Nashville Predators: Vezina Trophy Race Should be Closer than You Think

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 28: Juuse Saros #74 of the Nashville Predators controls the puck against the Boston Bruins during the first period at the TD Garden on March 28, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MARCH 28: Juuse Saros #74 of the Nashville Predators controls the puck against the Boston Bruins during the first period at the TD Garden on March 28, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images) /

For months now it has been almost a foregone conclusion that Linus Ullmark will hoist the Vezina Trophy, but as of late Juuse Saros is on an absolute heater as the Nashville Predators somehow remain in the playoff hunt.

It’s really going to test what is prioritized when voting on the Vezina Trophy. Is it really about which goaltender is most valuable to their team, or is it purely who has the better save percentage and GAA? Frankly speaking, it shouldn’t be that simple.

This is going to be a difficult decision for voters if Saros does the unthinkable and puts out another couple gems and the Nashville Predators sneak into the playoffs.

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Saros has moved ahead of Ullmark in Goals Saved Above Expected, which is a key metric in seeing just how valuable a goaltender is to their team. How many extra goals did they keep off the board, directly leading to a much higher probability of winning the game?

Also, you can look at the Expected GAA. Saros is way up at 3.43 but has kept his GAA at 2.71. Ullmark has been solid in this category as well.

Before I go any further with my argument for Saros, let me first say that Ullmark is without a doubt deserving of the Vezina Trophy and if he ends up claiming the hardware, it won’t be a complete travesty. My whole point is it should be much closer of a race than anyone could’ve imagined even going back a month ago.

One key stat that weighs heavily in Saros’ favor over Ullmark is the discrepancy in shots faced. Saros has faced 1,993 shots, while Ullmark has faced only 1,406. Now while that’s not Ullmark’s fault that he hasn’t been tested nearly as much as Saros, it should still be included in the equation when choosing between both of these incredibly talented goaltenders.

Furthermore, the goal support is very different between the two goalies. Ullmark, again not his fault, gets an average per 60 minutes of 3.28 goals, while Saros receives an average of 2.62 goals per 60. Not even three goals  in today’s fast-paced NHL is insane that he has still managed to win 31 games and post a commendable 2.71 GAA.

The Bruins ranks 2nd in the NHL in goals per game, while the Predators sit at 27th.

In Goalie Point Shares, Saros narrowly edges Ullmark with a 14.0 points contributed to his team, while Ullmark sits at 12.7.

Ullmark’s save percentage is what really boosts him to a high level and is his biggest check mark on his side. A .937 save percentage while giving up 1.90 GAA is like looking at a video game stat line. I can’t argue that.

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For Saros to have any chance of overtaking Ullmark, and it will still be a long shot, the Predators have to make the playoffs. I can’t see the voters choosing Saros if his team didn’t make the playoffs while the other goaltender is starting for a team that’s making regular season NHL history.

Saros recently posted 35 saves against the Bruins in a game where his shutout was spoiled in the last second of regulation. The Predators still got the unexpected, massive upset win while Ullmark made 21 saves on only 22 shots faced.

All I’m saying is this debate should be closer than many probably realized it would be. Ullmark is very deserving, but so is Saros. Two outstanding goaltenders during a time when the NHL has several generationally talented goalies rising through the ranks.

I would also be remised to not also mention Ilya Sorokin for the New York Islanders. Another deserving goaltender whose team is also on the playoff bubble just like Saros with the Predators.

It’s crystal clear that Ullmark, Saros and Sorokin are your three Vezina Trophy nominees.

So again I’ll state that it really comes down to what we’re voting on. Purely who has a better save percentage, win-loss record and GAA, or are we voting on the goaltender who is more valuable to their team’s success? If you choose the latter, then it’s undoubtedly Juuse Saros for Vezina Trophy.