It will be a travesty if Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck doesn’t run away with the Vezina Trophy.
Thanks to the novel coronavirus pandemic, the NHL regular season is now over. Perhaps that’s why most of the award races are very close. Most awards are decided down the homestretch of the season and this season didn’t have one. The Hart Trophy race, Norris Trophy race, and Selke Trophy race all have multiple serious contenders. However, the Vezina Trophy race shouldn’t be close, as it should definitely go to Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck.
The Vezina Trophy goes to the best goalie in the NHL. It’s hard to evaluate goalies, but Hellebuyck has been the best goalie in the league by a fairly significant margin. Once you consider how much the Jets have relied on him, he’s got to be the favorite to win it.
Now, will he win it? That remains to be seen. Vezina Trophy voters are notoriously fickle. But even by their questionable standards, Hellebuyck has quite a strong case.
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Usually, the Vezina Trophy is among the league leaders in wins. Hellebuyck’s 31 wins are the second-most in the league, trailing only reigning Vezina winner Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Voters have also historically favored goalies who play in a lot of games. Hellebuyck tied for the league lead in games played with 58.
The Vezina Trophy winner also tends to be among the league leaders in raw save percentage. Among goalies with at least 30 appearances, Hellebuyck’s.922% save percentage is the second-highest in the league, trailing only Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins. As far as shutouts, Hellebuyck’s six led the NHL.
Another good stat to look at is quality start percentage. A quality start is defined by Hockey Reference as a start with a save percentage greater than or equal to the league average, or at least an 88.5% save percentage if a goalie sees less than 20 shots. Hellebuyck ranks second to Rask.
By these rather raw numbers, Hellebuyck is at worst an excellent candidate to win the Vezina. Rask is almost indefinitely going to be a finalist as well, and deservedly so. The last finalist will likely be either Vasilevskiy, Ben Bishop of the Dallas Stars, Anton Khudobin of the Stars, Robin Lehner of the Vegas Golden Knights, Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks, or Jacob Markstrom of the Vancouver Canucks.
Why Hellebuyck Should Win The Vezina Trophy
Goaltending analytics are a bit far behind the rest of the NHL, which is really saying something because hockey’s probably the least advanced of the four major North American professional sports leagues as far as advanced stats are concerned.
However, I think we can all agree that not all saves are equal. All things equal, a shot from just outside the crease is tougher to stop than a shot from center ice. The Jets have not made Hellebuyck’s job easy. Their defense has been horrific at times, leaving Hellebuyck out to dry on a fairly regular basis.
According to Natural Stat Trick, Hellebuyck faced 2.78 expected goals against per hour during all situations. That’s the fifth-highest mark in the league among goalies with at least 2,000 minutes. Meanwhile, among the 41 goalies who qualified, Rask’s 2.28 mark is the fourth-lowest.
Ultimately, a goalie’s job is to put their team in a strong position to win and I think we can all agree the Jets made it pretty hard for Hellebuyck to do that. And yet he did it far more often than not.
The Jets allowed a lot of high-danger chances against this season. According to Natural Stat Trick, Hellebuyck faced 9.34 high-danger chances against per hour this season, again, the fifth-highest mark in the league. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Rask only faced 6.97 high-danger chances against per hour, which was the third-lowest.
Now, Rask has had a very impressive season. Even when you consider how good the defense in front of him has been, his numbers are still outstanding. However, it’s clear his job has been made relatively easy compared to his peers. The Bruins are a strong defensive team and Rask unquestionably benefits from it. Meanwhile, the Jets are a very weak defensive team. Despite this, Hellebuyck posted elite numbers and carried the Jets to the postseason.
I consider the Vezina Trophy a test of how well general managers evaluate goalies because they’re the ones who vote on the award. Let’s see if they’ve done their homework. If they have, Connor Hellebuyck will win the Vezina Trophy.