NHL: Tim Thomas and the Top 10 Goalies Fight to Win the Vezina Trophy

Scott WeldonCorrespondent IMarch 30, 2011

NHL: Tim Thomas and the Top 10 Goalies Fight to Win the Vezina Trophy

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    The Vezina trophy is annually awarded to the NHL goalie deemed to be the best in the league by the 30 NHL general managers. Historically, it was awarded to the goalie who had the best goals-against average in the league. The NHL finally realized that the goalie with the best GAA was often not the best goalie in the league; he was simply the goalie playing for the best team. 

    Pretty much all goaltending statistics—such as wins, shut-outs and goals-against average—are impacted by the team the goalie plays on. For the last three years, I have attempted to look at a variety of statistics in an attempt to see which goalies are making the greatest contribution to their teams.

    I start with minutes played. That’s a good indication that they’ve played well enough to keep their own team happy with them. It shows a level of durability as well. I’m not even looking at a goalie for the Vezina trophy unless he played more than half his team's minutes. This year my cut-off was 2000 minutes and/or 40 games played.

    Save percentage seems to be the best indicator of goaltending ability. Still, I like a goaltender with a great save percentage who plays a lot of minutes rather than one who has the same save percentage but plays fewer games. Goalies who maintain that high save percentage while facing more shots also are more impressive to me than someone who has a .925 save percentage but plays on a team that only gives up 20 shots a night.

    Wins and shutouts tend to track pretty closely to minutes played. These numbers, like GAA, also reflect how good a team is defensively. Still the goaltender is part of that so the numbers need to be looked at.

    I’ve also calculated how many saves each goalie makes during every 60 minutes of play to get an idea of how many saves per game a goalie can be expected to make. This penalizes goalies on good teams.

    I also penalized goalies who play on the 10 teams in the league that give up the fewest shots on goal in the league, while giving goalies who play on the 10 worst defensive teams in the league a bonus.

    I’ve ranked the goalies in each of these statistical categories to come up with my final top ten list. My statistical triage generally is save percentage, goals against average, shutouts, wins, saves per game, and minutes played with the bonus or penalty for how good their team was defensively. This still doesn’t parse out what kind of contribution the goalie alone makes to his team, but the last three years it does seem to give you a pretty good indication of who the best goalies in the league were over the past year and how they stand relative to each other.

    Thanks to hockeyreference.com for their up to date goaltending statistics and nhl.com for their shots against per game numbers for each team in the NHL.    

How the Mighty Have Fallen

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    SV PCT: .914 (19th)  GAA: 2.62 (18th) SO: 4 (13th) W: 32 (7th) SV/G: 28.05 (11th) MP: 3658 (5th)

    BUF DEF SA/G: 30.6 (16th)

    Ryan Miller's .914 save percentage would have led the league in many years. Unfortunately, this season it's only good enough for 19th among the league's starting goalies. It is a far cry from last year's second-best .929. He's only a top-10 goalie this year in minutes played and wins.

    Miller is still doing a quality job in nets for the Buffalo Sabres. At 30, he still can regain that league-best form that won him the Vezina last year.         

10. Jonathon Quick: LA Kings

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    SV PCT: .919 (10th)  GAA: 2.21 (4th) SO: 6 (5th) W: 32 (7th) SV/G: 24.96 (29th)  MP: 3204 (12th)  

    LA DEF SA/G: 27.7 (3rd)

    Jonathon Quick has had an excellent year in LA. He won the starting job last year and has one of the best goals-against averages in the league this year. His save percentage, shutout and win numbers are all top drawer. He has played 3,204 minutes this year, making him one of the busiest goalies in hockey.

    He is playing for one of the tightest defenses in the league in LA. That has certainly helped his numbers, but it can't take away from the fact that he is having a great year for the Kings.  

9. Tomas Vokoun: Florida Panthers

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    SV PCT: .920 (9th)  GAA: 2.63 (19th) SO: 5 (10th) W: 21 (21st) SV/G: 30.25 (4th) MP: 3104 (14th)

    FLA DEF SA/G: 32 (23rd)

    Tomas Vokoun has been one of the best goaltenders in the NHL for a decade. He is a workhorse who plays a ton of minutes while facing some of the biggest shout counts against in the league in Florida. He is always a league leader in saves per game.

    Vokoun was in third place on my goalie list last year and fifth in 2008/09. At 34 in a contract year, his numbers have slipped slightly. He's still a top-10 goalie in the league, but suddenly he is just barely that.

    He has thrived with the Florida Panthers. The slight improvement in their defensive play, though, hasn't helped his numbers at all.

    He and Quick have played similar minutes and have comparable numbers. I've given the nod to Vokoun, based on the fact that he has a marginally better save percentage and is making way more saves per game on a much worse defensive team.       

8. Jonas Hiller: Anaheim Ducks

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    SV PCT: .924 (4th) GAA: 2.56 (14th)  SO: 5 (10th) W: 29 (16th) SV/G : 30.97 (1st) MP: 2672 (24th) 

    ANA DEF SA/G: 32.3 (26th) 

    Jonas Hiller was in the running for the Vezina until a freak accident at the All-Star game saw him miss more than a month of games. Hiller just made it back into the line-up on March 28 and had a shaky first start, giving up three goals on nine shots and getting pulled at 11:38 of the first period. 

    The brilliant save percentage and the league-best saves-per-game total is balanced by his lack of playing time and corresponding low win total. There aren't enough games left in the season for him to challenge for the Vezina, even if he can win his starting job back in Anaheim.

    When healthy, Hiller did a great job for a defensively suspect Duck team.  

7. Cam Ward: Carolina Hurricanes

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    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    SV PCT : .920 (8th)  GAA : 2.63 (19th)  SO : 3 (17th)  W : 32 (7th)  SV/G: 30.38 (3rd)  MP: 3832 (3rd) 

    CAR DEF SA/G : 33.2 (30th)

    Cam Ward tends to have good years and bad, and as he goes, so go the Hurricanes. He's been having an exceptional season this year. Cam is the busiest goalie in hockey. He trails only Mikka Kiprusoff and Carey Price in minutes played, and just barely. He has faced a league highest 2108 shots behind a porous Hurricane defense.

    Despite the ruinous workload he has maintained an excellent .920 save percentage and managed to stay healthy.      

6. Ilya Bryzgalov: Phoenix Coyotes

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    SV PCT: .921 (6th)  GAA: 2.47 (11th)  SO: 7 (4th)  W: 34 (2nd)   SV/G :  28.95 (8th)  MP: 3687 (4th) 

    PHO DEF SA/G: 32.6 (28th) 

    Ilya Bryzgalov is another goalie who seems to be the difference between success and failure for his team. Phoenix gives up the 3rd most shots on goal against a game. Despite that, Bryzgalov is a top-10 performer in all statistical categories except for goals-against average—and even there, he is 11th in the league.

    He is fourth in shutouts, second in wins, fourth in minutes played and sixth in save percentage. He is busy and successful. Bryzgalov is a goalie with great numbers to be an unrestricted free agent with.   

5. Carey Price: Montreal Canadiens

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    Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

    SV PCT: .922 (6th)   GAA: 2.40 (8th)  SO: 8 (2nd)   W: 34 (2nd)  SV/G : 28.13 (10th)  MP: 3925 (1st) 

    MON DEF SA/G: 30.9 (19th)

    Carey Price has played the most minutes of any goalie in hockey this year. He has maintained a top quality save percentage, win and shutout totals, while playing all those minutes. Price was thrown to the lions in Montreal after the less habitants traded last year's starter and playoff hero Jaroslav Halak to the St Louis Blues. He hasn't been eaten yet.    

4. Henrik Lundqvist: New York Rangers

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    SV PCT: .924 (4th)    GAA: 2.28 (5th)  SO: 11 (1st)   W: 33 (7th)  SV/G: 27.12 (23rd)  MP: 3664 (6th) 

    NYR DEF SA/G :  29.3 (10th)

    Henrik Lundqvist has quietly been one of the leagues better goalies since he joined for the 2005-06 season. This year, he sports numbers that make him a legitimate candidate for the Vezina trophy.

    He is the league leader in shutouts. He plays behind a good defensive team in New York, but his consistent numbers over the years lead me to believe he is responsible for a lot of the statistical success he has had.

    If the Rangers make the playoffs, Lundqvist can take them on a run.      

3. Roberto Luongo: Vancouver Canucks

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    SV PCT: .927 (3rd)  GAA: 2.18 (3rd)  SO: 3 (17th)  W: 35 (1st)  SV/G: 27.645 (14th)   MP: 3351(10th)

    VAN DEF SA/G: 30.4 (15th)

    Roberto Luongo has made my top-10 list the last two, though this is the highest I've ever ranked him.

    The low shutout count in front of a very good Vancouver team makes me nervous, especially considering the fact that he has played in 56 games this year. Mathieu Garon, James Reimer and Johan Hedberg all have three shutouts this year while playing in over 20 fewer games.

    That said, Luongo is near the top of the league in a variety of statistical categories, and the Canucks have  given up an average number of shots on goal per game.

    The emergence of a dependable backup goalie in Vancouver (Corey Schneider) has allowed the Canucks to lessen Luongo's work load. This has apparently improved his statistical performance and theoretically leaves him fresher for the playoffs.  

2. Pekka Rinne: Nashville Predators

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    SV PCT: .929 (2nd) GAA: 2.10 (2nd)  SO: 6 (5th)  W: 30 (13th)  SV/G: 27.61 (16th) MP: 3368 (9th)

    NSH DEF SA/G: 30.3 (13th)

    Pekka Rinne is another goalie who has been on or near my top-10 list for the last few years. He's second in the league in save percentage and goals-against average, all while playing top-10 minutes on a middle-of-the-road defensive team in Nashville.

    Rinne is another goalie who could lead his team to an upset in the playoffs.   

1. Tim Thomas: Boston Bruins

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    SV PCT: .938 (1st)  GAA: 2.02 (1st)  SO: 8 (2nd)  W: 31 (11th) SV/G : 30.6 (2nd)   MP: 3000 (15th)

    BOS DEF SA/G: 32.9 (29th)

    Tim Thomas has been head and shoulders above the other NHL goalies this year. His .939 save percentage is a full percentage point better than second best Rinne. Despite being only 15th in minutes played, he is second in the league in shutouts. This is all while playing for a Boston team that gives up the second most shots on goal in the league.

    Thomas is backed up by last year's starter Tuukka Rask, which allows him to stay fresh at age 36.

    Thomas seems to be the runaway winner of the Vezina trophy this year.