NHL Vezina Trophy Contenders: Changing of the Guard

James Onusko@@jonuskoContributor IIIMarch 13, 2013

NHL Vezina Trophy Contenders: Changing of the Guard

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    Goaltending is the backbone for any successful NHL team.

    This year’s Vezina Trophy race may be the most difficult to predict among the NHL’s major awards. Without significant improvement in performance from recent perennial contenders, Martin Brodeur, Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan Miller and Miikka Kiprusoff, there will be a new winner in 2013. While contenders are judged on the basic criterion of being the best at their position, it is rare that a goaltender receives serious consideration if he’s playing for a weak team.

    Given their play to date, the following five goalies are the top contenders for this year’s Vezina Trophy.

Tuukka Rask

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    With Tim Thomas on hiatus, many experts had legitimate questions about the Boston Bruins’ goaltending. With strong team defense, it has not been an issue so far and Tuukka Rask’s play makes him a leading contender for the Vezina. He is currently tied for the NHL lead in wins and has allowed less than two goals per game.

    The Bruins do not have any goaltending issues for the foreseeable future with Rask playing the way he has this year.

Craig Anderson

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    Although Craig Anderson has been injured for a significant portion of this shortened season, he has to make this list.

    Ottawa’s success has been amazing considering the injuries the team has suffered. Anderson has had an inhuman save percentage of .952 and his goals against average is significantly under two. As long as Anderson can stay healthy in the second half of the season and continue his high level of play, he has to be considered a front-runner for the Vezina.

Antti Niemi

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    The San Jose Sharks’ Antti Niemi has put up some great numbers to date even though the Sharks have faded badly from their early-season start. If the Sharks continue to struggle, Niemi may not get the same consideration as some of the other top contenders.

    He has played a lot of games this year, and if he can sustain his eye-popping .930 save percentage, should remain in contention as the season winds down. 

Corey Crawford

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    Despite two recent regulation losses for the Chicago Blackhawks, Corey Crawford’s play cannot suddenly be discounted. He has been excellent in the first half of the season and boasts a stellar winning percentage, a goals against average of 1.91 and a .925 save percentage. 

    It will be an interesting study to see how Crawford handles the additional attention that he and the 'Hawks are likely to receive over the final half of the regular season.

Pekka Rinne

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    The Nashville Predators’ Pekka Rinne continues to be a workhorse in Music City.

    His 2.00 goals against average is very good and his save percentage of .924 is also strong. He has played more minutes than any other goaltender in the league and that will not be lost on voters this summer.

    Rinne rarely has a bad game, and if the Predators remain in playoff contention, he should continue to see the bulk of the work between the pipes. While many fans do not see Rinne as much as some of the other contenders, he has been an upper echelon goaltender for several seasons now.