by PuckStopsHere on 04/05/12 at 02:58 PM ET
Yesterday I wrote that I think Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators is the most improved player this season. Commenters quickly pointed out Brian Elliott of the St Louis Blues. While Elliott has had a huge statistical improvement in his play this season, I do not see it as a huge sustained improvement. I wouldn’t list him among the elite goalies in the NHL. There are several better goalies around while Karlsson is one of the best defencemen in the game. In a fantasy draft next season Karlsson should be picked well before Elliott.
In fact I wouldn’t call Elliott the most improved goalie in the league this year. That honor would go to Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles.
Quick’s improvement seems more sustained. This is in part because he played at a high level for more games than Elliott and because his trajectory to become a top goalie is more consistent. Elliott almost played himself out of the NHL last year. He posted the worst goals versus threshold in the NHL last season. In a new location (St Louis) under a new system he has succeeded but how much is a sustained skill? Next year would you expect Elliott to be among the top goalies in the league? How about Quick? I see Quick as one of the better goalies in hockey and Elliott as a player who may be a sleeper pick in some drafts but he isn’t among the top goalies in the game (though those picking him as a sleeper hope this year isn’t an aberration).
The difference between a top goaltending season (say .930 saves percentage) and a more average one (say .910) is one save out of 50 shots. That is close to half a save per game. It is a tiny amount that is hard to judge without statistical analysis. Watching a goalie play it is hard (if not impossible) to see the difference). It is also not a particularly big difference statistically. It is not that unlikely that an average goalie can have one fluke season that makes him look like a top goalie. Examples occur almost every season in hockey history. Perhaps the best example is Jose Theodore’s Hart Trophy winning season in 2002. If a goalie plays less than 60-70 games in a season (as a top number one goalie would), it is easier still for a statistical fluke to occur. That is Brian Elliott’s situation as he has played 37 games so far this season.
As for Jonathan Quick, I see him as a top Vezina trophy candidate. I support Henrik Lundqvist as the Vezina leader but I admit it is a close race. Quick and Lundqvist have posted similar numbers (GAA and saves percentage) and Quick has more games played. Lundqvist plays in a higher scoring division and conference and thus is in a tougher situation to post those numbers.
While I am uncertain if Quick will have another Vezina calibre season after this one, he is a far better bet to do so than Brian Elliott. Thus Quick has moved further up the list of the best players in the league and is better expected to keep his rank into the future. Therefore I call Jonathan Quick the most improved goalie this season.
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