-- The three finalists for this year's Vezina Trophy were announced April 27, and the list includes Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals, Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings. According to the numbers, another goalie should have been in one of those slots instead -- Cory Schneider of the New Jersey Devils.
Schneider's exclusion from Vezina voting is a classic case of Roberto Luongo disease. In 2003-04, Luongo played 72 games for the Florida Panthers and posted a sparkling .931 save percentage. Overall, Luongo ranked third behind Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff and Minnesota's Dwayne Roloson, both of whom had a .933 save percentage, but in far fewer games -- 38 and 48 games, respectively.
However, the Vezina went to Martin Brodeur of the Devils that season, who had a .917 save percentage, which ranked 15th among those with at least 20 starts. How did Brodeur best Luongo despite such mediocre numbers? Because he led the league with 38 wins, compared to 25 for Luongo.
The problem with the Vezina has always been that the NHL general managers who vote on the award place far too much emphasis on wins. This season is no exception, as the three Vezina finalists all finished in the top four in wins -- the one non-finalist in the top four was Martin Jones of San Jose, who had 37 wins. Despite starting 58 games, Schneider finished tied for 13th with Detroit's Petr Mrazek and Colorado's Semyon Varlamov with just 27 wins, which destroyed his chances for the Vezina.
Here's why that's a big mistake.
The main problem with using wins to evaluate goaltenders is that wins is a team statistic, so it isn't an accurate reflection of how well the goalie has played. Consider the table at right, which shows the NHL's 2015-16 leaders in goal support (minimum 20 starts), which is calculated as the number of goals a team scores in games each goalie started, and over which a goalie has absolutely no control.
Holtby is likely to win the Vezina because he tied Brodeur's single-season record of 48 wins. However, any of about a dozen relatively strong goalies could have matched that feat if they'd gotten Holtby's goal support of 3.26 per game.
Dallas' Kari Lehtonen is the perfect example of the value of goal support. Despite a relatively poor save percentage of .906, which was the fifth lowest among those with at least 30 starts, Lehtonen posted a sparkling 25-10-2 record thanks to getting a goal support of 3.56 per game. By comparison, Detroit's Jimmy Howard had the exact same .906 save percentage but finished with a record of 14-14-5.
Schneider, on the other hand, finished the season with a save percentage of .924, which ranked behind only Brian Elliott of the Blues at .930, Bishop at .926 and the Thomas Greiss of the Islanders at .925, and yet his record was 27-25-6. Why? Because he received so little goal support, as seen in the next chart.
Lack of goal support is nothing new for Schneider, who has finished near the bottom of the league in goal support all three seasons in New Jersey. In 2013-14, his 1.91 rate in goal support was the second lowest in the NHL among those with at least 20 starts, which climbed to fourth lowest in 2014-15, with 2.10.
It isn't Schneider's fault that the Devils don't score when he's in the crease, and therefore that the Devils don't win. It shouldn't exclude him from Vezina consideration. All Schneider can control is stopping pucks, and he does that quite well.
The goalies who are playing consistently enough to give their teams a chance to win should be considered for the Vezina, but that can't be measured with wins and losses. Instead, voters should use quality starts.
First introduced to hockey in 2009, a quality start is awarded to a goalie in any game in which he stopped at least a league-average number of shots, regardless of how many he faced, and independent of whether the team generated enough offense to win the game. In terms of goaltender evaluation, it is far superior to wins and losses.
In this regard, Schneider is tied with Chicago's Corey Crawford for the league lead, posting a quality start in 69.0 percent of his games.
This level of consistent success is also nothing new for Schneider. Going back over his entire career, Schneider has a 66.1 quality start percentage, which is the highest among any goalie with at least 50 career starts since 2007-08.
Schneider's performance is reflected in more than just quality starts -- it can be seen in various forms of save percentage, too. Schneider bests Holtby .924 to .922 in overall save percentage, and wins by an even wider margin in even-strength situations, .933 to .928.
There are even versions of save percentage that are adjusted for shot location and other quality factors, like the one available at the website War on Ice. From that perspective, Schneider's overall save percentage would be .923 in a typical situation, which remains fourth in the NHL behind Elliott, Bishop and Greiss, while Holtby's would drop to .919, which ranks 10th. Wins and losses are literally the only statistical perspective from which Schneider doesn't stand equal to or above the other finalists.
What should have happened
The winner of this year's Vezina Trophy will be announced at the NHL awards in Las Vegas on June 22, and it's between Holtby, Bishop and Quick.
Admittedly, it was a tight field this season, and Schneider is one of several goalies who deserved serious consideration for the Vezina, including Bishop and Holtby. Crawford, for example, was also left out of the final three, but a strong Vezina case can be constructed for him.
However, it's far more difficult to build a serious case for Quick. In virtually every statistical category, Quick ranks between 15th and 20th in the NHL, and his Vezina consideration is based solely on finishing second to Holtby with 40 wins. If voters were more interested in the numbers over which a goalie actually has influence, then Schneider would have taken his place among the finalists and possibly even won.