NHL Notebook: Why a 2nd Vezina Trophy is far from a sure bet for Tuukka Rask

(Staff Photo By Matt Stone/ MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)

Given the body of work that the Bruins put forth through the first 70 games of the 2019-20 season, it was to be expected that the ballot boxes for the NHL’s annual individual awards were going to be stuffed with representatives donning black and gold sweaters. 

Friday brought about arguably the least-surprising news of all, with Tuukka Rask tabbed as a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, handed off to the top netminder in the NHL. 

Rask, who previously won the Vezina back in 2014, was considered to be a lock for a finalist nod, having already captured the William M. Jennings Trophy (given annually to the goalies playing for the team with the fewest goals allowed) with Jaroslav Halak earlier this season. 

Whether it be refinement in his own game, a sturdy D corps in front of him or a lessened workload thanks to the contributions of Jaroslav Halak, Rask put together one of the finest seasons of his career in 2019-20, building off of a playoff run the previous summer that would have all but secured him the Conn Smythe Trophy had a certain Game 7 followed a different course. 

When it comes to the baseline numbers, Rask stands at the top of the pack among regular NHL netminders — posting a record of 26-8-6 on the season with five shutouts, a 2.12 goals-against average and .929 save percentage this season. Among NHL goalies (min. 30 starts), Rask led the pack in both goals-against average and save percentage.

During most NHL campaigns, Rask’s production on the ice — coupled with Boston’s stellar showing in the standings — would likely be more than enough to secure Rask’s claim as the top goalie in the league this season.

But, for as much as the tried-and-true numbers might fall in his favor, such line of thinking may not work in the B’s veteran’s favor this season.

The case for Rask

As we noted above, the numbers speak for themselves when it comes to Rask’s deserved standing as a Vezina Trophy finalist. But an even deeper dive into the numbers paints the picture of a goalie in the midst of an elite season — even when accounting for Rask’s high standards.

Among goalies that have logged at least 2,000 minutes of ice time (all strengths) this season, Rask ranks:

1st in save percentage (.929)
1st in goals saved above average (22.56)
2nd in high-danger save percentage (.849)

Now, granted, Rask has had a few things working in his favor. 

In terms of workload, Rask (41 games played) was not taxed nearly as much as the other two Vezina finalists this season in Tampa’s Andrei Vasilevskiy (52 games played) and Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck in terms of expected reps, with Halak’s steady playing allowing Boston to not over-exert their No. 1 netminder. 

Having a D corps in front of you that has relinquished a league-low 2.39 goals per game has also provided a big boost for Rask. When Rask was in net this season, Boston’s defense generated an expected goals against per 60 minutes rate of 2.4779 — one of the top rates in the league.

As such, Rask wasn’t under assault as much as other netminders cursed with more flimsy defensive structuring, but that doesn’t mean that Boston’s goalie didn’t excel when those opposing chances were generated against the B’s defense.

When it comes to underrated metrics used to determine top-flight goaltending, “high-danger save percentage” should stand near the top — with the stat used as a way to take account of which netminders are going above and beyond when it comes to turning side those point-blank chances and odd-man rushes that can make or break a game, series or season.

The strides that Rask has made in terms of turning aside these quality looks have gone a long way when it comes to the numbers he put forth in 2019-20 — with his high-danger save percentage of .849 ranking second overall among qualifying netminders — with St. Louis’ Jordan Binnington the lone goalie in front of him with a HDSV% of .867.

Put all that together, and you have a netminder in Rask that, even with a solid defense in front of him, has played a massive role in minimizing the number of chances that opponents have managed to land against the Bruins.

The case against Rask