Did Andrei Vasilevskiy deserve the 2021 Conn Smythe Trophy?
This is a conversation I seemed to have perpetually over Twitter and Reddit throughout the Stanley Cup Finals with mostly Canadiens fans, but also some other hockey fans who argued Kucherov or Point should’ve been the frontrunners.
Now that the Stanley Cup has been won back-to-back by the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Conn Smythe awarded to Vasilevskiy, did he deserve it? Yes, and I am going to talk about why.
Vasilevskiy’s 2021 Stanley Cup Playoff Performance
Vasilevskiy was dominant in the playoffs. He played all 23 games for the Lightning, had a 16–7 win/loss record, gave up 44 goals for a 1.90 GAA, had five shutouts (with four being in series clinching games), and a .937 save percentage. For advanced statistics, he had a 17.46 GSAx, a 1.83 dFsv%, and an 11.41 GSAA.
He led the league of goalies with a minimum of 3 games played by a lot in GSAA, GSAx, and save percentage. He led second (Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets) in GSAx by 8.59 — almost double what Hellebuyck had. He led second in GSAA (also Hellebuyck) in GSAA by 7.65, which is almost quadruple what Hellebuyck had.
His performance was historic. In the calculated data of the past fourteen seasons from Evolving-Hockey, Vasilevskiy has the highest GSAx of any goalie by almost a full 2.5 GSAx. He finishes seventh in GSAA and 21st in dFsv%, which are also incredible given the list is comprised of almost 300 goalies.
But, Vasilevskiy Is On A Superior Team
This was typically the biggest argument from Habs fans arguing for why Carey Price deserved the Conn Smythe over Vasilevskiy. The simple answer to this is, Price didn’t win, did he? Furthermore, Price wasn’t better than Vasilevskiy in almost every advanced individual statistic available — like GSAx and dFsv%. No one is arguing that Price didn’t have an incredible performance. He defied everyone’s expectations and led the Canadiens to their first Cup appearance since the 1990s. But, Price didn’t lead them to Lord Stanley — Vasilevskiy did and with much better statistics.
Also, Price’s best game by GSAx was Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Lightning, where he finished with a 2.26. Here’s a look at that chart for that game.
Vasilevskiy’s best game by GSAx was Game 5 of the Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Carolina Hurricanes, where he finished with a 2.61. Here’s a look at that chart for that game.
To further drive home the point, Price only had one game above 2 GSAx. Vasilevskiy had seven.
There is certainly an argument to be had about which statistics in hockey are more indicative of the team or the player, but advanced statistics like GSAx that can be calculated with what should go in the net and what shouldn’t (regardless of the team in front of the goaltender) help prove the case that Vasilevskiy is simply the best in the NHL.
But, What About Kucherov or Point?
I have also heard the arguments that Nikita Kucherov or Brayden Point deserved to be in the conversation for the Conn Smythe. Kucherov finished the playoffs with 8G-24A-32P and a +6. He finished second in the league with expected goals, individual Corsi shots on goal, individual shots on goal, and individual Fenwick shots on goal. Kucherov had a phenomenal postseason and is the first player since Gretzky and Lemieux to have a nine point lead on the next best player.
Point finished the playoffs with 14G-9A-23P with a +7. Point was in the conversation early due to his incredible goal scoring pace that had a few people thinking that he might be able to get close to breaking twenty goals. But, he slowed down a lot in the last two series — and especially against the Canadiens. Point finished twelfth in the league in individual shots on goal, seventeenth in individual Corsi shots on goal, fifteenth in individual Fenwick shots on goal, and seventh with expected goals. Point is (pun definitely intended), after the first two series, he didn’t have as much as an impact on the ice as Vasilevskiy or even Kucherov, who made a bigger impact when the stakes were higher.
The reason Vasilevskiy deserved the Conn Smythe Trophy the most isn’t just due to his advanced statistics or the fact that they are historically good, but that he played every game for the Lightning in their now back-to-back championships and had five straight shutout series-clinching performances in those playoffs. Yes, Carey Price was clutch for a team that didn’t have much star power, but Vasilevskiy was clutch against teams at their most desperate. He shut those teams out entirely. Twice in the Finals.
The Conn Smythe is about the player who has the biggest impact for their (normally) Stanley Cup-winning team. Hockey is a team sport and by saying one player is the MVP does not mean I am saying that you can switch someone for that MVP and they would not win. If they are competent, like a switch between Price and Vasilevskiy, the Canadiens are still likely going to make the Finals with the Lightning still winning it all. It’s just likely that it would’ve been a much more interesting and longer-lasting series.
Let me know what you think!