Vezina Victory-Who Will Walk Away With The Award For Best Goalie?

The Vezina Trophy is awarded each year to the goaltender who is “adjudged to be the best at this position”. It is named for Georges Vezina, former Montreal Canadiens goalie from 1910-1925. Vezina died in 1926 of tuberculosis.

When the trophy was first awarded, there was some debate about what defined a Vezina winner. The Montreal Gazette and The Globe and Mail reported that it was ‘to be awarded each year to the “goalkeeper in the National Hockey League having the best (goals against) average,” while the Toronto Star reported that the trophy went to the ‘most valuable’ goaltender in the league.

What actually is for certain, is that from 1946-47 to 1981-82, the Vezina trophy was awarded to the goalie who allowed the least amount of goals during the regular season. However, since 1982-83, the Jennings Trophy is now given to that goaltender.  But, they must have played at least 25 games. The Vezina, unlike the Jennings, is not strictly a statistics based award.

Before we give you the candidates, let’s take a look at some interesting Vezina factoids:

  • The Trophy was first awarded after the 1926-27 season to the top goaltender
  • The New York Islanders’ Billy Smith was the first goalie to win the Vezina under the new system in 1982-83
  • Dominik Hasek has won the award the most times under the current system with six.
  • All-time, Jacques Plante holds the record for winning the most Vezinas with seven, followed by Bill Durnan and the aforementioned Dominik Hasek, both of whom have won six.
  • Montreal Canadiens players have won the Vezina 28 times
  • The award has been split between two goalies, on two different teams, once. In 1973-74, the Blackhawks and the Flyers finished tied for the fewest goals against; therefore their respective goalies Tony Esposito and Bernie Parent were both awarded the Vezina trophy.
  • There are only three players that have won both the Vezina and Hart Trophy in the same season: Jacques Plante in 1961–62; Dominik Hasek twice for 1996–97 and 1997–98; and Jose Theodore for 2001–02.
  • Two other goalies have actually won the Hart Trophy but not the Vezina; Roy Worters and Al Rollins

Now that you have a little background on the award, and some factoids, let’s give you some recent history:

Previous Five Winners

This year’s crop of contenders gives two candidates and a returning champion.

The Nominees

Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers-Fifth nomination, One-time winner-There isn’t much to say about this guy that hasn’t already been said. He is as solid as they come. Lundqvist led the Rangers into the playoffs with a 2.05 GAA, a .925 save percentage, and two shutouts. He posted a 24-16-3 record and was tied for most wins in the league. Unfortunately for him, he has to carry an entire franchise on his back. You have to wonder how long he will be able to carry a consistently underachieving Rangers team. In 2013-14 he will be playing for a new coach under what, if he does not sign an extension, will be a contract year.

The fact that this is his fifth nomination goes to show what a difference maker he is. Without him in net, the Rangers do not come remotely close to the playoffs. He single-handedly stole the Rangers first round series vs Washington (that of course does not count in the voting, but goes to show his dominance).

“The King” is the current defending Vezina winner. The good news for him? The NHL seems to have no problem with repeat winners. The bad news?  He has some pretty stiff competition this year, and defending will be tough.

Antti Niemi, San Jose Sharks-First Nomination-Will the NHL GM’s be “Anti -Antti?” Well, that remains to be seen. Now, that we have gotten the obligatory name joke out of the way, let’s talk about his season. The Sharks were solid the whole season, as they finished with a 25-16-7 record. 24 of those wins came from Antti Niemi, tying him with Henrik Lundqvist for most in the league.

The 29 year-old netminder nicknamed “Nemo”, signed with San Jose after he won the Cup with the Blackhawks. He will be entering the third year of a four year contract extensions he signed in 2011. This year he posted a career best 2.16 GAA with four shutouts. Niemi had to be very solid for the Sharks, a team who ranked in the bottom third of the league with 124 goals for, in order for them to finish 3rd in their division, and 6th in the West.

Given his age, and the fact that he has set career highs in wins the last 2 seasons, he will certainly be force to be reckoned with for several years to come; especially if the Sharks can find a way to build around him a little more and finally fulfill some of their yearly promise.

Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets-First Nomination-After things didn’t work out for “Bob” in Philadelphia, as nothing has for anyone since 1975, he was traded to Columbus for draft picks.

In training camp, Bobrovsky unseated Steve Mason and won the starting job. He was now tasked with taking a team who finished last in the NHL in 2011-12 and trying to help them be respectable. He did more than that. After stumbling out of the gate a bit, at 3-6-3, he finished the season on a tear. He went 18- 5-3 and was the NHL’s third star of the month of March. He helped get them all the way to the last few days of the season as a playoff contender.

Overall, the 24-year-old Russian finished the season 21-11-6 with a .932 save percentage and a Goals Against Average of 2.00.

If it wasn’t for Bobrovsky, the Blue Jackets would not have come remotely close to their 9th place finish. He was clearly the MVP of his team. He helped them not only become respectable this season, but because the team was so competitive at the trade deadline, it helped them for years to come. They added a huge piece in Marian Gaborik. If Steve Mason were still in net, and the Blue Jackets were still near the bottom of the league, there is no way they would have taken on a marquee player like Gaborik. Next year, I expect the Blue Jackets, in their new conference and division, to be a serious contender for a playoff spot.

Who Should Win

Any of these 3 men would be a fine choice for the Vezina, and it’s hard to argue with any of them winning. As good as Henrik Lundqvist has been the past few years, and as solid as Antti Niemi was this year, you really can’t think of a guy who was better overall this year than Sergei Bobrovsky. He is just 24 years old and took the Blue Jackets from last in the NHL to a playoff contender. I feel confident in saying that HE took them, because any time you have a guy with a 2.00 GAA, it’s hard to not believe he carried the team; unless there is a 50-goal scorer on the team. Bobrovsky definitely should win this trophy.

Who Will Win-Eyes On Isles Prediction

Not only does Sergei Bobrovsky deserve to win, he will win. The award is supposed to go to the “most outstanding goaltender”, he clearly was the MVP of the Blue Jackets, which is a pretty good start.

What does most outstanding really mean anyway? If the Jennings trophy is for the least goals allowed, which went to the 2 goalies of the Blackhawks, then how do you judge the Vezina trophy winner? If a goalie has a 2.00 GAA, 21 wins and the best save percentage in the league among goalies who have played 25 or more games, that would qualify as outstanding. Add that to the fact that they almost jumped from last in the league to a playoff spot, and you have yourselves a Vezina winner. That would be his first and a franchise first for the Blue Jackets.

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Tags: Antti Niemi Henrik Lundqvist Sergei Bobrovsky Vezina Trophy

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