Sunday, June 15, 2008

Nabokov's Poor Vezina/ First All Star Team Case

When I handicapped the Vezina race in the later part of the season, I saw it as a race between Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils and Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks. Luongo faded right at the end, due in part to his worry over his wife's complicated pregnancy and the Canucks missing the playoffs. That left Martin Brodeur as the Vezina winner by a reasonable margin, in my opinion. The voters did not see it that way. They saw it as a close race between Brodeur and Evgeni Nabokov of the San Jose Sharks.

Nabokov has a good season. He led the NHL in wins. The problem with using wins to determine who is the best goalie is that wins are a highly team dependent statistic. San Jose had the second most wins in the NHL (behind Detroit) and since Detroit split their goaltending duties between Chris Osgood and Dominik Hasek, it's no surprise that a San Jose goalie would lead the NHL in wins.

In the Vezina voting Nabokov finished a close second behind Brodeur. In the all star team voting Nabokov beat Brodeur and claimed a spot on the first team all star.

It is interesting that the hockey writers (who vote for all star teams) disagreed with the general managers (who vote for Vezina). In this case, I think the general managers got things right.

I do not see a good argument for Nabokov having had a better season than Brodeur (or a few other goalies including Luongo and Jean-Sebastien Giguere). Nabokov finished far enough back in the saves percentage race (.010 behind Brodeur) that he shouldn't be a serious candidate. From a goals saved perspective he is not even in the race.

The problem is that from a sabermetric perspective goalies are hard to quantify. Many of the measures assess team performance as much as that of an individual goaltender. Wins are a prime example of that. Teams win games. Goaltenders may be part of a team, but they are no more of a part than any other player. No goaltender ever won a game if his team couldn't score. Goaltenders get less wins if their team cannot play defence. It is an accident of circumstance that a goalie wins as many games as Nabokov in San Jose when other better goalies do not get as many wins, while playing on weaker teams.

Evgeni Nabokov is a good goaltender, but there is no evidence that he has ever been the best goalie in the league. It did not happen this season. Nevertheless, he will go down as the first team all star goalie and the almost Vezina winner. That is a mistake of the voters that was brought on by the lack of good goaltending statistics.

Comments:
You know whats funny, the other day I was arguing that Tomas Vokoun at least deserved a vote in the Vezina nominations, afterall of goalies that played over 60 games only Brodeur and Bryzgalov (who did equally well without mention) posted better save percentages both 92% respectively with Vokoun posting 91.9%. Nabokov posted a much lesser 91% save percentage but won considerably more games (46 to Vokoun's 30 and Bryzgalov's 28) however whilst you can't account for the shots faced Vokoun and Bryzgalov turned up night in and night out offering poor teams a chance to win, surely that is worth something. If you ask me the save percentage is the most telling statistic for goalies and Nabokov clearly didn't have to do as much as Vokoun and Bryzgalov to win games. Its a shame these guys who stick their necks out when everything else around them is failling don't get at least honourable mentions.
 
Brodeur playing in the western conference does not win the vezina.
Put Nabokov in the East and he would dominate.

Although it does not effect voting, Brodeur was useless in the playoffs, where Nabokov held his team in many games where THE TEAM did not perform... a good goalie carries a team thru the tough times to get all those wins.

"San Jose had the second most wins in the NHL (behind Detroit) and since Detroit split their goaltending duties between Chris Osgood and Dominik Hasek, it's no surprise that a San Jose goalie would lead the NHL in wins."
so if Brian Boucher played 77 games for SJS he would have recorded 46 wins? 6 SOs?
I dont think so.
 
Anonymous. I think a good NHL goalie playing 77 games in San Jose would get a lot of wins this season. Nabokov did.

I don't think Boucher is a good NHL goalie at this stage.

That kind of argument is called a Straw man. You argue against a position I don't hold. Nowhere am I claiming that Brian Boucher could do as well as Nabokov did. And I am definitely not claiming that being better than Brian Boucher makes one Vezina worthy or first team all star worthy. It merely makes one a competent NHL goalie.
 
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