How Good Does A Goaltender Need To Be To Win The Conn Smythe?

Sergei Bobrovsky was considered a potential Conn Smythe candidate for the Florida Panthers. Let's see how his stats match up to recent goaltenders who have won playoff MVP.
Jul 7, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) receives the Conn Smythe trophy after the Lightning defeated the Montreal Canadiens 1-0 in game five to win the 2021 Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 7, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) receives the Conn Smythe trophy after the Lightning defeated the Montreal Canadiens 1-0 in game five to win the 2021 Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports / Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports
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It wasn’t too long ago that we wondered just when Connor McDavid would show up in the Stanley Cup final. When the Florida Panthers took a 3-0 series lead, the Edmonton Oilers captain had only three assists. In Edmonton’s two wins since then to push this series to a game six back in oil country McDavid has added three goals and five assists all while breaking Wayne Gretzky’s record for most assists in a playoffs.

How Good Does A Goaltender Need To Be To Win The Conn Smythe?

McDavid has firmly put himself in the driver seat to be the Conn Smythe favorite, even if it’s Florida than ends up winning the cup. That would make McDavid the first player since Jean-Sebastien Giguerre of the then Mighty Duck of Anaheim to win the playoff MVP on the losing team. There have been four conn Smythe winners of losing teams in NHL history and four of them have been goaltenders.

In making his case for McDavid to win the Conn Smythe, Greg Wyshynski of ESPN took a look at some of the Panthers candidates. One of the favorites for the Panthers would be goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky whose stats aren’t as good as you’d expect from Conn Smythe favorite. Wyshnyski writes (with stats entering play on Tuesday):

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Bobrovsky's 2.27 goals-against average would be the worst by a Conn Smythe-winning goaltender since Edmonton's Bill Ranford won in 1990 with a 2.53 GAA. Ranford had a higher save percentage (.912) than Bobrovsky currently has (.909). In fact, Playoff Bob's save percentage would be the second worst by a goaltender to win the Conn Smythe behind Hextall's .908 save percentage in 1987, when he won MVP in a losing effort.

Just how good does a goaltender need to be to win the Conn Smythe to answer this we took a look at the four goaltenders to win the award in post lockout era. No disrespect to the likes of Giguerre, Hextnall and Ranford but we wanted examples closer to “today’s NHL”. The four Conn Smythe winning goalies since 2004-2005 are Cam Ward of the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006, Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins in 2011. Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings in 2012 and Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2021.

First let’s look at the basic goalie stats of goals against average and save percentage in their respective playoffs. Cam Ward had a .920 save percentage and a 2.14 goals against average in 2006. Tim Thomas had a 0.940 save percentage and a 1.98 goals against average in 2011. Jonathan Quick, whose story became legendary because his Kings were the first eight seed to win the Stanley Cup in NHL history, had a .946 save percentage and a 1.41 goals against average in 2012. Finally, Vasilevskiy had a .937 save percentage and 1.90 goals against average. Ward has the worst, we use that term lightly, playoff stats of the four but it’s hard to imagine any NHL team wouldn’t be thrilled with their goaltender putting 2006 Cam Ward level numbers in the playoffs.

Next we tried to look at the advanced goalie stats. Money Puck only tracks these advance stats going back to the 2008-2009 season, so we had to leave Ward off this list. In 2011, Tim Thomas had a 9.1 goals saved above expected, a 0.368 goals saved above expected per 60 minutes, and a goals against average better than expected of 0.37. Jonathan Quick had a 14.7 goals saved above expected, 0.712 goals saved above expected per 60 minutes and a goals against average better than expected of 0.71 in 2012. If you think those numbers are impressive, just wait until you see Vasilevskiy’s. He had a monster 26.60 goals saved above expected, 1.149 goals saved above expected per 60 minutes, and a goals against average better than expected of 1.15 in 2021.

Now let’s compare those to the NHL’s final two starting net minders (for simplicity we’ll leave Anthony Stolarz’s and Calvin Pickard's stats out of this). For the regular stats, with these stats all through game five, Bobrovsky has a .906 save percentage and a 2.35 goals against average and Stuart Skinner had a .898 save percentage but a respectable 2.53 goal against average. For the advanced stats Bobrovsky has a 7.30 goals saved above expected, a 0.337 goals saved above expected per 60 minutes, and a goals against better than expected of 0.34. Skinner has a goals saved above expected of 1.40, a goals saved above expected per 60 minutes of 0.067 and a goals against average better than expected of .07.

Both goaltenders have been pulled during the course of the playoffs. As Wyshynski noted, Bobrovsky’s case for the Conn Smythe took a big hit with him getting pulled in the potential clinching game four of the cup final. Even if his stats have been rather pedestrian, Skinner’s performances in games where the Oilers face elimination these playoffs have been noteworthy and saved Edmonton’s season.

Entering game six it appears the Conn Smythe is McDavid’s to lose. Neither goaltender will take home MVP honors this season. Bobrovsky might have been good, but compared to the recent Conn Smythe winning goaltenders, he was nowhere near good enough.

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