Could Sergei Bobrovsky win the Vezina?

Bobrovsky

Flyers fans generally aren’t as big on schadenfreude as you might think—they may have cheered a Mario Lemieux injury but they never booed Rod Brind’amour in a Hurricanes jersey—so it’s more the result of frustration with how Ilya Bryzgalov looks without the Phoenix defense in front of him combined with a masochism more common to Leafs fans (only separated from Flyer fans by 8 years of futility) that makes the Sergei Bobrovsky Vezina Watch so perversely enjoyable. Traded for three draft picks last summer, BOB is now 12-8-6, .927, 2.13 with three shutouts for the Blue Jackets, the reigning NHL Third Star of the Month, and a strong Vezina contender. He can’t really win this thing, right? Probably not—he’s 24, he plays for Columbus, the typical awards voter probably can’t pronounce his name (it’s not just Flyer fans)—but you never know, thanks to a few noteworthy variables:

1. No one else has run away with it at this point.
The top three teams in the league—Pittsburgh, Chicago, Anaheim—all have co-#1’s. (Well, not really. Crawford’s the man in Chicago, though Emery just suffered his first loss last week and is now 12-1-0, .919, 2.09. The Pens are also unlikely to demote Fleury to even co-, let alone backup, status, though Vokoun has the higher SV% both this season and career, and the latter isn’t close. Similarly, Hiller’s now starting the majority of Ducks games, though Fasth still has better numbers.) Ottawa’s Craig Anderson still leads the league in both GAA and SV% but hasn’t played since February 21 (ankle injury); Bishop and Lehner have been excellent replacements but three good goalies don’t equal one Vezina. The wins leaders are Minnesota’s Backstrom (only 17th in GAA plus it’s Minnesota), Fleury (almost a career year in SV% and still outplayed by his backup), Carey Price (15th in GAA, 23rd in SV%), Niemi (actually decent numbers– top ten in everything– but it’s Niemi and it’s San Jose), and Nabokov (who’s played a ton of minutes for an Islanders team that’s 28th overall in GAA, ahead of only the Flames and Panthers). Tuukka Rask is 4th in GAA but was just roughed up by Montreal (6-5 shootout loss). Bryzgalov is still waiting for Amnesty Claus. Devan Dubnyk’s had a fine season but is even more obscure than Bobrovsky with worse overall numbers. The strongest non-BOB contender other than Niemi might be the defending Vezina winner; King Henrik is also top ten in everything, though his Rangers have dropped three out of four and .922, 2.19 may seem less impressive after .930, 1.97. Niemi (5th) and Lundqvist (7th) both also have the edge in total goaltender minutes; Bobrovsky is only 14th (though surprisingly, he’s ahead of Rask).

2. If the Blue Jackets actually go from worst to playoffs, the narrative may be overwhelming.
It’s a small sample size, of course, but at the 36-game mark last season, the Blue Jackets were 9-22-5, 87 GF, 123 GA. This season they’re 15-14-7, 87 GF, 97 GA. They’ve scored the exact same number of goals but allowed 26 fewer. Other changes to the team between last season and this season: losing Rick Nash; adding Artem Anisimov (missed 8 games), Brandon Dubinsky (missed 17 games), rookie Tim Erixon, and ex-Canuck (and about 10 other teams) Adrian Aucoin. And a full season of Nikita Nikitin and Dalton Prout. I’m not a huge Nash fan, but I’d call that about even. If Columbus finishes 8th or higher, we’re not just talking Vezina, we’re talking Hart.

3. He improves a historic team weakness more than any other starting goaltender (at least since Luongo became a Canuck).
Tuukka Rask is having a terrific season—15-5-4, .922, 2.02—but the man he effectively replaced, current Islander (wink, nod) Tim Thomas, went 35-19-5, .920, 2.36 last season, 35-11-9, .938 (an NHL record), 2.00 the season before, and won two Vezinas and a Conn Smythe for the Bruins. Rask’s backup, Anton Khudobin, is currently 7-3-0, .925, 2.07. On the other hand, Columbus goalies last season were a collective 29-46-7, .903, 2.98, 28th overall in GA (actually 3.13 if you count empty net goals). And the season before that 34-35-13, .900, 2.92. And the season before that 32-35-15, .902, 2.97. The Blue Jackets’ best single-season goaltending performance in their brief history was Steve Mason’s Calder-worthy rookie season, 2008-9, in which he went 33-20-7, .916, 2.29 with 10 shutouts– thanks mostly to a .919, 2.09 November and a ridiculous .950, 1.41 December during which he recorded half of his shutouts before eventually coming down with mono and falling apart to end the season (.883, 3.08 in April). Mason’s 2013 numbers are somewhat better than the past few seasons but actually below his career numbers as a result of that rookie season: he’s .899, 2.95 this season vs. .903, 2.90 career. And he’s been their number one, when healthy, for four years. And you thought two years in a row of Bryzgalov was bad.

True, this year’s Corey Crawford may be better than last year’s version, and (obligatory Canuck content) what Cory Schneider has done to reclaim the #1 job in Vancouver (7-2-2, .937, 1.76 in March) has been amazing, but no goaltender has done more compared with what came before him in the crease—especially against tough competition (West vs. West this season, remember, and what that involves in terms of both talent and travel; keep in mind that Bryzgalov’s awful numbers have been accumulated exclusively against the East, including bad Southeast Division teams, and with no travel further than Winnipeg, once)—than Bobrovsky.

Photo courtesy of http://bluejacketsxtra.dispatch.com/content/stories/2013/01/18/bobrovsky-works-for-his-minutes.html.

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2 Responses to “Could Sergei Bobrovsky win the Vezina?”

  1. […] the analytics community anyway, where he might be underrated at this point) and Bobrovsky is a vastly better goalie. I do like the Pens’ improved depth (i.e. Stempniak but also Goc), but even so, Columbus was a […]

  2. […] April 2, 2013: The Blue Jackets’ best single-season goaltending performance in their brief history was Steve Mason’s Calder-worthy rookie season, 2008-9, in which he went 33-20-7, .916, 2.29 with 10 shutouts– thanks mostly to a .919, 2.09 November and a ridiculous .950, 1.41 December during which he recorded half of his shutouts before eventually coming down with mono and falling apart to end the season (.883, 3.08 in April). Mason’s 2013 numbers are somewhat better than the past few seasons but actually below his career numbers as a result of that rookie season: he’s .899, 2.95 this season vs. .903, 2.90 career. And he’s been their number one, when healthy, for four years. And you thought two years in a row of Bryzgalov was bad. […]

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