The Vezina Trophy, awarded to “the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at this position,” has been relatively easy to predict in recent seasons, hasn’t it?
Carey Price was the slam-dunk of all slam-dunks in 2015 after a season for the ages that also netted him the Hart Trophy as league MVP. Tuukka Rask and Semyon Varlamov battled it out in a close 2014 vote but were the clear frontrunners over the field before finalists were announced. Sergei Bobrovsky received 17 first-place votes in 2013, while the next-best stopper had six. Henrik Lundqvist and Tim Thomas also won with that same 17:6 ratio in 2012 and 2011, respectively.
Not every season yields a runaway winner like Price, but most at least produce a tight race between two or three netminders. This season? Good luck deciphering it. Throw about a dozen goalies in a pot, don a blindfold and fish three out. So many have manned the perch as the league’s best for so many different stretches that the Vezina race shapes up to be the closest in many years. Here’s a brief cross section of the multiple stoppers with a chance. A reminder: the Vezina is unique in that the NHL’s general managers vote on it rather than the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.
If there’s a frontrunner, it’s still probably Holtby. The body of work for 2015-16 is impressive. He’s one win away from equalling Martin Brodeur’s single-season mark of 48. Holtby has a remarkable 47-9-6 record on the year. He’s been an absolute workhorse on the NHL’s best team, though the Caps have done a good job reducing his starts compared to last year’s league-leading 73. He’s at a more manageable 64 now. He’s posted a goals-against average below 2.00 in four different months this season.
Not so fast: Holtby had a 2.07 GAA and .929 save percentage before the all-star break. Afterward? 2.40 and .912. On the year he’s fifth in GAA and seventh in SP. Not elite. And all the wins don’t necessarily correlate to a Vezina. Price did lead the league in Ws in 2014-15, but the previous seven wins champions did not capture the Vezina. Holtby’s second-half fade has opened to door to several challengers.
Bishop is Mr. Consistency. He’s posted a GAA no higher than 2.38 and an SP no lower than .916 in every completed month this season. His pre- and post-break splits are almost identical. He ranks top-three in GAA, SP and shutouts. Many of the other candidates have endured slumps or injuries, but not Bishop to this point. He’s been a straight line.
Not so fast: Bishop has allowed four or more goals twice in his past five outings, so the Bolts have to hope he hasn’t saved his swoon for April. Per war-on-ice.com, Bishop ranks 19th in 5-on-5 save percentage among goalies with 1,000 or more minutes played.
Patrick Kane will likely win the Hart as league MVP, but there’s a case to be made Crawford has been the Chicago Blackhawks MVP. Their typically great possession numbers have tumbled, forcing them to rely on goaltending more than they ever have in the Joel Quenneville era, so Crawford picked a great time to have a career year. His seven shutouts lead the NHL, he’s third in SP at .926 and he’s second in goalie point shares, per hockey-reference.com.
Not so fast: Crawford’s late-season head injury cost him crucial games to pile up counting stats. He hasn’t played since March 14 and at best will get one more regular-season game in. Crawford also slumped before going down, allowing three or more goals seven times in 15 appearances over February and March. He got cold and got hurt at the wrong time.
Elliott may have the strongest Vezina case if we judge purely by rate stats. No one stops a higher percentage of shots than Elliott. His .931 SP leads the NHL, as does his 2.03 GAA. His 5-on-5 save percentage of .9401 is second only to James Reimer, who is practically tied with Elliott at .9403. We know there’s a correlation between recency bias and award winners, and, goodness, Elliott has sizzled since the all-star break, going 12-1-1 with a 1.74 GAA, .938 SP and four shutouts. He has been the NHL’s best goalie for a couple months now.
Not so fast: Sample size will penalize him massively. He’s played 15 or 20 games fewer than every other major Vezina candidate. Elliott still isn’t a bona fide starter, either, as he toils in a never-ending tug-of-war with Jake Allen. Voters may wonder if Elliott’s numbers would hold strong over 65 starts as opposed to his current 36.
The New York Rangers are a poor possession team, last in 5-on-5 score-adjusted Corsi among Eastern Conference playoff qualifiers. It takes a great goalie to overcome bad possession play. The King has faced – and stopped – more shots than any other netminder this season. That’s a big reason why he leads all goalies in point shares, too.
Not so fast: The Vezina isn’t the Hart. It goes to the best goalie, not the most valuable goalie. Hank has been crucial to the Blueshirts’ success, but he isn’t the best netminder this year. He has a .907 SP since March 1, too.
Schneider had as strong a case as anyone for the Vezina by the time the all-star break rolled around. He’s as unappreciated as any player in the game. He’s the league’s all-time leader in career SP at .9249.
Not so fast: His knee sprain cost him too many games, his New Jersey Devils will miss the playoffs and, even before his injury, his numbers dipped a bit. Great goalie who likely wins a Vezina someday, but not this year.
Mason hadn’t jumped out at me until I noticed some social media love for him. He is a big reason for the Flyers’ second-half surge, posting a .927 SP since March 1 over 15 appearances. Among goalies with more than 40 games, only Lundqvist has a better 5-on-5 SP as well.
Not so fast: Mason has been great, but if we judge him on stretch-run performance, Elliott has him beat there. If we judge Mason on season-long performance, it’s not quite up there with the elite. And, fair or not, his odds take a hit if the Philadelphia Flyers end up missing the playoffs.
The NHL’s top money goalie has been, well, money in the regular season across a league-high 66 games and 3,910 minutes. His split stats show he’s been as consistent as any goalie aside from Bishop. As arguably the NHL’s most athletic stopper, Quick ranks with Elliot, Reimer and Crawford among the league leaders in high-danger SP.
Not so fast: As usual, Quick’s regular-season SP is not elite. He also has the advantage of playing for a juggernaut defensive team.
The Panthers grade out subpar defensively. There’s no way they’d have clinched a playoff spot and posted their highest point total in franchise history without Luongo.
Not so fast: Luongo doesn’t lead the league in any major goaltending category, and he sagged a fair amount in February and March. He’s back in the pack.
He’s a deep sleeper. He hasn’t had a single bad month. HIs .921 SP ranks as the best of his career.
Not so fast: Fleury has been very good all year, but it seems he’ll lose to someone who has been better than very good. Anyone valuing his reliability should vote for Bishop over him, as Bishop has performed like a slightly better Fleury.
Other goalies who could receive votes: Martin Jones, Devan Dubnyk, John Gibson
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin