It is a new year, and with the new season starting in a few weeks, one thing needs to happen among both the media and hockey fans outside of New Jersey, and that is to give Mackenzie Blackwood some damn respect.
Not only was he just rewarded with a fresh new contract, but he now is expected to be the backstop this season for the Devils. The reins were transferred over to Blackwood almost overnight last season with the team moving on from Cory Schneider after he struggled over the past two seasons.
Last season, Blackwood really proved he was one of the league's best young goaltenders, shining in a good percentage of games he started in. While he had some hiccups, such as Calgary and Buffalo, he still proved to be a strong goaltender. He suffered from a lack of media attention, and rightfully so, mostly because he is in a Metropolitan Division loaded with young goalie talent. Tristan Jarry, Carter Hart, Ilya Samsonov, Elvis Merzlikins, and Igor Shesterkin all were great in a season where young goalies came out of the woodwork in the Metro. I'm not here to tell you that Blackwood is better than all of these goalies (he is better than a few of them, though), but that he is just as deserving of the media attention that the others got.
Blackwood came up in 2018-19 with little fanfare but quickly changed that after his great start to his career, virtually mirroring the start that Martin Brodeur had while wearing the same number as a rookie (29) and having the same initials. Through their first 43 career games, Blackwood and Brodeur had the same save percentage. Blackwood carried his rookie status into 2019-20.
One thing that really disappointed me was a post that the NHL put out earlier this week. They ranked the top 16 goalies, and Blackwood wasn't in the top 16, falling behind some goalies who probably should not have been in the top 16. NHL.com lists are notoriously wrong, so I was not too worried.
Mackenzie Blackwood's 2019-20, by the numbers: 47 GP, 22-14-8, .915 SV %, 2.72 GAA, 3 SO, 22 QS, 6 RBS, 94 GA%-, 7.29 GSAA, 2.46 GSAx
These numbers are extremely important for Blackwood, especially if you take into account the horrendous New Jersey defense in front of him, which includes PK Subban and Damon Severson, who combined for 138 giveaways in 2019-20. The two most important stats for him are GSAA (goals saved above average) and GSAx (goals saved versus expectation), as they are two goalie stats that will tell you just how good Blackwood was last season.
Goals saved above average is an important stat for any goalie, as it is virtually the same as WAR in baseball. According to ingoalmag.com, here is what they had to say about GSAA. "You take the league’s average save percentage and apply it to the number of shots a particular goalie has faced. You get a number of goals that the average goalie in that league would have surrendered if they faced the same number of shots as the goaltender in question. That number gets compared to the number of goals surrendered by that goaltender, and a plus/minus is created. If a goalie is in the positive, that is how many goals they have saved compared to a league-average goalie. If they are in the negative, then it is safe to assume that they are performing worse than how a league-average goaltender would perform in the same situation."
For last season, Blackwood had a 7.29 GSAA, good for 20th in the league. If one takes out goalies who appeared in less than 30 games, Blackwood would rank 15th. Comparing him to Alexandar Georgiev of the Rangers, who had a GSAA of 0.12 which is as close to league-average as possible, Blackwood stopped seven more goals than the average goaltender. By the way- he outranks Hart and Samsonov in this statistic, and while Shesterkin is ahead of him, he had a small sample size of just 12 games. Shesterkin is very good and I expect the GSAA to be around the same for him though. Blackwood's GSAA for his career is 12.5-- which would rank eighth if it were during last season. If you take into account how bad New Jersey's defense has been in front of him since 2018, you realize just how good this number is. For comparison, in front of a similarly bad defense, both Detroit goalies had a negative GSAA including a -22.12 mark from Jimmy Howard. Cory Schneider also had a negative GSAA on the same team as Blackwood.
Another important stat is GSAx, or goals saved versus expectation. This stat is much easier to explain, as it is how goalies have performed relative to the workload that they have faced. Tuukka Rask and Connor Hellebuyck had GSAx numbers over 10, and Hart and Blackwood were right there next to each other. Blackwood had a 2.46 GSAx while Hart had a 4.22. One may think nothing of this comparison until they realize that Blackwood played for one of seven teams to not make the playoffs and Hart played for the #1 seed in the East. Blackwood and Hart finished ahead of most of those top 16 goalies in this statistic as well, which shows how good both are.
Taking a look at basic save percentage and goals-against average, Blackwood beats some of the other goalies (only Jarry and Merzlikins passed him, and Shesterkin's .933 is not sustainable but he will still be good enough to likely pass Blackwood). GAA hurts Blackwood, as it was definitely inflated by a game where he allowed seven goals in Buffalo and multiple five-goal affairs where he had no help in front of him. However, for a team that won 28 games, being in net for 22 of those wins is nothing short of incredible. He finished sixth in the Calder Trophy voting, which is very good for the amount of media attention he did not receive.
Moving forward, I think Blackwood will continue to cement himself as a great goaltender, and I can only hope that he does not prove me wrong this season. It is so nice to see a nice influx of young goaltending talent in the league, something we haven't seen in a while. Blackwood is definitely a player who should be regarded in the top of that young class.