We’ll try to keep this one as short as possible; I honestly just wanted to avoid a longer chain of tweets than the one I already started this morning.
The Professional Hockey Writer’s Association released their mid-season rankings for the various NHL Awards (plus a few of their own), and there was one anomaly that threw me off – Lou Lamoriello was ranked third for GM of the year, while Robin Lehner was not being given Vezina Trophy consideration yet.
This is peculiar on both ends – Lehner, who did get the leading vote for the media’s Comeback Player of the Year award (which will manifest itself into the Masterton Trophy eventually), has been brilliant with a 0.931 save percentage this season, but fails to make a list where netminders like Marc-Andre Fleury (0.911) are ranked second. Lehner is also arguably the only good acquisition of Lamoriello’s this summer – most of the other signings and trades range from “hilariously bad” to “only a little bad, but still a little bad”.
Barry Trotz was also the leader for the Jack Adams, which fits the “you show me a good coach, I’ll show you a good goalie” mantra. To be fair, I think he’s much more deserving than Lamoriello – the Islanders have gotten significantly better in most underlying metrics as the season has progressed, to the point of ranking 10th in score-adjusted Corsi over the last 25 games after relying on puck luck to survive a cavernous start to the year. The team legitimately looks good right now, and Trotz deserves a lot of credit; as do their core skaters, and most of all, the great goaltending they’ve gotten. I don’t think he’d have my first place vote just yet, but Trotz would definitely be on my ballot.
This was suggested as a rationale for a lack of Lehner, but a chip for Lou:
It’s an interesting idea. I suppose giving Lamoriello credit for the Trotz hiring is a fair argument, and something I’m willing to concede a little on. The goaltending thought is interesting though. After all, the Islanders were a defensive nightmare under Doug Weight, and have conceded significantly fewer shots this season. The heat maps show it most glaringly:
All the same, I’m a little skeptical that this is just a Trotz thing, at least in the sense of improving the goalies’ actual numbers. After all, Brayden Holtby had the worst regular season of his career by Goals Saved Above Average last year under Trotz, while Philipp Grubauer survived. Lehner, Greiss, and Halak have all had great years in the past, and a couple of them had their own stuff to deal with recently – Lehner with his mental health and addiction battles, and Halak likely wanting a change of scenery after the NYI experiment had failed to pay dividends for either side.
I don’t want to spend too much time diving into this, especially since most people who claim to have the answers for how goaltenders work are liars or snake oil salespeople, but let’s take a quick look at Thomas Greiss’ year-to-year performance at 5-on-5. That should give us an idea of if he’s really being helped by quality.
What we see here is that, while Greiss is seeing fewer shots against across the board, including fewer high-quality shots against, they are not being trimmed away in ways that you would imagine would influence save percentage. The shots that have seen the most proportional decrease have been the lower danger ones, while the shots in close have actually increased. Rush attempts and rebound attempts have also gone up for him.
At the same time, his save percentage has gone up significantly in dangerous areas, and the average distance of his goals against has been pushed back by about 25%. In theory, one would love to look at the increased high-danger save percentage and come to the conclusion that his defencemen are being more supportive in the slot, but the volume has changed by about one shot every 8 or 9 games; hardly enough to move the needle there. Greiss’ high-danger save percentage has also always been in that 0.840-0.875 range in Long Island save for last year.
Realistically, I think there is some coincidental fortune happening with these three goalies, with maybe even a bit of above-their-head play. But it’s hard to deny that Greiss was likely unlucky last year, and that Lehner is all but definitely getting a boost from playing with a clear head, heart, and soul this year. It’s more likely that the goaltending boost comes from personal gains and a bit of luck than it is from Trotz, but Trotz is still doing good things with the skaters that help their netminders see fewer shots, and by that virtue, concede fewer goals – helping them win games.
I’m still not giving Lou a GM of the Year vote, though.