Can John Gibson pull a Jacob deGrom to win the Vezina Trophy?

Vezina Trophy voting has been consistently punitive toward goalies on weak teams. But Gibson has been so good in 2018-19 that he may deserve to buck the trend by season's end.
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Eight goaltenders have booked their tickets to the 2019 All-Star Game in San Jose. Among that group, one man has seen 133 more pucks than anyone else. That’s John Gibson in Anaheim, of course. The team’s recent 12-game losing streak be damned, there’s no goalie more deserving of an all-star invite.

He’s posted a .921 save percentage while appearing in 42 of 50 Ducks games, good for 84 percent. Over the past four seasons, only one goalie – Cam Talbot in 2016-17 – has appeared in a higher percentage of his team’s games. Gibson is operating with pretty much the biggest sample size possible in today’s pitch-count era of goaltending, which makes his advanced save metrics all the more impressive.

Per corsica.hockey, 35 goalies have played 1,000 or more minutes at 5-on-5 so far this season. Among that group, Gibson has faced the most shots while posting the eighth-best save percentage. He ranks 12th in low-danger SP, fifth in medium-danger SP and seventh in high-danger SP. “Goals saved above average” measures how many goals a netminder prevents compared to what a league-average goalie would allow facing the same number of shots, and Gibson leads the league in that stat at 17.14, almost double second-place David Rittich’s 9.73.

What makes the numbers even crazier is the quality of shots Gibson has had to face. In that 35-goalie sample, he faces a league-low 40.63 percent of shots from low-danger scoring positions. He sees the third-highest concentration of medium-danger chances at 37.8 percent – and the fourth-highest high-danger percentage at 21.57. He has the second-lowest expected save percentage based on what type of shots come his way, yet he still has the eighth-highest SP. He has the best delta save percentage, which is the difference between his expected SP and his actual SP. Gibson’s workload has been as tough as any goalie’s in the league, with the largest sample size of anyone, and he has still performed as, save for save, the best goalie on the planet.

If Vezina Trophy voting begins right now, he tops my list. But, wait, I don’t have a vote. The Professional Hockey Writers Association does not decide the Vezina. It's the one award current league GMs vote on. We can safely say the NHL’s GM manager brigade has more of an analytics bent than it used to – Kyle Dubas and John Chayka vote on the award, after all – but history tells us the consensus approach to Vezina voting remains decidedly old-school. Consider these facts:

1.. From 1946-47 to 1980-81, the Vezina went to the goalie(s) with the fewest goals against. It’s gone to the goalie judged most outstanding at his position since 1981-82 and, over that time frame, only one goalie on a non-playoff team has won the award. That was the Columbus Blue Jackets’ Sergei Bobrovsky in 2012-13, when his team missed the post-season on a tiebreaker. Gibson’s Ducks sit one point out of a playoff spot right now.

2. Of the 36 Vezina winners since 1981-82, 35 have cracked the top 10 in wins (only Jose Theodore in 2002 didn’t) and 13 led the league in wins. Gibson ranks outside the top 10 in wins this season.

3. Every Vezina winner’s record has been at least six games over .500, and all but two – Dominik Hasek in lockout-shortened 1994-95 and Theodore in 2002 – have been 10 or more games over .500. Every Vezina winner has been at least five games over .500. Gibson is two games over .500 right now.

4. Excluding the two lockout-shortened seasons, 33 of 34 Vezina winners had 30 or more victories, with Tom Barrasso in 1983-84 being the exception. If Gibson plays 84 percent of his team’s remaining games and wins at the same rate, he’ll finish with 28 victories.

History, then, isn’t on Gibson’s side, is it? There still seems to be an old-guard mentality among the Vezina voters. But maybe the increased presence of analytics-minded GMs can turn John Gibson into 2002 Theodore or, better yet, 2018 Jacob DeGrom. He won the National League Cy Young despite a 10-9 record because his other metrics were off-the-charts amazing.

Baseball crawled out of the sea and onto land with that vote. Hockey can evolve too. As of right now, the best goaltender doesn’t win many hockey games, but that’s hardly his fault. And how many fewer wins would the Ducks have without Gibson?

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