The Tampa Bay Lightning’s 2017-2018 season is officially over. While they fell short of winning a championship, they were still among the best teams in the NHL. Now that we’ve had a few weeks to process all that happened, we’re going to look at how each player on the roster performed this season.
To do this, we’re going to assign each player a school-style grade on the A to F scale. But we’re not doing this alone. We reached out to you, the readers, to help us with our grading. This is the fourth and final part in a series of articles where we will unveil the results of your grades, our staff grades, and a combined grade for the 25 players who played a significant number of minutes this year and were not traded or released.
The player grade series features four parts and includes the top six forwards, bottom seven forwards, defense, and goaltenders in separate articles. The articles on the top six and bottom seven forwards came out last week. The article on defenders came out earlier this week. This is the fourth and final installment.
The first chart shows the grades from the readers, the writers, and the combined grade for each player. The grades for the goalies are similar among the readers and writers. Writers were a little higher on Peter Budaj and a little lower on Louis Domingue but everyone was pretty much on the same page.
This shouldn’t be surprising. The backups didn’t play much this year so being too low or too high on them wouldn’t make much sense. Andrei Vasilevskiy played sixty five games and was one of the keys to the Lightning’s success, particularly early in the season. In that context, him receiving a high grade makes sense.
The next chart shows a breakdown of how the readers voted for each of the goalies. Again, we see the consensus on Vasilevskiy. Almost all of his grades are in the A range. Readers clearly felt he emerged as an important player this season.
Of all the players graded in this series, Vasilevskiy received the highest grade. Higher than Nikita Kucherov. Higher than Victor Hedman. That’s quite an accomplishment for a goaltender in his first season as the full-time starter.
Stats and Analysis
Having looked at the subjective grading of our community (readers and writers) here at Raw Charge, let’s now delve into the objective stats to try to understand what might be driving the perceptions we see above. All data below is via Corsica except for the estimated passing data, which is calculated via the methodology here.
Goalie evaluation is tougher to do statistically than skaters and we don’t have the same selection of stats to help us understand their performance. Because of that, we won’t be using the heatmaps we typically use. Instead, we’ll look at a couple charts that will help us contextualize how the goalies played this year.
At the risk of making everyone mad, I’m not quite as high on Vasilevskiy’s results this season as most. Please don’t confuse that with his long term projection. I still think he can be a high end starter for many years. But I don’t think he should have been a Vezina nominee this year and I gave him a B+ in my personal grades.
The charts above help illustrate why I think Vasilevskiy still has some room for improvement. The first chart shows how many goals a goalie would be expected to allow based on the type and number of shots they faced compared to how many actual goals they allowed. Being above the diagonal line means they allowed less than expected, which is good.
Vasilevskiy is above the line but just barely. He allowed 3.5 goals fewer than would be expected. For comparison, the players who should be in the Vezina conversation typically allow double-digit fewer goals than expected.
The second chart shows how many goals each goalie saved above average per 30 minutes of ice time as well as the number of games they played. Again, we see a similar story. Vasilevskiy is in the positive range but not to a degree that would put him among the best in the league.
The key thing that I take from both of these charts is just how much he played compared to most goalies. He is in a cluster with four or five other goalies playing the most of anyone in the league. I’m not sure the Lightning should view that as a good thing. Yes, he played well and showed he can handle it. But I don’t think the team should enter next season with the plan being for him to play 65 games again.
If we looked at these same charts after the first half of the season, Vasilevskiy would have been among the league leaders. His second half wasn’t nearly as strong and that’s why he landed closer to average by the end of the season.
If finding a way for him to play fewer games would allow him to keep up that Vezina pace, reducing his workload should be a priority for the Lightning. We can’t know for sure whether that would happen but it should be worth exploring for the Lightning front office this summer.
If the team is interested in reducing his workload, that would mean they need to play their backups more. And based on the goalies currently on the roster, that might not be easy to do.
Louis Domingue and Peter Budaj both find themselves in the wrong area of these charts. In Domingue’s defense, he started horribly in Arizona and was better when he got to Tampa.
Peter Budaj only played eight games and was bad in those eight games. I don’t think he can be in the Lightning’s plans for next season. He would be an ideal veteran to add to the Syracuse Crunch if the team can get him through waivers. He’s only a couple seasons removed from being one of the best goaltenders in the AHL so he would be a boost to the Crunch.
That leaves Domingue. And while acknowledging that he was better in Tampa than Arizona is important, I can’t just throw out the Arizona games. They count as part of his sample from last year. If he can play a full season as a backup the way he played in Tampa last year, he’d be an ideal option. But I’m not sure the team can count on that.
The team’s approach to the backup position will come down to how they intend to use Vasilevskiy next year. If he’s going to play 65 games, then they can go into the season figuring Domingue can play the rest of the games because the risk is minimal. If they want to get Vasilevskiy down under 60 games and the backup up closer to 25 games, they might need to explore other options so they have insurance in case Domingue struggles.
Andrei Vasilevskiy had a good year. He had to carry the load in net more than a player in their first year starting should. Considering the additional workload, he did well to stay above water and gave the Lightning a chance to win most nights.
I’m not quite as ready to proclaim him the next great NHL goalie as some seem to be but I do still think he has that ceiling. I also think he would benefit from playing 5-10 less games next season if the Lightning can find a way to do that.
An elite goalie makes life much easier in the NHL. They erase mistakes. They cover defensive deficiencies. They bail out struggling offenses. Vasilevskiy has every chance to be that and the Lightning need to figure out the optimal path that gives him the best chance of maximizing his unique talent.