies were tied for 4th with 3 wins, they would all get a 4).

Year Player Wins GAA
Saves Average
11-12 Lundqvist 3 4 3 3 12 5
10-11 Thomas 9 1 1 2 9 4.4
09-10 Miller 4 2 2 7 3 3.6
08-09 Thomas 6 1 1 10 11 5.8
07-08 Brodeur 2 6 7 9 2 5.2
06-07 Brodeur 1 3 3 1 1 1.8
05-06 Kiprusoff 2 1 3 1 4 2.2
03-04 Brodeur 1 4 14 1 6 5.2
02-03 Brodeur 1 5 19 1 10 7.2
01-02 Theodore 14 5 1 2 1 4.6
Average 4.3 3.2 5.4 3.7 5.9 4.5

Some observations:

  • Martin Brodeur is good at goalie.
  • The "best" Vezina winners were Brodeur in 06-07, Kiprusoff in 05-06, and Miller in 09-10.
  • Save percentage, which as we said above is probably the best mainstream stat in terms of objectively measuring goalie skill, isn't given as much weight as shutouts, wins, or goals against average.
  • GMs are bad at evaluating goalies.
  • EAST COAST BIAS!!!!1!!

On average, Vezina winners tend to rank between 3rd and 6th in these five stat areas, and 4.5th when all the stats are taken together.

With those metrics in mind for Vezina standards, let's look at the frontrunners this season. We'll exclude goalies who have played fewer than 15 games this time.

Team Player Wins GAA SV% Shutouts Saves Average
SJS Niemi 1 8 5 4 2 4
CHI Crawford 10 3 7 7 22 9.8
CHI Emery 15 2 9 7 35 13.6
CBJ Bobrovsky 10 5 2 4 11 6.4
OTT Anderson 26 1 1 7 24 11.8
NYR Lundqvist 6 6 6 25 4 9.4
BOS Rask 10 4 3 7 16 8
VAN Schneider 16 7 4 1 20 9.6

  • With all these stats taken together, Niemi is the clear choice to win the Vezina.
  • The only strike against Niemi is that he has the worst GAA of the favorite candidates which, as we discussed above, is a stat GMs value to a stupid extent.
  • I thought the talk about Sergei Bobrovsky making a push for the Vezina was crazy, but...I guess not. He definitely deserves to be a finalist, and he's basically the only other goalie who could win it that wouldn't make me think Niemi was robbed.
  • I thought of another reason aside from his GAA that might cost Niemi the Vezina: EAST COAST BIAS!!!

Antti Niemi is signed through the 14-15 season, so there's no danger of his winning a Vezina now costing the Sharks extra money. So since there's no downside for the Sharks, and since he so clearly deserves it, I strongly believe Niemi should be the 2013 Vezina winner.

Disagree? Come at me, bro.

Next Game

Minnesota Wild
@ San Jose Sharks

Thursday, Apr 18, 2013, 7:30 PM PDT
HP Pavilion

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"There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired."

The Sharks play the Wild tonight, the team directly behind them in the standings. A regulation win the for Wild would drop the Sharks down to the 6th seed, and would also be only the second time all season the Sharks have lost in regulation on home ice.

The Wild are 4-5-1 in their last ten games, and have won their last two games...but those two victories came over the Flames and the Oilers, so big whoop. Prior to those two wins they lost to the Blue Jackets and were shutout three times in four games before that, so...the Wild aren't exactly the hottest team in the league, you could say.

The last time these two teams played each other Marc-Edouard Vlasic ended Dany Heatley's season in an altercation (though the slash he was fined for wasn't what caused the injury), so there's a chance that the Wild will be targeting Vlasic in tonight's game, which is pretty hilarious. I'm sure San Jose's premiere enforcer Douglas Murray Ryane Clowe Tommy Wingels(???) can keep the game from getting out of hand.

Prediction: Niemi pads his Vezina stats against the Wild's lousy offense. Sharks win 3-0.

My fifth-favorite book is The Great Gatsby. It's such an amazing piece of fiction. Somebody should really make it into a movie some day.