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A Survey Of Pekka Rinne’s Case for the Vezina Trophy

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A brief look at Pekka Rinne’s chance to win according to some experts from around the league.

Mark Humphrey, AP

* editors note - The original idea for this article was generated last Monday, March 12th. Since then Rinne has gone 3-0 and has only allowed three goals on 102 shots, further strengthening his case, to what many are assuming to be a foregone conclusion. Also, the numbers you may see referenced from the various experts may vary slightly depending on when they submitted their responses. *

By all statistical measures, Pekka Rinne is having a career year, on par with his 2010-2011 campaign, where he went 33-22-9 with a .930 save percentage and a 2.12 goals against average. When the votes were cast for individual hardware following that season, he finished second for the Vezina Trophy behind Tim Thomas, and fourth in Hart Trophy voting. That was the closest he would come to capturing either award to this point.

Fast forward seven years and here we are again uttering the words Rinne and Vezina in the same sentence. Written off as finished as recently as two seasons ago, Rinne is experiencing something of a renaissance in his play. For the fourth time in his career, the 35 year old Finn is in the conversation for the Vezina Trophy. Always a bridesmade, coming up empty three times, he’s making a strong case to see his name etched in history this time around. As he and the Nashville Predators eye the ultimate prize this spring, what are his chances to bring home the award? Rather than giving you a biased Predators centric view of the race; I asked around some respected names in the goalie community to get their thoughts on Pekka Rinne’s case for the Vezina.

Paul Campbell - @WayToGoPaul (In Goal Mag, Sportsnet, The Athletic, The Sporting News)

Why He Should Win

If the NHL general managers were voting on the Vezina today, Pekka Rinne would be the clear winner. The voters often give the award to the goaltender who plays in at least 55 games with the highest raw save percentage. Right now, among goalies with at least 45 games played, that’s Rinne by a small but significant margin. He’s also second in wins, another highly valued stat, first in goals-against average, and tied for first in shutouts. He checks all the boxes GMs value, making him a decisive favourite.

Why He Shouldn’t

Looking at more advanced statistics (via Corsica), however, the picture isn’t so clear. Rinne ranks third (among goalies with 2700 minutes played) behind Sergei Bobrovsky and John Gibson in goals saved above average, a stat that has done very well predicting Vezina winners in the past. He also sits third behind Gibson and Bobrovsky in delta save percentage, which looks at the difference between how well a goalie does vs expectations (given the kinds of shots faced). Rinne does lead the pack in high-danger save percentage, which tends to differentiate goaltenders from each other far better then raw save percentage. Taking all these measures into account, Bobrovsky has the best claim to the award, with Gibson just nudging out Rinne for second.

Chances of Winning

Because the GMs tend to value the basic stats more, if I had to guess at how likely Rinne is to win, I’d go as high as 75% right now.

Catherine Silverman - @catmsilverman (In Goal Mag, The Athletic Chicago)

Why He Should Win

So first off, I don’t see this award as being anyone’s but his this year. The playing field was actually pretty even among five or six guys back in December - I would say that Rinne, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Freddie Andersen, Braden Holtby, Corey Crawford, and Connor Hellebuyck really had things locked down at that point - but since then, we’ve seen the crowd clear up a bit. Crawford has been out almost since he hit the clear front-runner spot in late December, Andersen has been worked to the bone and his numbers have taken a massive beating from it, Holtby has regressed alarmingly so in the last few months, and Hellebuyck still lacks a few pieces in his game to really make him the complete package. Vasilevskiy has been the closest competitor to Rinne, but his underlying numbers aren’t quite as unbelievable as Rinne’s have been.

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Why He Shouldn’t

I hate to say there’s no reason that he shouldn’t get it, but really, I can’t make much of a compelling case for this being the year that Rinne doesn’t deserve the award. His .929 save percentage in all situations is comically good, his quality start percentage is nearly 70 percent over the entire year, and he has over 25 goals saved above average - outpacing the pack in a big way. If he doesn’t win, it will be because Vasilevskiy and his storyline as the emerging young starter in Tampa Bay win over the narrative crowd enough to give him the edge; I can’t really see anyone else, even Hellebuyck or John Gibson (who has been quietly excellent this year) edging those two out - and the late-season elite additions of Marc-Andre Fleury and Antti Raanta have the only other competitive numbers, both both missed too much of the year early on with injury to truly give them consideration.

Chances of Winning

80%

Cole Anderson - @crowdscoutsprts (Crowd Scout Sports)

Why He Should Win

Thinking about what Vezina voters would be looking at, he’s top-3 in save percentage (with considerably more games played than his peers) and second in wins, so he’s very likely going to get a nomination.

He’s on an excellent team, so it’s worth trying to control for the quality of shots (using a metric called expected goals, which weighs each shot by the probability of a it being a goal, based on historical data) he’s facing by using shot location, team strength, available pre-shot movement, and some other helpful information. Rinne’s save percentage is about 0.9% better than we’d expect from an average goalie, and doing the math over about 2100 shots he’s faced, that works out to about 20 goals prevented over league average, good for 2nd behind Jonathan Quick’s 25.

Marco Jose Sanchez - AP

This ignores rebounds however, and the same model that calculates expected goals can calculate expected rebounds. Here, Rinne shines and presumably reduces his workload by allowing about 20 fewer rebounds than expected, while Quick’s ineffectiveness in controlling rebounds, as compared to a league average goalie increases his total by about the same 20 rebounds more than expected. Rebounds end up as goals about 25% of the time, so the 40 rebounds Rinne has prevented relative to Quick are equal to preventing about 10 goals over the course of the season. Adjusting for rebounds, Rinne leap-frogs Quick for the top spot, preventing about 5 more goals than Quick or anyone else in the league as of Wednesday’s action.

Rinne’s win-loss record is also impressive and should sway the average voter. If we dig a little deeper, Rinne looks good under the hood as well. If you calculate Nashville’s expected points gained in the standings based on the goal support they provide and expected goals they concede (for example, on Tuesday against Winnipeg, Nashville provided 3 goals in support and conceded about 3.8 expected goals against, on average they could expect about 1.3 points in the standings, Rinne secured 2 points), Rinne has earned Nashville about 12 more points than average goaltending would provide, 5 more additional points than anybody else in the league. So there’s no reason to dismiss Rinne’s win-loss record, in fact, he almost certainly is responsible in large part for Nashville’s lead in the Central Division.

Cole Anderson - @crowdscoutsprts

Why He Shouldn’t

It’s usually smart to take the field in these situations, Rinne could stumble down the stretch while somebody else gets hot. Rinne also plays on a powerhouse team, while guys like Gibson and Quick have probably been the difference between the playoffs and no playoffs to their respective teams; always a factor to some voters. Because of how good the Predators are (particularly their defensive core), Rinne’s numbers might be discounted, although nothing in the data suggests this should be the case. Vasilevskiy was also the mid-season favourite, and while he’s faded down the stretch, some ballots may already be in the mail.

Chances of Winning

45%

Kevin Woodley - @KevinsInGoal (NHL.com, In Goal Mag)

Why He Should Win

At this point, with former front runner Andrei Vasilevskiy stumbling a bit down the stretch as he adjusts to the workload of his first full season as a No. 1, it’s Pekka Rinne’s Vezina Trophy to lose. He checks all the boxes: the obvious statistics like Wins, Save Percentage and Goals-Against Average, as well more in-depth looks comparing actual save percentage to expected, along with Andrew Berkshire’s recent article re-affirmed those points using proprietary data that showed he’s not being propped up or insulated by the Predators defense as much as some might expect based on their personnel.

Plus, he’s a well-established, likable veteran, which still matters when voting is done by general managers. A lot can change in the final three weeks, just look at the last three for Vasilevskiy and its impact in this conversation.

Why He Shouldn’t

Short of a similar late-season slide for Rinne, about the only reason he might not win is if those same general managers don’t look deeply enough and get caught up in Vasilevskiy’s frontrunner status for 3/4 of the season, or give Marc-Andre Fleury, who is a worthwhile candidate, equal consideration despite far fewer games played. Perhaps one of Vasilevskiy, John Gibson or Connor Hellebuyck, all worthy candidates with Hellebuyck also in the wins conversation GMs value so much, goes on a shutout bender down the stretch and passes Rinne in a bunch of the above mentioned statistics.

Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Chances of Winning

80%

Ian Fleming - @Imfleming16 (San Jose Earthquakes, Hockey Graphs, NHL Numbers)

Why He Should Win

Traditional statistics still run the rule. GM voting for the Vezina hasn’t evolved beyond all-situations save percentage, goals-against average, and wins, and it’s easy to see why. Save percentage and GAA show just how few shots against find their way into the goal column, and there’s no denying that Rinne tops the lot here. At the time of writing, amongst regular starters, Rinne is first in the NHL in save percentage and second in GAA, while also leading the league in wins and shutouts. A goaltender with these credentials is usually a slam dunk to take home hardware at season’s end.

Why He Shouldn’t

Context. Goaltending in the NHL is never an easy task, but playing behind the 2017-2018 Nashville Predators makes it considerably less intensive than backstopping, say, the New York Islanders. At 5v5, Rinne is insulated from pressure in a way few goaltenders are afforded, as he sports one of the highest expected save percentages in the league (data courtesy Corsica.Hockey). Framed in this way, though Rinne’s performance is nothing short of terrific, he doesn’t hold a candle to 2017 Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky. Again at 5v5, due to the quality and quantity of shots that Columbus allows, Bobrovsky has saved nearly twice as many goals above expected than Pekka Rinne, and it’s hard to see him relinquishing that lead in the dying weeks of the season. You can only stop the shots that are given to you, but all other things being equal, the goaltender with the more difficult workload deserves the accolades.

Chances of Winning

Everyone loves a good redemption story and, with the aforementioned classic criteria for Vezina selection, it would appear that the honor is Rinne’s to lose. Though my personal vote would likely differ, if I were a betting man, I would take Rinne over the field at this point.


Most experts I asked consider Rinne to be the odds on favorite to finally win his first Vezina, but with 10 games left in the regular season there is still enough time for final impressions to be made, but it’s clearly Rinne’s award to lose. Now that Nashville has officially clinched a playoff position and are in the drivers seat for the 1st overall seed in the Western Conference, does the defense in front of him start to relax? Will the team lose focus on the remaining string of games while eyeing the playoffs? It happened with Tampa Bay over the last month or so. Outside of the Preds sputtering to the finish line, Rinne will be tough to beat.

Poll

Who Should Win the Vezina

This poll is closed

  • 97%
    Pekka Rinne (NSH)
    (660 votes)
  • 0%
    Andrei Vasilevskiy (TB)
    (6 votes)
  • 0%
    John Gibson (ANA)
    (4 votes)
  • 0%
    Connor Hellebuyck (WPG)
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    Jonathan Quick (LA)
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    Tuukka Rask (BOS)
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    Marc-Andre Fleury (VGK)
    (2 votes)
674 votes total Vote Now