Breaking Down Each Finalist's Case for 2013 Vezina Award
The general managers that vote on this award may have their hands more full than usual. The truncated 2013 NHL year compressed the usual strong cup of coffee 82-game season into an espresso-sized sampling, increasing the intensity and magnifying performances all around.
Each guy has quite the case to make. Each guy could take home to trophy and few would argue, but only one man can win.
Making the Case for Henrik Lundqvist
This is familiar territory for Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers.
Since breaking into the NHL in 2005, he's been nominated for the Vezina in five of his eight seasons while backstopping the Rangers. That's an alarming rate of consistency from the Swedish Lundqvist, who has also been voted New York's MVP six years in a row.
Despite the run of nominations, he's only won the award once—in 2012 after posting a miraculous 1.97 GAA, .930 save percentage and eight shutouts across 62 games played. Those are ridiculous numbers that most goalies can only dream of maintaining through a three-game run during the preseason.
By comparison, Lundqvist has been every bit as good in 2013. While the Rangers struggled early, it was goaltending that kept them in the hunt for a playoff spot. Lundqvist was by far the most consistent player on the team and will most likely win another team MVP award.
He allowed a touch over two goals per game, (2.05 GAA) while putting up a .926 save percentage. The outstanding goaltending was important to the Rangers, who were a middle-of-the-pack team offensively.
The Rangers also didn't lose a game when leading after two periods.
Making the Case for Antti Niemi
Antti Niemi had his best season to date in 2013, putting up just as many wins as Henrik Lundqvist and compiling the second-most number of shutouts with four. That goes along with his 2.16 GAA and .924 save percentage.
He's been a central cog for the San Jose Sharks since arriving in 2010 as a fresh Stanley Cup winner, and 2013 was no different. The 29-year-old spent more time on the ice than any other netminder in the NHL this season—a whopping 2,580 minutes—and ranked third in shots faced and shots saved.
Niemi helped San Jose become the sixth-stingiest team in the league this season, giving up on average only 2.33 goals per game. Most notably, he was an absolute beast in the shootout in a season when the extra points were make-or-break.
The Sharks lead the NHL in shootout wins with eight. Niemi obviously needs a shooter or two to score a goal to win the skills contest, but he was outstanding when facing down the best shooters in the Western Conference in one-on-one situations.
Love it or hate it, the shootout was a massive part of the 2013 season, and Niemi helped the Sharks take eight extra points in the standings—four extra wins worth, which is magnified when you realize San Jose only made the postseason by two points.
If that isn't clutch I don't know what is.
Making the Case for Sergei Bobrovsky
It got to the point towards the end of the season where you were actually surprised to see the Columbus Blue Jackets drop a game.
The 24-year-old Sergei Bobrovsky was jettisoned out of Philadelphia after the Flyers signed Ilya Bryzgalov to a massive and long-term deal, and he has done nothing but solidify the goaltending position for the (kind of) rebuilding Jackets.
At the beginning of the season, Columbus struggled to find an identity and allowed Steve Mason his fair share of starts early on. A 9-2-3 March saw Bobrovsky secure the starting position for good, and Mason was later shipped to Philly of all places.
Across those 14 games, the man they call Bob was nearly unbeatable. He was named the NHL's third star of the month after posting three shutouts and a 1.50 GAA. Suddenly Columbus was in the thick of the playoff race despite a lousy start, and Bobrovsky refused to come back down to earth.
He finished the year 21-11-6. Bob's .932 save percentage was second in the NHL, and his 2.00 GAA was good for fifth. Bobrovsky also posted four shutouts total, tying him for sixth overall despite falling outside of the top 10 in games started.
The Jackets just barely missed the playoffs, and if the season had been two games longer they likely would have made the dance despite the odds being heavily against them. Bob continued to win with the season on the line and showed outstanding mental toughness in the process.
Our Winner: Sergei Bobrovsky
Who doesn't love a good underdog story?
Sergei Bobrovsky broke into the NHL as an undrafted goaltender and was unceremoniously shipped out of Philadelphia when they brought in a bright and shiny new toy. He was an afterthought pickup during the offseason as best, and didn't show up on many radars as a possible impact guy on a new team.
However, his impact on the Columbus Blue Jackets has been massive.
Goaltending—and none of the other perceived issues—has been the bane of the Blue Jackets for the better part of three seasons. Bobrovsky stepped in and solidified the most important position in the game and gave the Blue Jackets confidence that they could go out and play their game every night without worrying about soft goals.
With Steve Mason in net, they started every hockey game down 3-0 before the puck even dropped. It's impossible to win that way.
While he didn't have quite the body of work that Henrik Lundqvist and Antti Niemi, that shouldn't prevent him from winning the award here. He played in enough games where voters know that he is for real, and had to fight to become a starter with his club.
Bobrovsky won eight of his last nine games with the Jackets vying for a playoff position and needing every single point to get there. They lost out in the closing minutes of the regular season, but that had nothing to do with Bob's play.
While Lundqvist and Niemi have both been outstanding, Sergei Bobrovsky has been the best netminder in the NHL in 2013 and deserves the Vezina Trophy.