If there’s one travesty come June when the NHL’s awards are handed out, it’s that John Gibson won’t be up on stage receiving the Vezina Trophy for the NHL’s best goaltender.
Yes. John Gibson. An NHL goaltender on one of the worst teams in the league, a team that’s fighting for the right to pick first overall rather than raise a second Stanley Cup banner in Anaheim.
It might seem like insanity. Maybe it is.
The Vezina’s three finalists will probably look something like this: Andrei Vasilevskiy, Ben Bishop and Frederik Andersen.
Vasilevskiy, of course, because he’s an incredible goaltender playing on perhaps the best regular-season team in NHL history in the Tampa Bay Lightning. There’s a solid case to be made for a guy with six shutouts, a .927 save percentage and 37 wins entering Friday.
Bishop, because he leads the league with a .933 save percentage and has given a low-scoring Dallas Stars team every opportunity to be in the playoff position they’re in.
Andersen, because despite the milk carton defense in Toronto, has put together an impressive season sans help from his Maple Leafs teammates.
Their numbers are the shiny ones you see when you Google goalie statistics. Their names are atop the rankings of basic goaltending statistics.
They’re all elite goalies, don’t get me wrong, and this is taking nothing away from what they’ve accomplished.
But what John Gibson has done trumps them all.
Gibson’s numbers, on a surface level, look pedestrian. He’s posted a .915 save percentage and a 2.89 goals-against average in 56 appearances this season. There are several guys ahead of him in that category and likely where the wheels begin to fall off in his Vezina case.
Are the NHL’s 31 general managers, who vote on the Vezina, going to dig much deeper? Probably not, and that’s where Gibson’s case comes to a screeching halt.
Here’s some truth: Gibson has saved more goals above the league average than any other goalie in the NHL this season. His goals-saved above average is 17.8, nearly a full goal and a half above Jaroslav Halak and more than a goal and a half more than Bishop. Andersen? Gibson’s got him beat by over 10 goals. Vasilevskiy? 16.
More truth: Among the 37 goalies this season that have played 1,500 minutes or more, Gibson ranks lowest with an expected save percentage of .913 in 5v5 situations when you factor in the type of shot quality he’s faced. His adjusted save percentage when look at the difference in his actual save percentage of .927 and the expect numbers, you arrive a 1.37, fourth best in the NHL, meaning that Gibson is well above the average of what he should be given the quality of shots he’s faced.
Speaking of quality and the number of shots faced, Gibson has seen more high-danger shots fired his way (299) than any other goalie in the league, and despite this, he’s managed a .823 save percentage, good for ninth best — higher than Andersen and Vasilevskiy. Bishop (.854, 207 shots against) is third, but has seen 92 less high-danger shots.
One more thing: Gibson has seen the fifth-most shots against per 60 minutes played, just slightly behind Andersen, both of whom are well ahead of Bishop and Vasilevskiy.
All these numbers aren’t just for show. They’re important statistics that show just how incredible Gibson’s season has been with the Ducks.
Recency bias won’t help his cause. People will say his season was front-loaded as the Ducks surprised a lot of people with their playoff positioning early on. Does Andersen get the same treatment? Does Vasilevskiy get dinged for the fact he’s blessed by an offensive and defensive juggernaut in front of him?
But don’t blame Gibson because his back broke from carrying the team so hard. Without him, the lowest scoring team in the NHL might be giving the 1974-75 Washington Capitals a run for their money for worst record ever.
Look, all four of these goalies deserve Vezina recognition. There are others, too. Robin Lehner on Long Island, Pekka Rinne in country music’s capital, Marc-Andre Fleury in Sin City.
The point of this exercise is this: often we write off great players on bad teams. Connor McDavid not deserving the Hart Trophy because he plays for the Edmonton Oilers is just one example. The problem with this mindset is we miss the exceptional that gets neglected because of it.
People will brush off a season like Gibson is having, saying his surface statistics are nothing to write home about and will continue along their merry way.
And that’s a shame, because if the Vezina is truly an award for the best goalie in NHL, then Gibson deserves to be, at the very least, in the room in Las Vegas later this June, if not on the stage saying his thank yous.
(Stats courtesy of Corsica)
Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck