Revisiting the 2007 Vezina Trophy Race

The good old snack goal.

I think it happened a lot to Philadelphia last year, too. The Flyers were the only team in the league that never shut out the opposition and this statistical quirk became the bane of Philadelphia beat-writer Shane Whyno, now covering the Washington Capitals. Whenever Sergei Bobrovsky or Brian Boucher would lose a shutout bid late in the third, the chorus among Flyer fans was to "Blame Whyno" and, credit to the guy, he took it with a lot thicker skin than most corpses in traditional NHL press boxes might.

Thing about the shutout though, is, cool as it is, is that it's pretty tangibly useless for determining the best teams or the best goaltenders. We sort of know this, from watching the games, that games that end with a snack goal do little to change the out-come, and that allowing a single goal is pretty damn good. But when it comes time to evaluate goaltenders, "shutouts" is, for some reason, one of the four major statistical categories we use, along with wins, goals against average, and save percentage.

In 2007, Roberto Luongo lost the Vezina Trophy in what was arguably his best season ever. He lost it to Martin Brodeur, and the two had incredibly even years when stacked up in all the major categories—with but one exception: Brodeur dominated Luongo in shutouts.

Luongo Brodeur
GAA 2.29 2.18
Shutouts 5 12
SV% 0.921 0.922
Wins 47 48

It's amazing how close this is. Both goalies would have set a modern-day record for wins (no goalie has since had 47 in a season) but it's so staggeringly-close in goals against average and save percentage.

Let's think about this for a moment. Brodeur was awarded the Vezina by being slightly better by traditional methodology. But what if we looked at what we know now to evaluate this race? Which goalie was more important to his team? Since save percentage can determined by special teams variance and we now recognize that the shutout can be a trivial matter that depends on a lot of team defense at the end of blowout games, it makes little sense to truly evaluate goaltenders by these two statistics alone.

I prefer quality starts when looking at a game-to-game basis. A quality start is a statistic from Hockey Prospectus which is quantified as any game in which a starting goalie stops 91.3% of the shots against him, or allows two or fewer goals while stopping 88.5%. Hockey Prospectus determines that goalies who succeed under these slightly more lenient conditions will win approximately 75% of their games, and there's a little bit less randomness involved.

Here's the table for 2007, looking at it now. I modified quality starts to a percentage since Brodeur started three more games than Luongo that year. I also factored in even strength save percentage, and games in which the goalie stopped more than 30 pucks.

Luongo Brodeur
QS% 61.3% 60.3%
EV SV% 0.928 0.927
30+ Saves 28 18

Brodeur can't affect how many times he faced 30+ shots, but I included that metric to show the defensive disparity between the 2007 Devils and 2007 Canucks as a potential reason for why Brodeur earned so many more shutouts. By these more modern metrics, Roberto Luongo is slightly better than Brodeur, boasting a higher QS% and a minutely-higher EV SV%. Hey, every bit counts.

On the note about Philadelphia, while they didn't record a shutout last season, the platoon attack of Bobrovsky and Boucher actually had a higher quality start percentage than Ilya Bryzgalov. Hockey Prospectus notes that "consistency is key" and that last year "a few front offices approached us to to integrate Quality Starts into their own research, but unfortunately one of them wasn't Philadelphia".

Based on the fact that Roberto Luongo allowed a goal to Alex Tanguay with under a minute to go in a game four years after the fact that now allows us to recognize the insipidity of the shutout statistic, I retro-actively award the 2007 Vezina Trophy to Roberto Luongo. Since 2007, Luongo has managed to beef up his quality start percentage (61.8% at the end of last season) and is still among the top goaltenders in the world, regardless of how he plays on the road in Calgary or Minnesota, or on Tuesdays in October.

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