- Frederik Andersen could be the first Dane to Win the Vezina.
- Andersen is a legitimate contender for the award but faces strong challengers in Fleury, Vasilevskiy, and Hellebuyck.
- Can he continue to shine in spite of the Leafs’ mediocre defense?
We’re nearly two-thirds of the way through the NHL season and the field of likely candidates for the Vezina trophy is whittling down to just a few serious contenders.
Near the top of the fray, playing in the center of the hockey universe, is the Danish 29-year-old, Frederik Andersen. Toronto’s flashy forwards (not to mention their flashy forward’s new contracts) capture much of the media attention surrounding the Leafs, but Andersen is the most likely of any member of the blue and white to capture a major award this season.
Does Andersen really have a good shot to win the Vezina? Can he continue to put up incredible numbers behind a mediocre defense? Let’s examine the 2019 Vezina Trophy odds to find out.
2019 Vezina Trophy Odds
|Marc Andre Fleury (Golden Knights)||+400|
|Andrei Vasilevskiy (Lightning)||+500|
|Conor Hellebuyck (Jets)||+700|
|Frederik Andersen (Maple Leafs)||+800|
|Carey Price (Canadiens)||+800|
Andersen’s Heroic Performance
I’ve been bullish on Frederik Andersen for a while now. After losing a few weeks to injury between December and January, he’s taken the reigns in the Leafs net again and continued to look nothing short of brilliant.
Despite playing in only 36 games, Andersen is only five wins behind Marc Andre Fleury for the league lead and his save percentage (.923) is second only to Andrei Vasilevskiy (.924).
One metric I really like using to appraise goaltenders is goals saved above average. If you’re not familiar with it, I’d advise you to familiarize yourself. Goaltending is notoriously hard to quantify due to the myriad variables that go into properly judging a goaltenders’ performance, but advanced metrics such as GSAA are a step towards more objective methods of assessing a goalie’s play.
Here’s what Andersen’s GSAA looks like, in comparison to his peers:
How to interpret this? Well, not only does it mean that Andersen has saved more goals above average than his peers, but he also faces an incredible quantity of extremely high danger chances.
As the graph indicates, Andersen faces many more grade A+ chances than his peers, with the exception of John Gibson, whose chances of winning the Vezina this season have all but been totally extinguished by the abject disaster that Ducks’ roster.
Gibson might be the best goaltender in the league (well, he is in my opinion) but no goalie who gives up 5+ goals in three straight games and is on a 2-9 stretch is going to rebound to win the Vezina, especially one playing behind an Anaheim team that can’t score and has two wins in its last 18 games. It’s not Gibson’s fault he plays for a team coached by a literal dinosaur in Randy Carlyle, but hey, sometimes life isn’t fair.
Andersen has played 36 games at an elite level, and there’s no doubt that the Leafs will rely on him down the stretch.
Back to Andersen. All of these statistics, in the aggregate, point to Andersen’s consistency this season, something that he’s struggled with in his career. Andersen has played 36 games at an elite level, and there’s no doubt that the Leafs will rely on him down the stretch.
From my vantage point, there’s very little to suggest that Andersen won’t continue his run of strong play to close out the season. That’s going to go a long way when Vezina votes are tallied at the conclusion of the season.
Is the Leafs Defense That Bad?
Yeah! It is! If you read enough pundits (or enough message board warriors) they try to proselytize the non-believers into thinking that Toronto’s defense is comparable to the league’s best. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid. Here’s what the current iteration of Toronto’s defense looks like:
Toronto Maple Leafs Defense Depth Chart
|Left Defense||Right Defense|
|Morgan Reilly||Jake Muzzin|
|Jake Gardiner||Nikita Zaitsev|
|Travis Dermott||Ron Hainsey|
He’s facing an average of 32.5 shots a game, by far and away the most of any other legitimate contender for the award. By comparison, Marc Andre Fleury is facing a paltry (by comparison) 27.5 shots a game.
Andersen’s workload might get a bit easier after Kyle Dubas paid a steep price to acquire Jake Muzzin from the Kings, but this isn’t assured by any means. He’ll slot into the top 4 on the Leafs, but he’s being asked to play on the right side which he never did in Los Angeles.
Could this experiment work? Absolutely. Could he end up back on the left side, with Zaitsev and Hainsey once again being the 1-2 punch on the right side? That could happen too, and if it does, Andersen’s going to need to continue to stop a wall of rubber on a night in and night out basis.
Whenever I think of the Leafs’ defense ability to actually, well, defend, this goal, in game 7 of the 2018 playoffs, is always at the top of my mind:
Yikes! There’s no denying that even with the acquisition of Muzzin, a ton of questions still swirls around how capable the Leafs’ defense really is.
If you look at other names in serious contention, like Hellebuyck, Fleury, Vasilevskiy, and Rinne, they all play behind stingy defenses, with systems that are oriented in favor of the goaltenders. Andersen doesn’t have that luxury, and this will doubtless be a factor in his favor when the Vezina is awarded.
A Dane Could Win the Vezina
No Danish goaltender has ever won the Vezina (not surprising, given Andersen is the only Danish goaltender in the history of the National Hockey League), and since the Vezina was first awarded in 1927, only 13 non-Canadians have won the award.
Over the last 10 years, only one Canadian has won the Vezina Trophy.
While statistically, Canadians do capture an overwhelming share of major player awards (extending to both the Norris and Hart trophies), but Canadian dominance is yielding to international competition in regards to the Vezina trophy.
Canada has a dearth of elite goaltending talent, and the trend reversal in Vezina Trophy winners as of late indicates this.
Is Andersen Worth Betting On?
Yes, he is. At average odds of +800 (which translates to an implied probability of 11.11%), Andersen has favorable odds given his chances to take home the trophy.
At this point in the season, Andersen has just as good a chance to win the award as Fleury or Vasilevskiy, and by my estimation a better chance to win the award than either Hellebuyck or Price. Simply put, Andersen’s play has been spectacular, and he should be considered among the league’s elite at his position.
Of course, a lot can change in the final third of the season. That being said, it’s hard to poke any sizeable holes in the case for Andersen’s Vezina. He’s worth dropping a few bucks on, at the bare minimum.