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Why Bobrovsky has overtaken everyone in pursuit of the Vezina

Devan Dubnyk was the mid-season favorite to win the Vezina Trophy, but he's been overtaken -- as has the rest of goaltending cadre -- by Sergei Bobrovsky.

At different times throughout the season, the league’s biggest individual awards have been someone’s to lose with a close secondary contender. 

The Norris Trophy, for instance, has had Brent Burns’ name pencilled on it for much of the season only for Erik Karlsson to make a late run and put himself squarely in the conversation. At different times throughout the year the Hart Trophy has had several front runners, but with three games left in the campaign, Connor McDavid might want to start clearing a spot on his mantle. The Calder Trophy, meanwhile, has seen a tug-of-war between Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine, and it seems Matthews has taken a late lead in the hearts and minds of many.

The Vezina Trophy has been no different. Heading into the campaign, many believed a returning Carey Price would be front and center in any debate about the goaltender of the year honor, but early on it was Devan Dubnyk who was leading the surging Minnesota Wild and any conversation about the Vezina. Dubnyk was formidable in the early season, boasting an outstanding .947 save percentage and 1.60 goals-against average. Coach Bruce Boudreau may have been the fresh face in Minnesota, but it was the standout start to the season from Dubnyk that saw the Wild put the Western Conference on notice.

Dubnyk’s continued to turn pucks aside at an astounding rate all the way through to the midway mark of the campaign, and it was at that point that we at The Hockey News put together our annual mid-season awards. To some it was no more shocking that Dubnyk ended up atop the Vezina voting than it is that one plus one equals two. What was somewhat surprising was that his margin over the second-place Sergei Bobrovsky was so slim — two points separated the Blue Jackets netminder from his Wild counterpart.

Bobrovksy’s numbers were in the same neighborhood as Dubnyk’s at the time of our selections, though. Whereas Dubnyk continued to have the best SP and GAA of any goaltender to suit up in at least 10 games through the first half of the campaign, Bobrovsky had the second-best marks in each regard. His .934 SP was a mere seven-thousandths of a percentage off of Dubnyk’s mark and 0.17 separated Bobrovsky and Dubnyk in GAA. Yet what fell hard in Bobrovsky’s favor was victories.

At the time of voting, Bobrovsky had won his past 14 starts in the midst of one of the most remarkable team winning streaks of the campaign. It brought his overall win total to 24 at a time when no other goaltender had yet cracked 20. Over the course of that streak, Bobrovsky had been otherworldly, his .941 SP and 1.64 marks the best of any starting netminders over that period. Even still, second place was as high as Bobrovsky finished in our mid-season awards.

Alas, the season doesn’t end at the midpoint and after 41 games have been played, there are still another 41 to undertake. And since that midpoint, Bobrovsky has stayed as strong as he was prior while Dubnyk has fallen off. This is to say if we were to vote for the awards again today, Bobrovsky’s the proper choice for the Vezina.

On a measure of pure victories, which is what earned Bobrovsky much of his consideration for top spot back in January, maybe the Blue Jackets’ keeper hasn’t been quite as effective. In the first half of the year, he had 25 wins in 32 starts. Since our voting has ended, he’s managed to post a 16-11-3 record — only slightly above the .500-mark. Nevertheless, in terms of pure numbers, which are a truer measure of his personal play, Bobrovsky has remained incredibly consistent from the first half and into the second. Since Jan. 5, Bobrovsky boasts a .931 SP, down slightly from his .934 mark in the first half, and he has also managed to post a GAA of 2.13, up a touch from his 1.92 GAA across the early campaign. However, Bobrovsky has continued to stymie opponents with regularity, adding to his season total with four shutouts over his past 30 games.

Meanwhile, Bobrovsky’s other two competitors from our mid-season awards have fallen significantly. Price, who finished third, had a strong first half with a .930 SP, 2.02 GAA and two shutouts. Since, he’s posted a .919 SP, 2.36 GAA and one clean sheet. But that decline is nothing compared to the difficulties Dubnyk has faced. Since posting a .941 SP, 1.75 GAA and five shutouts into early January, Dubnyk has a .908 SP, 2.68 GAA and hasn’t blanked any opponents.

When it comes to the end-of-season awards, the season’s won’t be broken down in quite this fashion. What a player has accomplished will be judged on what he’s done from start to finish. In that regard, it’s all the more clear that Bobrovsky has not only overtaken Dubnyk, Price and others for the Vezina, but that he’s become the clear-cut favorite for the award. 

Of netminders who have started at least 10 games, Bobrovsky’s .933 SP is second to none. His 2.02 GAA also stands atop the pack. Only Braden Holtby, who has also picked up 41 wins, has matched Bobrovsky’s total, and only Holtby and Tuukka Rask have more shutouts on the year. There isn’t another goaltender anywhere in the league who even finds themselves in the top five of all four major goaltending categories. This isn’t to mention that no goaltender with at least 1,000 minutes in the crease at 5-on-5 has bested Bobrovsky’s .940 SP and the Blue Jackets’ starter has a top-10 SP against both mid- and high-danger shots.

Sure, Bobrovsky has lost a few games in a row as the season winds down, but that doesn’t discredit everything he’s done from the start of the year to now. So, while there may still be some debate regarding who takes home other individual awards, with the Hart, Norris and Calder still up for grabs, it sure seems as though we can close the case on at least one of the trophies to be handed out following the season with no real secondary contender to consider. 

Because while Bobrovsky’s not an absolute, 100-percent-lock to win the Vezina, he’s as close to a sure thing as there is.

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