The NHL announced three finalists for the Vezina Trophy, which is awarded "to the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at his position," on Wednesday night. Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals, and Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings are the three nominees.
The general managers of the 30 NHL clubs submitted ballots for the Vezina Trophy at the conclusion of the regular season, with the top three vote-getters designated as finalists. The winner will be announced June 22, during the 2016 NHL Awards at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
One name that is glaringly absent from that list is Chicago Blackhawks netminder Corey Crawford, who was arguably the best all-around goaltender in the league throughout the 2015-16 season.
Crawford ranked first in the league shutouts (7) and fourth in save percentage (.924) and wins (35). Additionally, his 84.99 save percentage on high danger scoring chances was fifth in the league, and his save percentage when shorthanded was an impressive 87.59, good enough for 13th.
Moreover, according to Nick Mercadante of Blueshirt Banter, his adjusted Goals Saved Above Average per 60, or adjGSAA/60, was among the best in the NHL, ranking seventh with a an impressive .269 despite facing a high number of shots at 5v5. Crawford also turned in the second best percentage of above average appearances, turning in a strong performance in 63 percent of his appearances this season, per Mercadante.
In each of the statistics listed above, Crawford ranked equal to or better than at least one the three Vezina finalists. The only goaltending metric all three finalists were better than Crawford was goals-against average.
And yet, despite being better than each Vezina finalist in at least one area, and ranking among the NHL's best in nearly every important individual goaltending metric, Crawford couldn't quite earn the respect of the NHL general managers. It may seem like a bit of a head-scratcher at first, but it doesn't take too long to figure out what it was that helped the NHL GMs make their decision when it came to Vezina nominations.
Wins are probably the easiest way to measure success. If you want to see how much a goalie means to their team, checking the win total is probably a pretty quick way to figure it out. However, it's also the laziest way to measure goalie success, because while wins are credited to goalies, they are a team stat. As much as goalies are the most important players on the ice for their team and can often steal a win, at the end of the day they can't truly win a game by themselves. You win a game by having more goals than the other team, and goalies almost never contribute to their team scoring.
So while it's easy to point to Holtby tying the record for goaltender wins in a season, or to Quick being right behind him, as justification for their nomination, at the end of the day it's a bad reason to nominate either of them as the best goalie in the NHL. Quick is especially a surprising candidate, and his nomination would seem to be based solely off his wins total, seeing as his his .918 save percentage ranked just 13th in the league and was barely better than the .915 league average.
Bishop and Holtby are surely deserving candidates, and a convincing enough case could probably be made for Quick among this group, though you'd have some work to do to convince me. But the totality of the stats would seem to indicate Crawford was one of the best goaltenders this season, if not the flat out best.
This shows there remains a fundamental flaw in the way goaltenders are evaluated. It's often said goalies are hockey's greatest mystery -- Mercadante calls them voo-doo -- and even with the modern day analytics movement there are still only a few "advanced" statistics to evaluate them. Still, that does not justify ignoring what statistics are available when it comes to determining candidates for the best goalie in the league.
Sportsnet's Jeff Marek said it best:
By their own admission NHL GM's miss on goalies more than any other position yet they're the ones who vote on the Vezina Trophy.— Jeff Marek (@JeffMarek) April 27, 2016
This isn't simply sour grapes from a Blackhawks blogger because I think Crawford deserved a nomination. Truthfully, if I'd had a vote for the award, Crawford would've been tops on my ballot. But this case can be made for other goalies as well. Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers, Roberto Luongo of the Panthers, and Cory Schneider of the Devils all rank right there with Crawford as goalies who deserved Vezina consideration but did not get it on account of wins.
Goaltenders are hard to to judge. But if the best statistics available continue to be ignored when it comes to goalie evaluations, it will be some time before those evaluations get any easier.
Adam Hess is a staff writer at Second City Hockey. Follow him on Twitter at @_adamhess.