Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Top 5 Vezina Trophy Candidates, Ranked

Credit: Jean Yves - USA Today Sports
Over the next two weeks, I will be ranking my frontrunners for the respective individual trophies in the National Hockey League.

Today’s discussed trophy is the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the league’s best goaltender.

The Vezina Trophy is always a difficult trophy to win, simply because there are so many factors that go into winning it. It takes into account the quality of your team (especially your defense), your workload, and, perhaps most importantly, where your team would be without you.. Carey Price was the backbone of the Canadiens last year, keeping an otherwise mediocre team at the top of the standings all season long.

Who can do that this year? Read below for some answers.

Credit: Isaiah J. Downing - USA Today Sports

Semyon Varlamov

Remember 2014? You know, the year when the Colorado Avalanche surprised everybody by winning the Central Division? The year when Semyon Varlamov, the Washington Capital who the Avalanche gave up a first- and a second-round pick for, was a finalist for the Vezina? The year after they missed the playoffs?

Say, didn't the Avalanche miss the playoffs in 2015?

If the Avalanche bounce back in 2016, expect Varlamov to be a big player in that. They've got a talented forward group that includes Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, and Jarome Iginla, and they just added a good, solid, veteran defenseman in Francois Beauchemin to help out Varlamov, who finished twelfth in the NHL last year in save percentage despite a less-than-stellar defense in front of him.

Credit: Geoff Burke - USA Today Sports

Braden Holtby

The Capitals have been a popular pick this offseason when it comes to choosing division winners, and there’s many factors that would support that choice: they’ve got a potent offense which includes superstars in Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom; they have a solid defense core which includes the likes of Matt Niskanen and John Carlson; and, they possess a long-respected coach in Barry Trotz.

Those are all very important pieces in the Capitals’ puzzle. However, a team cannot win games without a good goalie, and Braden Holtby is just that - he finished in the top 10 last year in all of the following categories: games played; wins; goals against; shots against; saves; save percentage; goals against average; shutouts; and minutes played. That’s pretty good. Holtby is a workhorse - expect him to play over 70 games this year, potentially contending for the league lead, which he achieved last season.

Credit: Adam Hunger - USA Today Sports

Henrik Lundqvist

Henrik Lundqvist is quickly turning into a mystery. Some fans refer to him as the beneficiary of a great defense in front of him that includes the likes of Ryan McDonagh, Dan Boyle, Keith Yandle, and Marc Staal in front of him. But many call him the best there is - a goalie who, despite an abundance of defensive talent in front of him, never gets complacent and consistently puts up great numbers. And they wouldn’t be wrong - ‘The King’ has put up a .920%+  save percentage every season for the last six years. He’s also a very good at shutting out teams - he’s accumulated 55 shutouts over the course of his career (31 of which have come in the last five seasons), good for 20th all time. Just watch out for injuries - they limited him to only 46 games last year.

Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel - USA Today Sports

Pekka Rinne 

Pekka Rinne is a superhuman when he's healthy. He can make unbelievable saves, is a pretty good skater and puck handler, and is a three-time Vezina finalist (2011, 2012, and last year).

So, "if he's that great", you ask, "then why isn't he at the top of this list?"

Injuries. Rinne's played 65+ games once. He's played under 60 in 4 of his 7 seasons in the NHL. However, in the three seasons that he did eclipse the 60-game barrier, he was a Vezina finalist, so you should expect great things from the 32-year-old Finn if he manages to keep off the injury list.

Credit: John E. Sokolowski - USA Today Sports

Carey Price

Did you really expect anyone else at the top of this list? Price is coming off a goaltending triple crown (the Vezina, Hart, and Lindsay trophies) in 2014-15 - the first goalie since Dominik Hasek in 1998 to do so - and there's no reason why the 28-year-old should slow down come 2015-16 - he's just entering his prime. Playing on a mediocre team last season, Price led the league in wins, goals against average, and save percentage, while finishing second in shutouts, en route to winning the Atlantic Division (they would lose in the second round to the Lightning, in six games).

Price is arguably the best hockey player in the world right now. Why should that change? Expect the Vezina, and perhaps the Lindsay and Hart again, from Price in 2016. The Canadiens would be a wild-card team (at best) without him.

Other Players Who Merited Consideration (in no particular order): Jonathan Quick, LAK; Ben Bishop, TBL; Devan Dubynk, MIN; Sergei Bobrovsky, CBJ; Marc-Andre Fleury, PIT; Tuukka Rask, BOS; Jaroslav Halak, NYI; Steve Mason, PHI; Cory Schneider, NJD; Roberto Luongo, FLA

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