The Vezina Trophy is one of the most debated NHL awards each season because there's always so many worthy candidates.
In a shortened 48-game season where goaltending will make or break teams' chances of earning a playoff spot, there's a great opportunity for a few goaltenders to establish themselves as Vezina finalists if they carry their teams to the playoffs.
Let's look at five early favorites for the trophy awarded to the NHL's most outstanding goaltender.
Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators
Craig Anderson was under a lot of pressure to start the season strongly because he had two quality young goaltenders ready to step in and take his job if he struggled.
Through four games, Anderson has handled the high expectations very well, and he is arguably the top candidate for the Vezina Trophy.
Anderson leads the NHL in GAA (0.79) and save percentage (.975) and is unbeaten in regulation with a 3-0-1 record. He's also one of the eight goalies with a shutout.
The Senators high-powered offense and the Norris Trophy-caliber performances of star defenseman Erik Karlsson receive a lot of the credit for the team's success, but without Anderson performing at a high level on a consistent basis, Ottawa is not a playoff contender in the Eastern Conference.
If Anderson wins the Vezina, he would become the first player in Senators history to take home the award.
Kari Lehtonen, Dallas Stars
Kari Lehtonen is one of the most underrated players in the NHL, but that will likely change soon if he continues to play at an elite level.
The Stars goaltender ranks fourth in save percentage (.940) and 10th in GAA (2.19). Lehtonen has faced the most shots (151) and has made the most saves (142) of any goalie in the league and doesn't have the luxury of a true No. 1 defenseman playing in front of him, which most of the players on the list have.
Dallas has played four playoff teams from last year in the first five games of its schedule, and Lehtonen is 2-1-1 in those games.
In the Stars' 3-2 loss to the undefeated Chicago Blackhawks last week, Lehtonen was absolutely fantastic and received a lot of praise from teammates and opposing players that night, including Blackhawks star Patrick Kane (via Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune)
Chris Kuc @ChrisKuc
#Blackhawks' Patrick Kane on Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen: "It was almost fun to watch how good he was playing."1/25/2013, 5:16:02 AM
Lehtonen is under a lot of pressure to carry the Stars to the playoffs for the first time since the 2007-08 season, but if he maintains his high level of performance and Dallas gets into the postseason, expect him to be a Vezina finalist.
Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres
One of the most encouraging results from the first week of the Buffalo Sabres season was the impressive play of star goaltender Ryan Miller, who is once again playing at an elite level following a disappointing (by his standards) 2011-12 season.
Miller is ninth in GAA (2.02), third in save percentage (.940), seventh in saves (127) and has a 2-2 record.
The Sabres have given Miller just 2.6 goals per game of offensive support and are once again forcing him to carry the team on a nightly basis. Despite the team's struggles offensively, Miller is giving the Sabres a good chance to win each game.
The good news for Buffalo is that Miller is well on his way to another Vezina-caliber season and could certainly be a finalist for the award for the first time since the 2009-10 season when he won it.
Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens
Carey Price had a phenomenal 2011-12 season, but the Montreal Canadiens' last-place finish in the Northeast Division overshadowed the impressive performance of the team's No. 1 netminder.
The Canadiens have begun the new season with a 3-1 record, and Price's spectacular play is the primary reason for this success. He ranks fifth in GAA (1.73), fifth in save percentage (.936) and has a 3-1 record.
Price is one of the most consistent goaltenders in the league and rarely gives up the soft goals that deflate teams.
He gives his players a lot of confidence and the freedom to take chances in the attacking zone because if they make a mistake and are caught out of position, Price will bail them out with a clutch save.
Price is an elite goaltender, and with two No. 1 defensemen in Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban playing in front of him, he should have Vezina-worthy stats at the end of the season. Expect the Canadiens goaltender to be a finalist for this award in June.
Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils
Age hasn't slowed down Martin Brodeur one bit. The 40-year-old goaltender is still playing at an elite level and doesn't appear to be regressing at all.
After a remarkable playoff run that resulted in the Devils reaching Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final last season, some fans were wondering if that was Brodeur's final run of greatness, but judging by his play in the early part of this season, he still has plenty of greatness left.
Brodeur is 3-0-1 (including one shutout) this season with the league's third-best GAA (1.69) and eighth-best save percentage (.932).
Despite being at the end of his career, Brodeur is still capable of carrying the Devils through games in which the team struggles, as he did on Sunday against the Montreal Canadiens.
New Jersey Devils @NJDevils
"Considering we didn't play 60 minutes...we'll take the point. And, thank Marty Brodeur." - Coach DeBoer1/28/2013, 2:03:23 AM
Brodeur has won the Vezina Trophy four times, most recently in 2007-08. No one should be surprised if he wins No. 5 at the end of the year.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL columnist at Bleacher Report, follow him on Twitter.
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