Vezina Trophy race: Deeper stats favor Shesterkin; will NHL GMs?

Vezina Trophy
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With about a quarter of the 2021-22 NHL season in the books, PHT broke down races for major awards. Now about halfway through the season, it’s time for updated looks at key 2022 NHL Awards races, starting with the Vezina Trophy.

If you want to go back in time by about two months, here’s our look at the race for the Calder Trophy, the Norris, Vezina, and Hart Trophy.

Note: stats collected from before Thursday’s (Jan. 20) games, unless otherwise noted. The NHL’s general managers vote for the Vezina Trophy each season.

Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin in the running — but why he may not be the favorite

Whether it’s termed Goals Saved Above Average or Goals Saved Above Expected, hockey’s public analytics community aims to find more nuanced ways to separate a goalie’s results from the way their teams play in front of them.

Different outlets have different ways of getting there, but in almost every case, Igor Shesterkin would lead the Vezina Trophy race if that was the first thing voters looked at. Sometimes Shesterkin leads those stats by small margins; sometimes by a lot.

It also doesn’t hurt that Igor Shesterkin shines in other ways.

Most simply, the Rangers are thriving, and in a lot of cases exceeding expectations. Shesterkin shouldn’t want for attention.

And he looks strong by more traditional means. Shesterkin’s .938 save percentage shines even without games played filters, and Frederik Andersen is the only other heavily used goalie with a save percentage at or above .930. (Exactly .930 in Andersen’s case. Granted, Tristan Jarry is close at .928.)

With GMs voting, Vezina Trophy field could be wide open

Anecdotally speaking — and, ideally, this will increasingly be a thing of the past — many believe that NHL GMs merely look at wins, save percentage, and (bleh) GAA when voting for the Vezina Trophy. (Maybe a couple simply throw a dart, or task an unlucky intern with the choice.)

Things open up when you narrow the stats.

• Look, Shesterkin is no slouch with an 18-4-2 record. GMs will probably want more volume come voting time (those 18 wins rank seventh entering Thursday’s games).

• Of course, reputation matters, and NHL wins leader Andrei Vasilevskiy (23-6-3) likely ranks as the consensus best goalie in the world. Certainly by “mainstream” standards, and GMs don’t tend to break rank on these things.

• Perhaps Frederik Andersen is the warm porridge between Shesterkin and Vasilevskiy? Andersen is tied for second in wins (20), and boasts a .930 save percentage. Andersen is also a fun redemption story.

[PHT picks the most interesting 2022 NHL Awards races to watch]

• For those fixated on workloads, Juuse Saros (33 games played, 20 wins, .923 save percentage) isn’t far behind Vasilevskiy (32 GP, 23 W, .923). It’s also more likely that NHL GMs will believe that Saros is “carrying” his team. (Even though Vasilevskiy held down the fort while key Lightning players missed serious time.)

• Rounding out the group of top Vezina Trophy contenders: Tristan Jarry (30 GP, 19 W, .928) and Jack Campbell (29 GP, 19 W, .927).

A handful of interesting Vezina Trophy dark horse candidates

With the NHL merely at (or near) the halfway point, there’s room for other Vezina Trophy candidates to emerge. Granted, they’ll need to enjoy a hot second half, though.

• In that imaginary pickup game (presumably against hockey-playing aliens?), I’d likely cycle between two goalies: Vasilevskiy or Connor Hellebuyck. That said, Hellebuyck’s been good instead of great this season — so far. His numbers are solid enough that he could surge into the mix with a torrid second half.

Jacob Markstrom‘s 13-8-5 record is mediocre by Vezina Trophy standards, but that .926 save percentage is strong. Markstrom’s five shutouts lead the league, which really shouldn’t be much of a focus, but who knows?

• At the moment, Marc-Andre Fleury is in a poor position to repeat as Vezina Trophy winner. Still, his numbers rebounded from a tough start in a tough situation, and it would be surprising if the Blackhawks decided not to trade Fleury from that tough situation. We’ve all learned not to count out “The Flower” by now, right?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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