Like many, I think that the contest for best free agent goaltender this summer is going to be between two men: Ilya Bryzgalov and Tomas Vokoun.  Again, like many, I suspect that Bryzgalov will be the more desirable goaltender for NHL general managers, and that as a result he’ll get the better contract.

Where I differ from many is in that I don’t think the gap is very wide.  Let’s use Kevin Allen, a columnist with USA Today, head of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, and the inspiration for this particular post as an example.  In his top-15 list of desirable free agents, he ranks Bryzgalov second (behind Brad Richards of the Dallas Stars) and doesn’t list Vokoun at all, mentioning him in passing below the list.

Is the gap really that wide?

Let’s start with playoff success, since Vokoun’s ability “to win a championship” and “thrive under big-game pressure” were mentioned as concerns by no less an authority than current Calgary Flames GM Jay Feaster back during his blogging days (for comments on that post, I strongly recommend Kent Wilson’s take, and also offer my own counter-history write-up).

In any case, here’s a comparison of the playoff success enjoyed by Vokoun and Bryzgalov.

Player GP W L SV%
Ilya Bryzgalov 24 12 10 0.923
Tomas Vokoun 11 3 8 0.922

First off, it is worth noting that neither of these goaltenders has had a chance to really show us what they’re capable of in the post-season, and as others have shown us, that matters.

Beyond that, I don’t see much to choose from here.  Sure, Vokoun’s win/loss record is uninspiring, but let’s remember the context.  He’s played in two playoff series:

  • As a member of the Predators versus the Detroit Red Wings.  The Red Wings were heavy favourites, and won every game in which Vokoun didn’t make at least 41 saves (something he did twice in the series).  In fact in games in which Vokoun’s save percentage was 0.920 or better, his record was just 0.500.
  • As a member of the Predators versus the San Jose Sharks.  The Sharks were heavy favourites, once again.  Tomas Vokoun made 30+ saves in three of the five games in that series; he lost all three.

The guy has won world championship gold on two occasions, posting a 0.953 SV% the first time and a 0.944 SV% the second time.  In 46 games representing his country at the Olympics, World Championships or World Cup, Vokoun has gone 29-14-1 with a 0.929 SV%.  To suggest that he doesn’t have the mental ability to handle a playoff run is asinine.

What about the regular season gap between Bryzgalov and Vokoun?

Player GP W L SV%
Ilya Bryzgalov 326 156 116 0.916
Tomas Vokoun 632 262 267 0.917

Once again, the difference in save percentage is minimal, and the only real differentiating facotr between these two goaltenders is that Bryzgalov has a better win/loss record.

However, Bryzgalov’s played for good teams – Phoenix the last two seasons, the Ducks (including a championship team) to start his career.  Vokoun’s played for the Nashville Predators and the Florida Panthers.  The latter team in particular stands out, and a quick glance at Roberto Luongo’s post-Florida win/loss record should convince even the greatest sceptic that the Panthers can kill a goalie’s career record in short order.

The performance of these two goaltenders is very, very close.  Bryzgalov’s a few years younger, and so I like him a little better, but I’d be surprised if one outperformed the other by a lot over the next three seasons or so.  If, as Kevin Allen postulates, there is a big difference in the desirability level of these two goaltenders, then now might be a good time for a team to sign Tomas Vokoun – because they can get a comparable performance at a lower price.