Top-5 Vezina Trophy Candidates for 2020: Predictions and Odds on Naming the NHL’s Best Goalie
With NHL (and all other sports) on lockdown, we thought now was a good time to talk about the Vezina Trophy, we take a closer look at some of the league’s best and top candidates for the assorted list of NHL awards.
Here we will take a look at some of the league’s best goaltenders; specifically those with a strong case to take home the 2020 Vezina Award.
The Vezina trophy was first introduced during the 1926-27 NHL season and is named in honor of Georges Vezina, a former 15-year veteran goaltender of the Montreal Canadiens who died of tuberculosis in 1926. The award was created to annually award the goaltender who is judged by the league’s general managers to be deemed “the best at his position”. Unlike the William M. Jennings Trophy, which is awarded to the goaltending tandem that allows the fewest goals against, the Vezina is awarded based on individual performance. The Jennings Trophy was introduced in 1981 to differentiate team and individual effort.
The only condition being that to be considered for the award, a goalie must have appeared in a minimum of 25 games that season.
The record for the most Vezina awards belongs to famed Montreal Canadiens’ goalie Jacques Plante.
The Tampa Bay Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy won the award last season (his first) and, as you’ll read on, you’ll notice that it’s not unlikely that he pull off back-to-back award-winning seasons.
1. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins
Tuukka Rask is as elite as it gets. Between him and teammate Jaroslav Halak, the Bruins are all but a guarantee for the William Jennings award this season, but it’s been Rask who has individually outshined his counterpart in goal this season, giving him the edge between the two to win the Vezina this season.
Rask leads all goaltenders this season in goals-against average and leads all goalies (who have started more than 30 games) in save percentage as well. At the time of writing, he is 4-minutes, 55-seconds shy of 2,000 minutes played this season. In 34 games played, Rask has a ridiculous season record of 22-5-6. He has been the first star of the game eight times this season as well.
He has allowed 69 goals this season, has three shutouts, and also managed two assists. Tuukka Rask is also a former Vezina winner (the first of two on this list), winning back with the Bruins following the 2013-14 season.
The Bruins currently lead the entire league with a record of 37-11-12 and goaltending has been a huge part of that success (as well as David Pastrnak, but we’ll save that for the Hart trophy discussion).
2. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
For a while there it seemed like last year’s Vezina winner wouldn’t even come close to being discussed for the Vezina award this year. The Tampa Bay Lightning struggled for much of the early season, but have come around huge since the new year, and Vasilevskiy has been a big part of that.
Out of goalies that have played more than 30 games this season, Vasilevskiy ranks third in save percentage. In fact, speaking of games played, no goalie has started more games this season than Vasilevskiy. At the time of writing, the netminder has started an incredible 44 games. That’s over 2,600 minutes. His record across those 44 games? 32-9-3. Absolutely jaw-dropping.
He has the league’s 13th-best GAA and that keeps climbing with every game. Had this team played right out of the gate, it’s safe to say that Vasilevskiy would be leading the league in all major statistics. He has two shutouts, four points, and has allowed 107 goals on 1,239 shots against.
Vasilevskiy is poised to become the first-ever back-to-back winner of the Vezina award since the criteria was changed in 1981.
3. Ben Bishop, Dallas Stars
Andrei Vasilevskiy before there was a Vasilevskiy, Ben Bishop was a huge part of Tampa Bay’s rebuild and current success. He is now doing the same for the Dallas Stars.
Some could say Ben Bishop is overdue for this award. He is no stranger to being nominated as a finalist but he’s never pulled off the victory. Bishop has been a star his whole career, during brief stints with the Blues and the Senators, to his time with the pre-Vasilevskiy Lightning and now with the Dallas Stars. Another team that suffers offensively (although, on paper, they absolutely shouldn’t), it’s been Ben Bishop and his 38 starts that have kept the Stars competitive and within reach of the playoffs.
Across his 38 games, Bishop has gone 20-12-4 and has played a total of 2,216 minutes. The Dallas goalie ranks eighth in the NHL in save percentage and 11th in goals-against average, having allowed 88 goals on 1,154 shots faced. He has two shutouts and has also registered two assists this season. All of his statistics this season rank higher than his career average.
He’s a goalie in his prime and his name will most likely be in the Vezina conversation for the next few seasons.
4. Darcy Kuemper, Arizona Coyotes
Darcy Kuemper has been standing on his head this season. Considered one of the least offensive teams this season, it’s a borderline miracle that the Arizona Coyotes still find themselves within a playoff position. They can thank Darcy Kuemper for that. After offensive off-season acquisitions that have, so far, proved to be a bust, Kuemper has kept this team competitive within the standings along with the solid defense corps in front of him. If only this team could score goals, eh?
Unfortunately due to injuries, Kuemper’s Vezina odds suffer a little bit. He only officially qualified for the award this week when he started his 25th game. With that said, in 25 games played, Kuemper has a season record of 15-8-2 and over 1,500 minutes of ice-time. He ranks sixth in the league when it comes to save percentage and third-overall for goals-against average. He has allowed only 55 goals on 772 shots against him this season.
Also, other than Mike Smith and Cam Talbot (because of major fighting penalties), Kuemper also leads all goalies in penalty minutes this season. That doesn’t help his Vezina case but, still – fun fact!
5. Jordan Binnginton, St. Louis Blues
Although Jordan Binnington has the lowest numbers of any other goalie on this list (including our upcoming dark horse pick), there is no denying that he is a Vezina-caliber goaltender. After winning the Stanley Cup in his rookie season (and being voted a finalist for the Calder trophy), Binnington headed into the 2020 season as a bonafide starter and proved that he wasn’t a one-season fluke. Last season, the Blues were at the bottom of the league before bringing Binnington into the fold and they’ve stayed near the top ever since. That’s no fluke.
Binnington has started 43 games this season and has turned those games into a 25-11-7 record. He has 1,133 saves on 1,245 shots faced and has allowed a total of 112 goals. A big number to note here is that, other than Andrei Vasilevskiy, Binnington has more ice-time than any other goalie on this list. Jordan Binnington ranks sixth in the NHL this season for time-on-ice, playing 2,528 minutes and 5 seconds.
Because of this, despite being ranked 22nd in GAA and 35th in save percentage, respectively, oddsmakers still have Jordan Binnington at the top of their list as the goaltender most likely to take home the Vezina award at season’s end.
Dark Horse Candidate: Elvis Merzlikins, Columbus Blue Jackets
Talk about one hell of a season. The Columbus Blue Jackets are no stranger to Vezina-quality goaltending (Sergei Bobrovsky won the award twice, once in 2013 and again in 2017), but this season was expected to be over before it even started. Enter the Blue Jackets’ young core of European goaltenders, led by Elvis Merzlikins.
On the roster all season, Merzlikins didn’t get a chance to fully shine until starting goalie Joonas Korpisalo suffered an injury. In one of the most impressive stretches in team history, the Latvian-born goalie started the new year with a ten-game streak that saw him allow only 15 goals against and register three shutouts in four games – one of them a 41-save affair.
Merlikins has helped move The Blue Jackets from the league’s basement into the league’s top-ten. It’s nothing short of amazing. He ranks eighth-overall for save percentage and fifth in GAA. In 27 games started, Merzlikins has a record of 12-9-6 with five shutouts, which is more shutouts than any other goalie in the league this season.
Should the Blue Jackets hang on long enough to make the playoffs, Elvis Merzlikins will be the reason why. His stock will rise and by season’s end, he may be ranked even higher on this list.
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NHL Awards Odds
Check back to see the odds for the 2020 Vezina trophy!