Pekka Rinne (Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
The race for the Vezina Trophy is on, and more than a handful of goaltenders have a realistic shot at taking home the position’s top honor. Pekka Rinne has been great in Nasvhille, but the surprising Marc-Andre Fleury is making a good case for himself.
Goaltending can make or break a team’s season. Just ask the Edmonton Oilers, who for years have looked promising but have been unable to secure a goaltender to give them the big save they need.
You won’t find either Oilers goaltender, Ben Scrivens or Viktor Fasth, on this list of the top 10 Vezina candidates. Nor will you find Michael Hutchinson, who currently leads the league in save percentage and is second in goals-against average. The reason being Hutchinson just hasn’t had the workload, and including his numbers also put goaltenders like Colorado’s Calvin Pickard and injured St. Louis netminder Brian Elliott into the conversation.
Instead, many familiar faces are among the contenders, though not a single one has won the Vezina in their career.
10. Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators
Last night, Anderson almost added to what has been a very respectable season by tallying a goal. The attempt went wide right, but it hasn’t been the kind of season where he’s missing much.
On a Senators team that has struggled, Anderson has been one of the brightest spots, including a save percentage which ranks fourth in the league and three shutouts that have helped the Senators pick up ever-important wins. It may be unlikely, but if Anderson can find an even higher gear and help the Senators to the playoffs, he’ll shoot up this list awfully fast.
9. Antti Niemi, San Jose Sharks
His name has been bandied about in trade rumors, but Niemi is actually turning in quite a good season for the Sharks. It’s eerie the coincidence in Niemi’s numbers, too.
He’s the 16th ranked goaltender when it comes to save, ranks 16th in SP, and, you guessed it, holds the 16th spot in GAA. That’s not mention the pair of shutouts and 12 wins. After missing three games with an undisclosed ailment, Niemi came back with a 29-save blanking of the Nashville Predators.
8. Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks
Though some believe Crawford to be the Blackhawks greatest weakness, he’s had a season deserving of Vezina consideration. While he may not win the award, he’s in the conversation, especially if he can improve on a win total that has suffered due to missing time with an injury suffered at a concert.
Crawford currently ranks fifth in save percentage, fourth in goals-against average, 11th in wins, and has a shutout to his name. He’s been tested less than any goaltender on this list, but you can’t argue with results.
7. Roberto Luongo, Florida Panthers
It’s funny how perception of a player can change so quickly in one season. Luongo, thought by some to be past his prime, is leading the charge for the Panthers and turning the team into a playoff contender. If he gets the Cats into the dance, he might jump a couple spots on this list.
Luongo has been among the top 10 goaltenders nearly all season, and boasts the league’s ninth best save percentage while playing behind a young Panthers team that has forced him to stop the tenth most shots in the league. He’s never won the award, but finished second in voting in 2006-07 and third twice (2003-04, 2010-11).
6. Jaroslav Halak, New York Islanders
Halak has been a major reason for the Islanders rebirth. A steady netminder in front of a young team that has room to grow, Halak may not be tested as often as many goaltenders in the league, but he’s getting the job done when pucks do get through.
Part of a massive effort to take the Islanders from pretender to contender in one season, Halak has the fifth most wins in the league, thanks in part to his three shutouts.
5. Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings
Howard has had a few rough years of late, but this season, everything is working for the 30-year-old netminder.
Backstopping one of the most storied franchises in NHL history – and during a time some expected them to take a step back, no less – Howard is posting the league’s fifth best GAA, is eighth in wins, and has two shutouts. Now, if only the Red Wings could convert a few overtime and shootout games to victories, Howard could make a serious push at being the first Red Wings goaltender to win the Vezina since Terry Sawchuk in 1954-55, back when it was still given to the goaltender with the lowest GAA.
4. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens
It’s almost hard to believe Price has never finished higher than fourth in Vezina voting, especially when you consider how he’s often considered one of a handful of the game’s best goaltenders. The issue with Price, however, has been his GAA, which has never been below 2.30 by the end of a season.
While his GAA hasn’t change much – it’s 2.33 this season – he does have the second most saves in the league and the second most wins. He may slide a bit as some predict the Canadiens may be less than what their record says, but if anyone is capable of propping Montreal up it’s Price.
3. Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
The Kings have not been themselves this year, but Quick sure has. Carrying over his form from last year’s playoffs, Quick has made the fourth most saves in the league, is top 10 in both save percentage and GAA, and has posted three shutouts.
Though the team is currently outside a playoff spot, no team wants any part of the Kings come April. When they heat up, it ends with a parade, and Quick is a big part of that. He’s never won the Vezina, but Quick isn’t simply heralded as one of the league’s top netminders – some say he’s the best in the world.
2. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins
In the off-season, not only was there talk of the Penguins trading Fleury, there was some thinking it would be best for the team to look into using a compliance buyout on the netminder. Fleury has more than stepped up to the challenge, cementing himself in sixth place in both save percentage and GAA thus far in 2014-15. He’s also tied for the league lead with five shutouts.
The Penguins signed Fleury to a contract extension earlier this season and it was nearly universally laughed at, but if his play holds, it may be lauded come next season.
1. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators
There couldn’t justly be anyone else in top spot. Rinne leads the league in save percentage, GAA, wins, has three shutouts, and has been forced to make more stops than all but two goaltenders in the league. If Rinne can stay healthy, which has been an issue, he’s almost locked up the trophy before the league even gets into the second half.
Under a new coach and without longtime goalie coach Mitch Korn, Rinne is flourishing. The outstanding Finn finished in second and third place in consecutive years (2010-11, 2011-12), but he’s gunning to make this his first Vezina win, and it looks like he’ll get it. The Predators missed the playoffs last season, but with Rinne between the pipes, there’s no doubt they’re going to be playing this coming spring.