The Vezina Trophy
The Vezina Trophy is awarded to goaltenders who are voted to be the best goaltenders in the league by the 31 general managers. The GMs have been voting on the award since 1981. The most accurate way to judge if a goalie is truly having a good season is Save Percentage (S%) and Goals Against Average (GAA) S% is the number of saves divided by the number of shots against. GAA is the number of goals allowed in 60 minutes of play.
According to Wikipedia, “The trophy was first awarded after the 1926–27 NHL season and was awarded to the top goaltender. From 1946–47 to 1981–82, the trophy went to the goaltender(s) of the team allowing the fewest goals during the regular season; now, the William M. Jennings Trophy is awarded for this.”
Most of the best goaltenders have a Vezina Trophy and some great ones have multiple, including the leader Jacques Plante who has won seven. Since the award has been voted on Dominik Hasek leads the way with six wins for the Buffalo Sabres.
Not very often do I say something so bold but this is one of those times: Vasilevskiy is the best goalie since Martin Brodeur’s prime years. In fact, Vasilevskiy can surpass Brodeur if he keeps up his ascension since he came into the league. Simply put Vasilevskiy is the best goalie in the league.
One reason why is he has already won a Vezina Trophy, been nominated twice for the award, and has a Cup despite his youth. At 26 Vasilevskiy is coming into is own. Martain Brodeur did not win the first of his four Vezina until he was 31. Vasilevskiy earning his first two years ago, and the possibility of winning his second before he reaches 30 is an impressive accomplishment.
A major factor in the voting seems to be save percentage (S%). Vasilevskiy has that rolling for him. He holds a S% of .925 which is fifth in the league among regular netminders. But he was often was the leader in save percentage. he fell off during the last few weeks of the season. Last year Connor Hellebuyck won the Vezina with a .922 save percentage albeit on a poor defensive team.
Vasilevskiy has also helped Tampa repeat its dominant performance over the last few years by supporting their 75 points in 56 games. Tampa Bay’s success has been due to a variety of factors but their solid goaltending is one of the top reasons. Not yet in Vasilevskiys career has he had a poor season, but he has had many good to great ones. This one is his best performance yet. If he continues this trajectory in his career, Vasilevskiy will go down as a top 10 if not top five goaltenders of all time.
The NHL voters have a tendency to vote for the best stories for awards instead of voting for the player who deserves it more. While Fleury has had a great season so far, this might be one of those times if Fleury ends up winning the Vezina this season. Fleury has been a steady rock for Vegas while another top goaltender in Robin Lehner was out for a great Golden Knights team. Fleury sports a save percentage of .928 which bested his previous record .927 from his 2017-18 inaugural season for Vegas, albeit 10 games fewer played.
It is remarkable how good Fleury has been despite his age, 36 which is when most goalies are out of their prime years. But this year has been one of his best in terms of save percentage. With Fleury besting Vasilevskiy in save percentage and how he has kept the ship steady in Vegas despite Lehner’s long-term injury while also leading Vegas to the second-best record* in the league, it is not a stretch for Fleury to receive his first Vezina Trophy.
*(Editor’s Note: Vegas and Colorado tied for the best record in the league. Colorado won the President’s Trophy dor to more Regulation wins. the second tiebreaker.)
Mitch Korn, the goaltending coach of the Islanders, has a way with goaltenders in that he makes them play their best hockey under his tutelage and that has precisely been the case for Semyon Varlamov. Varlamov has finished the best season in his career and credit has to be given to Korn for that as he had also contributed to Braden Holtby’s best years in Washington and before that Pekka Rinne in Nashville.
Varlamov sported a .929 save percentage for a team with primarily a defensive system. This also helps, but Varlamov is a big reason why the Islanders got into the playoffs down the stretch. When the team’s structure started to crumble, Varlamov stood solid. That save percentage also was second-best this season in the league after rookie Alex Nedejovic who played much fewer games.
The Russian goaltender is also tied for most shutouts with seven with Philipp Grubauer of Colorado. This great season wasn’t what the Islanders originally planned when they convinced rookie Ilya Sorokin to come from the KHL as the plan was to have Varlamov mentor Sorokin until the rookie took over.
This season’s performance means that Varlamov isn’t handing over the crease willingly, and that is a good problem to have in the Big Apple.
I must say, Grubauer has proven me wrong this year. I entered the year thinking that Grubauer was the weakest link on a powerful Colorado Avalanche team, but I was wrong. Not only has he proved he was the goalie they needed to stabilize the crease, but also he has proven that he is a top netminder in the league.
The German goaltender has picked his best season as a starter to be when it was needed as the Avs are a true Cup contender. To make it far in the playoffs, you need quality goaltending. That is where Grubauer provides that support, as he has a good .922 save percentage and rocked 30 wins which is second in the NHL training only Vasilevskiy. He is also tied for the most shutouts along with the aforementioned Varlamov.
What impresses me the most about Grubauer is the way he resembles Corey Crawford on those Cup-winning Chicago Blackhawks teams in that he may not be the flashiest netminder around but he is rock solid. That is what Colorado needs in a goalie in order to win the Cup.
5. Juuse Saros
Sometimes the start of the season is different from the overall season. Juuse Saros is the truth in that. Saros and frankly, the Predators, started rough, but they have turned around and the recognition deserves to go to Saros. The fact that the Preds rebounded to the position they are in, which is in the playoffs is remarkable.
How Saros rebounded from a save percentage under .900 to fourth in the league with 9.27 is incredible. The fact is, the Preds wouldn’t have made the playoffs at all without Saros. The only two other Predator players who are having good seasons were captain Roman Josi and Filip Forsberg. In the case of Forsberg, he was also injured for a good chunk of the year.
I believe Saros can possibly upset the Hurricanes in the first round by himself, as he has helped the Preds become one of the hottest teams in the league heading into the playoffs going 20-7–1 in their last 28 games without much help by his teammates. But what a couple of months can do to a player and his team.
If Saros, who is only 26 years old, continues his breakout season, he will be an elite goalie as soon as next year. This would help the Preds push back their needed retool for a few more seasons.
The Preds move on from one era of elite goaltending into another as Rinne officially passed the torch to Saros this season. Saros has been making good on continuing the next generation of rock-solid Predator netminders. He could be a Vezina finalist.
This year’s Vezina Trophy candidates feature it all A star in the making, a rookie making an impact, two veterans enjoying one of their best seasons yet, and a goalie who has proved critics wrong by being a stabilizing force on a contender.
The short season has given fans of the fastest game on ice some amazing performances in the net. These five netminders all have a chance of taking home the Vezina trophy that is only for them. Picking a favorite was not easy but after sorting it all out, it came down to team success and how much each goalie played into the team’s final standings.
I think it really has been an open race this year, but to me the next great goalie wins his second Vezina trophy in Andrei Vasilevskiy.
That is the view from up North.