Dark Horse Vezina Trophy Candidates Heading into 2013

Sam Stryker@sbstrykerContributor IIIJanuary 22, 2013

Dark Horse Vezina Trophy Candidates Heading into 2013

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    Why should the big boys have all the fun?

    When it comes to discussing this season’s potential winner of the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the NHL’s top netminder, you can round up the usual suspects.

    There is last year’s winner, Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers. Or perhaps Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller, who took the award the year before him.

    Also in the conversation is Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings, last year’s playoff MVP, and the Nashville Predators’ Pekka Rinne, a finalist for the award last season.

    But someone could crash their party. The following is a list of dark horse candidates who could emerge in the lockout-shortened season and capture the Vezina Trophy from the big boys.

    (All stats are via ESPN.com)

Antti Niemi

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    The San Jose Sharks' netminder is certainly capable of playing at an elite level. In 2010, he backstopped the Chicago Blackhawks to their first Stanley Cup win in nearly half a century.

    He proved his solid playoff play was no fluke the past two seasons in the Bay Area, where he has compiled a total of 69 wins. He is capable of carrying a big workload (he played in 68 games last season) and his regular-season numbers have been solid—a 2.38 goals-against average and .916 save percentage.

    It doesn’t hurt that he has top-flight defenseman such as Dan Boyle, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Douglas Murray patrolling the ice in front of him. If he can raise his game to the next level, he is certainly capable of contending for goaltending’s top honor.

Semyon Varlamov

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    The Colorado Avalanche starter is young (he’s only 24) and a bit raw (this is his second season as a full-time starter) but he’s got potential. That’s why the Avs surrendered a first- and second-round pick for Varlamov in 2011.

    While Colorado may be an upstart team looking to contend a few years down the road, Varlamov could bust out as an elite goaltender at any moment. Terry Frei of The Denver Post said Varlamov showed flashes of “breathtaking play” in Washington.

    It certainly helps that he has seasoned veteran Jean-Sebastian Giguere mentoring him as a backup. If he can play at that level with consistency, he soon could join the upper echelon of NHL goalies. 

Cam Ward

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    The Carolina Hurricane’s goalie is a top-notch netminder who seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle of higher-profile goaltenders from bigger markets. No matter, because Ward can hold his own with the best of them.

    While it may seem like ages ago, Ward backstopped the Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup in 2006, earning the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in the process. He did that as a rookie, the youngest first-year pro to lead his team to the Cup since Patrick Roy.

    He hasn’t exactly been a slouch the last few seasons, either. Two seasons ago he had a stellar .923 save percentage, and he can carry a big workload as well—he played 68 games last year and 74 the season before.

    If Ward gets hot in the shortened season, watch out—he may just be looking to add to his hardware.

Tuukka Rask

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    With Tim Thomas out of the picture, the Boston Bruins will need some big play in net to try and win their second championship in three years. Enter Rask, who will look to translate what has been stellar play as a backup to his role as a full-time starter (albeit during a lockout-shortened season).

    In 102 games played, Rask has a sterling 2.20 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage. He also has intangibles, having studied under two-time Vezina winner Thomas and winning the Stanley Cup as a backup in 2011.

    Throw in downright nasty Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Zdeno Chara for some added protection, and Rask may have the perfect recipe for Vezina Trophy success.

Brian Elliott or Jaroslav Halak

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    One half of the St. Louis Blues’ goalie tandem would have to get extremely hot—and the other extremely cold—for a Vezina Trophy winner to emerge in the Show Me State, but stranger things have happened.

    Last season, the pair won the William M. Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals—just 165—over the course of the season.

    Both of their individual numbers were sterling. Halak had a miniscule 1.97 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage over the course of 46 games played, while Elliott notched an eye-popping 1.56 goals-against average and a .940 save percentage.

    Expect the duo to split most of the starts in St. Louis. But if one catches fire and the other cannot keep up, then we might see a Vezina candidate under the Arch in St. Louis.