“People in masks cannot be trusted.”
The 1987 movie The Princess Bride is full of wisdom, but you’ll have trust me that Fezzik missed the mark on this one. Some people in masks can be trusted. Maybe not in the mythical country of Florin, where Andre The Giant’s character uttered those words, but you can trust that the NHL’s masked men below delivered award-worthy performances on most nights this season.
Here’s a look at the Vezina Trophy race as the regular season goes down to the wire:
THE PRESUMPTIVE NOMINEE
Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
Like last year when Pekka Rinne broke from the pack to claim his first career Vezina Trophy, it’s starting to feel like there’s Vasilevskiy and then there’s everybody else. For starters, the Lightning goalie has by far the most impressive record at 36-9-4. Of course, he plays for a stacked team so you’d expect a good record. On top of his winning ways, though, Vasilevskiy is vying for the league lead in save percentage (.928), he’s near the top in goals-against average (2.33) and he’s tied for second with six shutouts. The big, young goalie – he’s still only 24 – also has a flair for clutch saves at important moments and he’s a regular on the highlight reel. Unless something truly dramatic happens in the final weeks of the regular season, the Vezina goes to Vasilevskiy.
THE WORTHY FINALISTS
Ben Bishop, Dallas Stars
If it wasn’t for Vasilevskiy, there’d be a lot more love for Bishop’s performance in Dallas this season. The Stars are one of the lowest-scoring teams in the league and their blueline suffered a litany of injuries throughout the year, but Bishop kept the team in the playoff picture with an NHL-best .932 save percentage and miniscule 2.05 GAA. His case would be even stronger if not for a couple of stints on the IR that have limited him to 43 appearances.
Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights
Nobody deserves more credit for the wild ride that has been the Vegas expansion experience than Fleury. He’s second in the NHL in starts (59) and wins (35), and he leads the league with eight shutouts. Among the 55 goalies who have played at least 20 games, Fleury’s .914 save percentage ranks merely 21st, but his 2.46 GAA cracks the top 10.
THE SUPER SURPRISES
Darcy Kuemper, Arizona Coyotes
Most people wrote off the Coyotes’ chances of making any noise this season when starter Antti Raanta went down with a season-ending injury in late November. And even as the Coyotes continued to endure injury after injury (after injury after injury…), the team managed to claw its way up the Western Conference standings and into the playoff race. And much of that success is due to the veteran backup Kuemper, who has set personal bests in games (49), wins (24) and shutouts (3), while posting a .921 save percentage and 2.46 GAA. If Arizona can win a wild-card spot with Kuemper in net down the stretch, you have to give him strong consideration as a Vezina finalist.
Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues
It’s not often a rookie goalie who didn’t play his first game of the season until Jan. 7 merits mention in the Vezina race, but there’s no denying Binnington’s impact on the Blues’ remarkable second-half turnaround. St. Louis went from the dregs of the Western Conference to third place in Central Division – well clear of the wild-card fight – and it started with Binnington’s recall from the AHL. The 25-year-old netminder, whose only previous NHL experience was a grand total of 13 minutes of action in 2015-16, has been a revelation. He’s 20-4-1 with a league-leading 1.84 GAA and second-best .929 save percentage. Not to mention, five shutouts in just 25 starts. His small sample size means he might have to be satisfied with a Calder Trophy nomination rather than any Vezina recognition.
Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner, New York Islanders
Their biggest competition in the Vezina vote might be each other. The Islanders have gone from the NHL’s worst defensive team last year to the league’s best this season, and they’ve done it with a crease tandem of perennial backup Greiss and Buffalo Sabres retread Lehner. They’ve split the workload right down the middle – and the results have been virtually identical. Greiss is 22-13-2 with a 2.29 GAA and .926 save percentage, Lehner is 21-12-5 with a 2.23 GAA and .926 save percentage. Maybe goalie coach Mitch Korn should get the Vezina instead.
THE BEST OF THE REST
Frederik Andersen, Toronto Maple Leafs
At 34-15-5, Andersen has been a workhorse for the Leafs, and he’s one of only a few goalies within reach of Vasilevskiy’s win total. His save percentage is respectable (.918), but he isn’t helped by his GAA (2.72) and that fact he has just one shutout. Of course, a lot of that has to do with the (lack of) defense in front of him.
Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins
After his usual slow start and some injury time on the sidelines, Rask has been his usual stellar self (26-10-5, 2.35 GAA, .918 save percentage) for Bruins team that just keeps contending, year after year after year.
Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens
Speaking of slow starts, Price stumbled early but heated up as the season wore on to keep the Habs in the wild-card fray. He’s not in his Hart Trophy form of 2014-15, but at least the first season of his eight-year, $84-million contract is looking a lot better than it did a few months ago.
John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks
No goalie has played better and received less help than Gibson this season. The Ducks are the league’s lowest-scoring team and a combination of injuries and trades kept their blueline in flux.
Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators
The reigning Vezina winner has played a slightly reduced schedule this season as the Preds want to keep him fresh for the playoffs. He continues to be the backbone in Nashville, but hasn’t delivered an overwhelmingly great season that would rate a repeat.
David Rittich, Calgary Flames
For a while there, ‘Big Save Dave’ was riding high, stealing the No. 1 job from a struggling Mike Smith and looking like a world-beater as the Flames rose to the top of the Western Conference. But he came back to earth a bit down the stretch, and will have to settle for playoff success as Calgary’s starter rather than a spot on the Vezina ballot.
Matt Murray, Pittsburgh Penguins
The skinniest goalie this side of Ryan Miller has a propensity for injury, but when he’s healthy he’s prone to great play and he’s been healthy since December.
Jacob Markstrom, Vancouver Canucks
He’s just outside the top 20 in GAA (2.74) and save percentage (.913), which might not seem all that impressive until you remember he’s been under fire in Vancouver — he’s faced the second-most shots this season and made the second-most saves.
Anton Khudobin, Dallas Stars
He’s got a losing record (13-16-4), but he held the fort when Bishop was hurt and his .924 save percentage ranks among the league’s best.
Jaroslav Halak, Boston Bruins
His underlying stats (2.31 GAA, .924 save percentage) are better than those of Rask, whom Halak replaced capably when the Bruins starter was injured earlier in the season.