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Mackenzie Blackwood is the Hottest Goalie in the NHL, and On the Calder Shortlist

Blackwood has not only been great, he’s been, debatably, the most valuable player in the league since early December.

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New Jersey Devils v Vegas Golden Knights Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

How far we’ve come from the beginning of the season on this topic, right? Blackwood started the season off in a way that made us concerned is AHL performance was reality and his strong first NHL season was the fluke, Schneider seemed beyond fixing, and all other goalies in the system seemed destined for eternity in the AHL/ECHL . Since then Blackwood has become one of the best goalies in the world, Schneider has strung together an effective thread of games in his most recent call-up, and Zane McIntyre has lit Bingo ablaze. But it’s the first of these that this article is going to focus on today.

We’ve talked at length about Big Mac here. Gerard pointed to reasons for optimism back in December. That optimism was so well-placed that it prompted me to write in February about how he’s making the offseason goalie decision difficult. Mike reminded us that the Devils are still terrible and not to be confused by how blindingly good Mackenzie has been. Gerard, then, returned to ask whether Blackwood will break Brodeur’s rookie wins record. And most recently Nate’s DitD post referred us to a piece from The Athletic ($) that mentions Mackenzie Blackwood in the Calder conversation. This was by Dom Luszczyszyn too — a general NHL columnist rather than Corey Masisak, the Devils beat guy. And as awesome as it is to have a technical rookie get this amount of attention, I actually think it may not go quite far enough. Blackwood has not only been an exceptional rookie, but one of the most valuable players in the NHL since he found his game post-Hynes.

Since Alain Nasreddine replaced John Hynes as head coach (this article was written before the Penguins game), Mackenzie Blackwood has saved over 14 goals versus expectation. That is the most in the NHL in that time, obliterating #2 on the list, Jonathan Bernier, by over 5 goals of value. He also leads the NHL in GSAA in that time, and is 3rd in dSv% (1st among starters). You know how the entire world, and NY media in particular, has been fawning over what is likely the next crownless King, Igor Shesterkin? His dSv% is +0.97 vs Blackwoods +1.27 in this span, he’s played 15 less games in this span, and he’s a full year older than Blackwood. There is a goalie setting the world on fire in this metro area, but he’s on our side of the Hudson.

This viz from Cole Anderson, the analytical guru when it comes to goaltender statistics, shows the sheer magnitude of the ascent to the top of the goalie leaderboards we’ve seen from Blackwood this season. He’s now comfortably the 2nd most valuable starting goalie in the East on the year behind only Tukka Rask.

via Crowd Scout Sports

This has not been empty performance, by the way — the Devils win when he plays. Over the past two seasons, the Devils are 32-23-8 in Blackwood decisions, and 27-46-14 in all others. That means that the Devils are on a 94-point pace in Blackwood games, and a 64-point pace in all others. Also, don’t look now, but the Devils are NHL-.500 on the season and on a 90-point pace under Coach Nas. I’m in agreement with what Mike and others have said that Nas should not return next year because out underlying performance during his reign has been abysmal. But the fact that we’ve been a fringe-playoff team during the Naswood era is a testament to 1) how good Mac has been, 2) how transformative good goaltending is to a team’s outlook.

And it’s because of the value that his position holds, that means he should not only be considered one of the most valuble goalies in the league right now, but one of the most valuable /players/ in the league. He had a slow first couple months to the season, so he’s starting from behind, but he’s already caught up to some of the popular Calder contenders in value.

The Calder race has been driven stale by a relatively stagnant conversation atop the list. The two guys atop the betting markets Makar and Hughes (the other one) in that order, have been there all season. Most lists include Kubalik as the next man up as early-season third wheel, Olofsson, has fallen off with only 2 points in his last 9 games on the plummeting Sabres. Few others are even mentioned. On GAR, thist list is way off. It should look more like the table below.

via Evolving-Hockey

Contrary to the current ubiquitous narrative, the first tier should be a virtual tie with Marino, Makar, Blackwood, and Fox all within the margin of error. Elvis, Hughes, and Kubalik are in the second tier

Given Blackwood’s recent trajectory, he’s on course to blow by the rest of this tier by the end of the season if he keeps it up. If he does, he should win the Calder. I don’t think he will because 1) Makar has been the 2020 Calder favorite since the 2019 playoffs, 2) he’s a goalie (no goalies have won in the past decade), 3) the Devils suck. It’s time to give the respect deserved now that we’re coming down to what is hopefully the end of an excellent season, and the beginning of an excellent career.

Whad do you guys think of Blackwood among all NHL goalies? What about about all NHL rookies? How many rookies would you rather have right now? Goalies? Leave your thoughts to these and any other answers in the comments section below and thanks for reading!