With Martin Brodeur out of the running, the chase for the Vezina Trophy is wide open for a change.
Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins, Niklas Backstrom of the Minnesota Wild and rookie Steve Mason of the Columbus Blue Jackets were named finalists for the NHL’s top goaltender award on Monday.
But Miikka Kiprusoff of the Calgary Flames and perhaps Cam Ward of the Carolina Hurricanes, Evgeni Nabokov of the first-place overall San Jose Sharks or even Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks could also have been considered in voting by the league’s 30 general managers.
The winner is to be announced June 18 at the NHL awards show in Las Vegas.
Brodeur, who has won the last two Vezinas, and four of the last five, didn’t have a chance this season because he missed four months with a torn biceps, although he returned in time to beat Patrick Roy’s all-time wins record.
The year he missed the Vezina in 2006 was a standout season by Kiprusoff.
Luongo missed 28 games with a groin injury, which hurt his chances.
The general managers went for the three goalies with the best goal-against averages – Thomas at 2.10 goals per game, Mason at 2.29 and Backstrom at 2.33.
Former NHL goalie John Garrett said he agrees with Backtrom and Thomas but not Mason.
“I think Kiprusoff is the only one missing,” said Garrett, a commentator for Rogers Sportsnet who picks Thomas to win. “He won every game his team won, except one.
“I would have had him instead of Mason. He’s rookie of the year, not Vezina.”
Kiprusoff (45-24-5) led the league with 45 victories, four more than Nabokov (41-12-8) and six more than Ward (39-23-5).
Calgary backup Curtis McElhinney was 1-6-1. But the Flames’ overall goaltending ranked 23rd in the league, and Kiprusoff’s 2.84 goals-against average and .903 save percentage were well off his career numbers
The most wins by one of the finalists was Backstrom with 37, fifth best in the league.
Kiprusoff also led the league with 76 games played, two more than Marty Turco of the Dallas Stars.
Thomas, who began the season splitting games with Manny Fernandez, played in only 54 games, the same number as Luongo. But Thomas went 36-11-7 and helped the Bruins finished first in the Eastern Conference. He also had a league-best .933 save percentage. Luongo had a club record nine shutouts, one fewer than the league leader Mason.
“You love Thomas because of the way he persevered and hung in there in his career,” said Greg Millen, another former NHL netminder who is now an analyst for Hockey Night In Canada. “And how he adjusted his style – he’s not as active as he used to be.
“That’s a nice story.”
Backstrom played 17 games more than Thomas and had numbers almost as good. Mason played 61 games for the Blue Jackets and was also spectacular.
Neither Ward nor Nabokov, despite their wins, had the consistency or the stats of the three finalists.
But as Millen underlined, a goaltender’s stats have much to do with the quality of the team in front of him and the style of hockey they play. Thomas, Backstrom and Mason all play behind disciplined defensive clubs.
“People now look at goaltenders like baseball pitchers -like it’s an individual sport,” he said. “Every team’s different.
“To me, there are 60 goalies in the league and they’re all terrific. They’re the 60 best in the world.”
The 21-year-old Mason is a favourite for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year, where he will be up against forwards Bobby Ryan of the Anaheim Ducks and Kris Versteeg of the Chicago Blackhawks.
The last goalie to win the Vezina and the Calder in the same year was Ed Belfour in 1991. Tom Barrasso of the Buffalo Sabres won both in 1984 and Frank Brimsek of Boston took both in 1939.
On Tuesday, the league is to announce finalists for Frank Selke Trophy as the league’s best defensive forward. Finalists for the Hart Trophy as league MVP come on Wednesday.