Canucks: Where does Jacob Markstrom rank among NHL’s best goalies?


Jacob Markstrom has no doubt been one of the Vancouver Canucks’ MVPs this season, but where does he rank amongst the league’s best goaltenders?

For the past two seasons, Jacob Markstrom has been one of the most important players for the Vancouver Canucks. After spending the majority of his career as a backup, the Swedish netminder finally broke through and became a quality starting goaltender during the 2018-19 campaign.

Markstrom has arguably been the MVP of the team this season, as the Canucks have played at a 95 point pace with him in net versus an 88 point pace without him. This point differential is crucial, as it often separates teams that make the playoffs versus ones that don’t. With his meteoric rise to stardom, many Canucks fans have wondered just how good the 30-year-old really is. Today, it’s time to determine where he ranks among the NHL’s best goalies.

Two of the most common stats associated with netminders include save percentage and goals-against average. However, these numbers don’t do the best job of showcasing a goaltender’s true abilities.

Goals against average is more of a team stat than an individual one since defensive mistakes caused by skaters often leads to goals being conceded.

Save percentage is more accurate as it shows the chances that a goalie will stop opposing shots; on the other hand, it doesn’t take into account the difficulty of those shots, which is crucial in determining the ability of a netminder.

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Fortunately, advanced stats such as goals saved above expected (GSAx) and save percentage above expected helps paint a clearer picture as to how good a netminder really is. GSAx is arguably the most accurate goalie stat that is currently used since it shows the number of goals that were saved by a netminder versus how many he was expected to save.

For example, a GSAx of one means that a goalie saved one goal more than he was expected to based on the quality of shots that he’s faced. According to Evolving-Hockey, Markstrom ranks ninth in GSAx for goaltenders who have played at least 35 games, or roughly half the season. This places him just behind Jordan Binnington and Robin Lehner, who are undoubtedly two of the better goalies in the league.

Similarly, save percentage above expected shows how much higher (or lower) a goalie’s save percentage is versus their expected percentage, which is also based on shot quality. Before the season’s suspension, Markstrom was ranked 12th (according to Money Puck) among goaltenders who have played at least 35 games, which is ahead of netminders such as Binnington and former Vezina finalist Ben Bishop.

Although both GSAx and save percentage above expected are good stats to look at when evaluating goalies, it’s impossible for them to quantify factors such as fatigue. Among all goalies who’ve played at least 35 games this season, Markstrom faces the second most shots per game on average with 33 against.

The high volume of shots will no doubt leave him more fatigued than fellow netminders, which means that his stats could be even better if the Canucks did a better job of suppressing opposing shots. Taking everything into consideration, I think it’s fair to say that Markstrom has solidified himself as a top 10 goalie in the NHL, which is something no one could’ve imagined only two seasons ago.

Unfortunately, Canucks fans shouldn’t expect Markstrom to garner a lot of Vezina buzz, as most award voters don’t seem to value advanced metrics and tend to overrate team statistics. Over the past three seasons, almost all Vezina nominees have played on teams that have ranked top five in goals against per game.

The only exceptions are the 2017-18 and 2018-19 Tampa Bay Lightning, who ended up placing 13th and 7th, respectively. Vancouver is 20th in goals against per game this year, a far cry from the elite ranking that voters expect from Vezina nominees.

Moreover, no goalie has won the Vezina with a save percentage below .920 since Miikka Kiprusoff did it back in 2006. In fact, over the past decade, Jonathan Quick is the only netminder who has even been nominated for the award with a save percentage below .920. Markstrom is currently sporting a .918 save percentage, which certainly doesn’t help his cause.

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Ultimately, whether or not Markstrom receives Vezina votes shouldn’t matter. He’s arguably been the MVP of the team this season and is a bonafide top 10 goalie in the NHL. With the Swede in net, the Canucks could definitely go on a playoff run when the season resumes in late July.