One of the key concepts in hockey analytics is that the goaltender position, while the most influential on a game-by-game basis, is also the least stable in terms of individual player performance. In fact, few goalies can be counted on to provide elite performance season after season.
Take the Blues' Brian Elliott as an example. Just two seasons ago, he was the co-recipient (with teammate Jaroslav Halak) of the William M. Jennings Trophy as the team with the lowest goals-against average (GAA). Per Hockey Prospectus' proprietary GVT stat, which measures total value provided by a given player, Elliott was one of the five most valuable players in the NHL. This was a surprise to many, as not only was his entire career to that point steeped in mediocrity, but in the previous season he ranked as the least valuable player in the league. In fact, he allowed 20 more goals than would have been expected from an AHL call-up.
Last season, Elliott returned to mediocrity, failing to defend his spot among the league's elite by turning in a season only marginally better than that aforementioned call-up. Meanwhile, the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the best single goaltender, was won by Sergei Bobrovsky, who had gone from below-average backup in Philadelphia to starter in Columbus, and nearly carried the Blue Jackets to the playoffs entirely on his broad shoulder pads. Defensemen or forwards rarely go from being a negative player in one season to one of the league leaders in the next; for goalies, it seems to happen (in both directions) each season.
When we look for consistency in net, there is only one true candidate who is both still active and in his prime. In fact, our hero has been -- by no small margin -- the most valuable netminder since 2005-06, and is the only man we feel comfortable with penciling in for another elite season. That man, of course, is Henrik Lundqvist, the one they call "The King."
Lundqvist comes in No. 1 in our VUKOTA-based projection of the Top 10 goaltenders for the 2013-14 NHL season.
1. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
2013-14 projection: 65 games | .918 save percentage | 19.8 GVT
Among regular netminders, the King's .937 even-strength save percentage ranked fifth in the league in 2013. We look to his even-strength numbers more so than his total in all situations, as there is often too much clutter in a goaltender's numbers when his team is skating shorthanded. In Lundqvist's case, it would not have mattered. At .927 overall, he slotted into fifth place again. To set himself up for a weighty GVT, it is pretty obvious that the 31-year-old Swede has to -- and knows full well how to -- stop the puck.
To ensure that he is more valuable than the other netminders, the former seventh-round pick also has to play a lot. Fortunately, Lundqvist has proved time and again that he fits the bill as a classic workhorse goalie. Appearing in all but five games in 2013's lockout-shortened season, he also has four seasons of more than 70 games played. So it is no surprise that VUKOTA expects the Rangers' star to lead the league in games played among goalies. With all of the signs pointing in the right direction, we think the King is primed for a run at a second Vezina Trophy.