During Tuesday night's broadcast on CSN, Capitals team owner Ted Leonsis made an appearance in the booth to celebrate Craig Laughlin's 25 years on the air for the Caps. Laughlin, Leonsis and play-by-play guru Joe Beninati were chumming it up all throughout the first half of the third period, and the group began to talk about Braden Holtby, and whether or not he was worthy of any end-of-season accolades.
Leonsis, of course, pledged his full support of his goaltender, not only stating that he was worthy of both the Vezina and the Hart Trophy, but also excitedly said that he was having a better season than Montreal Canadiens' goaltender Carey Price had just last season, when he won both awards. Beninati then mentioned that he had heard some murmurs that, despite Holtby's absurd winning pace, he may actually not be the top contender for the Vezina this year.
Just a couple of months ago, Holtby appeared to be a lock for his first ever Vezina win, and an extremely worthy candidate of Hart considerations. But Holtby's scary January and February brought his numbers back down to earth. Are his totals still strong enough to actually earn himself some awards following the season?
If we first take a look at Leonsis's original declaration, that Holtby is actually having a better season this year than Price did in 2014-15, we can see that this may not exactly be the case.
|Holtby in 2015-16 vs. Price in 2014-15 (Even Strength 5-v-5)|
|Player||Sv.%||Adj. Sv.%||High-Danger Sv.%||SA per. 60|
Holtby's even-strength five-on-five save percentage, adjusted save percentage, and save percentage in high-danger scoring areas don't exactly compare well to Price's numbers last year - and Price saw just slightly more shots-against per game.
The exact same trend can be found when observing both players while their teams have been shorthanded:
|Holtby in 2015-16 vs. Price in 2014-15 (Shorthanded)|
|Player||Sv.%||Adj. Sv.%||High-Danger Sv.%||SA per. 60|
At this point in the season, Holtby has not been as dominant this year as Price was just last season. Considering that not only has Price set the bar as to what a goaltender must accomplish in order to be worthy of both the Vezina and the Hart Trophy, but that Chicago Blackhawks' forward Patrick Kane has a 12-point lead on the NHL scoring title, it doesn't appear that Holtby's numbers are strong enough to warrant both the Vezina and the Hart Trophy this season.
So while Holtby for the Hart may end up being a bit of a stretch (and, considering only two goaltenders have won the Hart Trophy in this millennium, it would have been a difficult task for Holtby to replicate just one season after Price managed the feat), the Vezina is definitely still up for grabs. But with many other viable candidates, should you write Holtby's name on your list of winners in pen or pencil?
Unlike last year, there are several goaltenders that are all within a class of their own. Of goaltenders with at least 49 games played (we're gonna say 49 considering Detroit's Petr Mrazek, who has only suited up 49 times this year, should certainly be in the mix), only four find themselves in the top ten in the NHL in both save percentage and goals against average: Ben Bishop, Cory Schneider, Mrazek and Holtby. Those four should be greatly considered. And when you consider the recent surge of both Henrik Lundqvist and the overall consistency of Corey Crawford, NHL general managers have several different players to mull over.
We can again compare how well each goaltender matches up to one another by looking at each player's adjusted save percentage, their save percentage in high-danger areas and their shots against per 60 minutes of even-strength 5-v-5 play.
Not only are Lundqvist and Crawford seeing the most action at five on five, but both are performing better than the rest of the field in two significant categories: Lundqvist is leading the group in adjusted save percentage, while Crawford is powering his way to the top with his save percentage in high-danger scoring areas. Holtby, on the other hand, is a bit underwhelming in comparison to the NHL's best.
But a bit of a different picture appears when we look at the same set of goaltenders in shorthanded situations:
Lundqvist's numbers pale in comparison to others in Vezina contention. It's why, despite a League-leading .942 save percentage at even-strength among goaltenders with at least 15 games, Lundqvist ranks just eighth among goalies with at least 15 games in save percentage in all game situations. You can also see that Crawford's high-danger save percentage shorthanded is no where near as strong in comparison to his even-strength 5-v-5 save percentage. And both Bishop and Schneider appear as the front runners in this category. But, once again, Holtby trails other candidates.
Holtby's January and February output leveled the playing field for goaltenders. From October to December, Holtby's .936 save percentage in all game situations was the highest in the NHL among goaltenders with at least 20 games, and he actually was performing better than Price did in 2014-15 at that point in the season. Now, his .922 save percentage is sixth in the NHL among goalies with at least 40 games.
But Holtby is by no means "doomed." Here's why.
Since Holtby became a full-time starter for the Washington Capitals in the 2013-14 season, Holtby has performed relatively average in January and February, only to ramp up his play in March and April. Prior to this season, Holtby had a .916 save percentage in 50 games in January and February in his entire career (that number sunk to .913 after this season with an additional 21 games on his resume). However, in both March and April, Holtby has managed to shoot his save percentage up to .930 in 65 career games. And so far this season, Holtby has managed a .920 save percentage in five games, much better than his February save percentage of .903 this season.
And if Holtby were to win the Vezina Trophy, he wouldn't be the first goaltender with a sub-par month or two. Of the last ten Vezina Trophy winners, eight managed to go an entire month with a save percentage under .920.
So while we could reasonably expect Holtby to improve for the remainder of the season, what about the other goaltenders? Of the listed goaltenders, only Schneider averages more than a .920 save percentage for both March and April (and he's missed the Devils' last four games with a MCL sprain).
Plus, if we look at the Fenwick save percentages of the listed goaltenders (excluding Schneider due to his injury) versus the expected Fenwick save percentage, only Holtby and Bishop are hovering right around their expected Fenwick save percentages, while Lundqvist, Crawford and Mrazek are greatly exceeding their expectations, suggesting that Lundqvist, Crawford and Mrazek may eventually see a dip in their numbers in the next month.
So based on past events, we could reasonably expect Holtby to see a bit of an increase in his overall production within the next month.
On top of all of this information, we haven't even addressed the narrative that may ultimately be too great for the general managers to ignore: Holtby chasing the single-season wins record. With 13 games remaining on the Capitals schedule, Holtby needs to record just seven more wins to pass Martin Brodeur's record of 48 wins, set in the 2006-07 season with the Devils.
How great of a factor do total wins play in Vezina votes?
Over the last 10 years, the goaltender that has recorded the most wins in the season has won the Vezina Trophy just twice. In those same years, Price last season and Brodeur in his record-setting 48 win season, only Price led the NHL in save percentage among players with at least 30 games.
Prior to Brodeur's record setting win total, Philadelphia Flyers' goaltender Bernie Parent set the record record with 47 wins in the 1973-74 season. Of the 11 goalies between the 1973-74 season and the 2006-07 to come within five wins of Parent's mark, four would win the Vezina Trophy, while four more would come in second, one would come in third and two others would finish outside of the top-three in votes. And since Brodeur set the mark, seven goaltenders have come within five wins of 48, and only two would win the Vezina Trophy.
However, of the last seven times the wins record by a single goaltender has been held, dating back all the way to Boston Bruins' goaltender Tiny Thompson in the 1929-30 season, six of the seven goaltenders would win the Vezina Trophy that same year.
So two bad months may have put a damper on Holtby's Vezina and Hart Trophy parade - but if Holtby is able to snag that looming record (and his personal history indicates that's a pretty good possibility), Holtby may very well earn himself his first-ever Vezina Trophy.