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

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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.    

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