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Are the Maple Leafs facing the best goalie in the NHL in the first round?

Braden Holtby has already won the Jennings. If he takes the Vezina, you almost have to call him the best.

Washington Capitals v Toronto Maple Leafs - Game Three

Frederik Andersen and John Gibson won the William M. Jennings Trophy last year. It’s a funny old thing that goes to goalies, but is based on team goals against, not the goalies’ GAA.

This year the award is going to Braden Holtby. Phillipp Grubauer would share it if he’d only played two more games. The Washington Capitals had a meagre 177 goals against this season, while the second best team, the Columbus Blue Jackets, had 193.

The Vezina is more of a best goalie award, and it is voted on by the General Managers of all the teams in a ranked ballot. But in reality, it’s usually as much about GAA, a team skill, as it is the goalie himself. It’s also about all-situations save percentage, and those two numbers usually align well for very good goalies, but not always. This year is a not always year, and it makes guessing the finalists a little harder.

The official finalists will be announced today, but I thought I’d play a little guessing game first.

2017 Regular Season Goalie Traditional Stats - 25 games played, top ten by GAA

Name Team GAA League Ranking All Situations Save % League Ranking
Name Team GAA League Ranking All Situations Save % League Ranking
Sergei Bobrovsky CBJ 2.06 1 0.931 1
Braden Holtby WSH 2.07 2 0.925 4
Jimmy Howard DET 2.10 3 0.927 2
Peter Budaj LAK/TBL 2.18 4 0.915 22
John Gibson ANA 2.22 5 0.924 5
Carey Price MTL 2.23 6 0.923 9
Tuukka Rask BOS 2.23 7 0.915 23
Devan Dubnyk MIN 2.25 8 0.923 7
Antti Raanta DAL 2.26 9 0.922 11
Craig Anderson OTT 2.28 10 0.926 3

The very top pick is easy. If you lead the league in both of these old fashioned measures, you will get a lot of Vezina votes. Sergei Bobrovsky, despite his ignominious exit from the playoffs, is in with the best chance to win this.

Braden Holtby has excellent numbers, he’s getting the Jennings, and his team won the Presidents’ Trophy. That’s a hard combination to ignore. He will get a lot of votes.

Jimmy Howard should be considered, but he played too few games. Peter Budaj is a backup, and you can’t give the Vezina to a backup, but his bad save percentage also keeps him out of contention.

The third place candidate may well come from down the GAA list this time, and the excuse for that can be the poor quality of the team he plays on. His third best save percentage will be enough, and Craig Anderson should be the third finalist.

Other possibilities are John Gibson and Devan Dubnyk. But Gibson got injured and Jonathan Bernier had to drag the Ducks into the playoffs, and Dubnyk dropped off in performance late in the year. But they will get votes, and second and third choices on ballots might muddy the waters.

It’s hard not to think Bobrovsky should win this. He is my pick based on a lot of things well beyond all-situations save percentage. But Holtby is a very close second. He could easily win it and I wouldn’t be bothered by the choice.

Of course, in the playoffs, beyond Bernier’s half-game shutout, the star has been Pekka Rinne. Holtby, faced with Leafs’ offence night after night, has fallen to the merely good range, nearly identical to Andersen, from elite level numbers in the regular season.

It might not be true that the Leafs are facing the best goaltender in the league in the first round, maybe the Penguins did, but Holtby is definitely coming off of a very good season and might take home more than one trophy from Vegas. Grubauer, on the other hand, shouldn’t worry about the Jennings, he should worry about Las Vegas real estate prices.

The announcement of the Vezina finalists is expected tonight just before 7 pm.