During the 2021-22 NHL season no goalie was better than Igor Shesterkin of the New York Rangers. As a 26-year-old in his second full regular season, the Russian posted the third-best save percentage—.935 SV% with at least fifty games played in NHL history. He finished with 36 wins and also led the league in goals against average with a 2.07. Every broadcaster who studied him agrees that ‘Shesty’ was incredible this season, from NHL network broadcasters who routinely give the Rangers less credit than they deserve to team’s chief analyst on MSG Networks, Steve Valiquette who described Shesterkin in this video.
“The technical game… that’s the strength of his game,” Valiquette said, “Keeping his head down, seeing the ice and his mobility is extraordinary.”MSG Networks analyst, Stephen Valiquette
Shesterkin won the Vezina trophy as the league’s best goalie this year and has been nominated for NHL athlete of the year by the ESPY’s, but what if the job Shesty did in his second full NHL season was not as good as the year Carey Price won the Hart trophy? During the 2014-15 regular season, Price started 66 games for the Montreal Canadiens and led the league in Wins (44), Save-Percentage (.933) and goals-against-average (1.96 GAA). The British Columbian played 13 more games than Shesterkin did this season and while his SV% was just two points lower than his, his GAA was 11 points lower than the Russian goalie.
In terms of the defense in front of Price in 2014-15, four-time All-Star, Shea Weber was no longer there and there were no all-star defensemen on that team other than P.K. Subban. This and the fact Price pulled a heavier workload than Shesterkin did, no matter how important Shesterkin was to the success of the Rangers this season, make Carey Price’s MVP-winning season more impressive than Shesterkin’s first Vezina.
In terms of what Shesty’s coach has said about him, time after time Gerard Gallant remarked how important his star goaltender was early in the season.
“The first 30 games, he made huge saves. We won a lot of those games that we probably shouldn’t and…at that part of the year he was outstanding and gave us a chance to be a really good team.”Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant on Igor Shesterkin
This 26-year-old Russian hockey player who is already a ‘pro’s pro’ not just for his play but the way he carries himself with dignity on and off the ice. Shesterkin posted the third-highest SV %, .935 in a minimum of 50 games.
In league history, only two goalies have posted higher SV %’s while playing at least 50 games. They are hall-of-famer Dominik Hasek in 1998-99 and Stanley Cup winning goalie Tim Thomas in 2010-11. Recently, there has not been a player, who had less than two years of NHL experience and has led the league in save percentage, as Thomas and Hasek were older when they did it than Igor was this year. However, several goalies including Henrik Lundqvist had lower GAAs in a single season than Shesty did, calling into question which stat is more valuable, SV % or GAA? Thomas had a 2.00 in 2010-11 and Lundqvist had a 1.97 in 2011-12, and both times they were named best goaltender.
Building a Defense Worthy of Igor
It’s good to give the league’s most promising goaltender credit for what he did, but it’s also important not to blow it out of proportion. Shesterkin was the league’s best goaltender this year, beating out Calgary Flames’ Jacob Markstrom (led league in shutouts) and Nashville Predators‘ Juuse Saros. He almost broke a single season record and kept playing great in the playoffs. However, in the first round he did get pulled in games three and four for giving up ten goals in total. So, he was not perfect—no great goalie is—and now it’s important that the Rangers front office construct a team that can perhaps make things easier on their most key player.
To build a stronger team around their reigning Vezina-winner, general manager Drury should try to keep as many players who play well on defense as well as offense as he can. A couple who come to mind are free agent Frank Vatrano who spent time as the muckraker on the first line after joining the team at the trade deadline. Vatrano forechecked and backchecked harder than anyone on the Rangers this season, as does Tyler Motte. But because his stock has risen, questions abound about whether the former Vancouver Canuck will test the free-agent waters.
An article written by Dom Lusczyzyn of The Athletic ranking the top free agent forwards this offseason, Tyler Motte ranks as number 28. Luczyczyn gives average annual value (AAV) projections for each forward and Motte came in at $2.9 million per year. However, the Rangers are strapped for cash with at least three forward slots to fill, making it unlikely the Rangers will be able to re-sign Motte if he asks for that much. Motte’s fourth-line hustle may be missed, but he is nowhere near as important or irreplaceable as Andrew Copp, who will be a focal point of the Ranger offseason.
Motte provided team defense as a forechecker and back checker in the bottom six during the playoffs but the Ranger blueline was strong this season. Many do not give their defensemen enough credit for giving up the second-fewest goals in the NHL this season, but this had more to do with Shesty than the team’s defense. The Rangers were bottom ten for shots-against during the regular season, but in the 2022 playoffs they gave up the fourth-most (over 37) which shows how important Shesty was during the Rangers run to the conference finals.
And if the Rangers are to make it even further, they will need to support their best player, Shesterkin as best they can. Bringing back strong two-way forward like Andrew Copp is a start or even trading a great offensive player like Artemi Panarin to make room for a free agent who can supply these qualities would be smart as long as it makes the team better. Young center Pierre-Luc Dubois has four years of playoff experience and could be a good fit if the Rangers can trade for him. It is not certain what general manager Chris Drury is thinking soon, but for now, let us recognize that Igor Shesterkin has established himself as the best goalie in the National Hockey League.
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