This year, the NHL is truly shaping up to be a great one for goaltenders. The Vezina Trophy, which is awarded to the best goaltender of the year, has always been a barometer of a team’s success. For instance, in 24 of the last 25 Vezina winners, the winner has taken his respective team to the playoffs. The one and only exception being last year’s winner Sergei Bobrovsky, whose team- in a shortened season- missed the playoffs by a half game. Having the Vezina winner does not quite guarantee you a Stanley Cup appearance (20 percent of the time it does), but there is almost a guarantee that the team the Vezina winner is on will make it to the playoffs. With only roughly 11 games remaining on the schedule, there are roughly five goalies this year that could easily win the Vezina Trophy, but in true hockey fashion, the winner of the trophy is most likely to be decided down the stretch.
The top five finalists
- Tuukka Rask (Boston Bruins)
Tuukka Rask is the favorite in both ESPN and NHL.com polls so far to take the Vezina Trophy. Rask currently has 31 wins and is projected to win 37. Rask is the league leader in shutouts this season with six. He is also in the top five in the league when it comes to the other all-important goalie categories of Goals-Against-Average (GAA) with 2.07, Save Percentage (.929) and Wins (31). Rask has proven to be the Boston Bruins hands-down MVP this season, has led the Bruins to the number one spot in the Eastern Conference, and now the team has emerged as one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup.
- Ben Bishop (Tampa Bay Lightning)
This year for the Tampa Lightning, Ben Bishop has emerged as a star in the making. Bishop, who is only 27-years-old, was acquired by the Lightning from the Ottawa Senators, a team that probably wishes they could have him back. Bishop in his first full season of work has assembled quite the resume in his quest to become the Vezina Trophy winner. Bishop is second in the NHL in Wins by a goalie with 33, fourth in the league in Save Percentage (.928), is one behind the league leader in Shutouts with five, and has posted a league sixth best GAA (2.13). If the Eastern Conference leader Bruins decide to rest Rask before the playoffs while the Lightning, who are still fighting for playoff position, lean heavily on Bishop down the stretch, look for the possibility of Bishop moving up to first place in voting.
- Semyon Varlamov (Colorado Avalanche)
Anyone who has watched the Colorado Avalanche play this year understands that this team is a young and irreparable force to be reckoned with in the NHL for years to come. The recent success of the Avs can be attributed to the young talent on the roster, especially when it comes on the back of their number one goaltender Semyon “Varly” Varlamov. Varlamov, who is only 25-years-old, has emerged as Colorado’s number one goalie for years to come. Varlamov is tied as league leader in Wins right now (34), has posted a respectable 2.49 GAA, is a little behind the pack in Save Percentage (.925), and has one shutout on the season. As the Avs try to climb the playoff ladder, look for Varlamov to extend his wins past the coveted 40 mark and to slightly lower his GAA.
- Marc-Andre Fleury (Pittsburgh Penguins)
The 29-year-old Fleury has always been a regular season beast for the Pittsburgh Penguins and this year is no exception. The 29-year-old Stanley Cup winner (the only one on this list) is tied for first place in the league when it comes to Wins (34), is second in the league in Shutouts (5), and has a very respectable GAA (2.34). With those stats, along with being in the top 10 in the league in Saves, Shots Against, Goals Against, and Games Played In, Fleury has earned the right to be considered in this discussion. However, his .916 Save Percentage may ultimately lead to the demise of his involvement in this discussion.
- Josh Harding (Minnesota Wild)
Josh Harding started this season with a bang and unfortunately due to injury and illness has ended the season in a slow-drawn out fizzle. His numbers, however, speak for themselves. Harding is the league leader in GAA by a wide margin (1.66) and is the league leader in save percentage (.933). His three shutouts in 26 starts would have put him on pace for roughly eight shutouts on the year. Unfortunately, with only 29 games played in this season, the Vezina is not won on projected numbers. However, look for Harding to come up short this year and potentially be a healthy front-runner for the trophy next year.
Finally, when deciding who is going to win the Vezina Trophy this season, there are four factors one has to take into account. These four factors are what will make the decision for the Vezina Trophy winner so close down the stretch. The factors are: Save Percentage, Goals-Against-Average (GAA), Wins, and Shutouts. The past 10 Vezina Trophy Winners have averaged .925 save Percentage, 2.07 GAA, 39 wins, and seven shutouts. When it comes to the category of wins and shutouts, last year’s shortened season numbers were not taken into account.
Given the averages above, let’s re-take a look at the finalists. Of the five finalists listed above, when it comes to the averages of past Vezina Trophy winners, Tuukka Rask and Ben Bishop lead the pack with hitting three of four of these average marks; Varlamov, Fleury, and Harding hit only two of the four categories. Rask, depending on how many starts he will get moving forward, will match or be better than the average Vezina winner in GAA, Save Percentage, and Shutouts (projected). Rask just barely falls short of the average Wins by a Vezina winner by a projected two. Bishop will match or be better than the average Vezina Trophy winner in Save Percentage, Wins (projected) and Shutouts (projected). Bishop, as of right now, just barely falls short in the category of GAA by a plus-0.05 margin.
With all of these factors and averages of past winners of the Vezina Trophy, fans can see why the vote is going to be a particularly close decision made down the stretch. As of now, Rask would appear to be the favorite. However, if Bishop can gain a few more quality starts and lower his GAA by 0.05, he will match or be better in all four goalie categories than past Vezina Trophy winners.
Commentary by Ryne Vyles