There was a time when the winner of Vezina Trophy was pretty much a given.
From 1988-1993, Patrick Roy and Ed Belfour were the award's only winners. Dominik Hasek dominated the voting from 1993-2001, winning six times in eight years. From 2003-2008, the award was Martin Brodeur's to lose, and he did so only once (to Calgary Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff).
The last five years, though, have not seen a single dominant goalie. Four different players have won the award, with Tim Thomas being the only repeat winner in that span, and with three of the last four winners (including incumbent Sergei Bobrovsky) having middling seasons thus far in 2013-14, the field is wide open once again.
Who has the best chance at winning this year when all is said and done? Read on for our list.
Statistics courtesy of NHL.com and current through December 21.
The numbers: 27 games played, 13-9-4, .922 save percentage.
What he's likely to do the rest of the way: Steve Mason has had a fantastic start to the 2013-14 season, and one that doesn't square with what he's done in the past. A comparison of goaltenders who enjoyed the kind of spike at the same age as Mason is now shows that they almost always regress to their previous level of performance.
Incidentally, at the time that piece was written, Mason had a .932 save percentage and hadn't allowed more than four goals in a game. In the seven contests since, he has allowed four goals on four separate occasions and has a .885 save percentage.
Bottom line: If he can keep up his current average level of play, he'll be in the mix. He likely can't.
The numbers: 24 games played, 10-11-2, .925 save percentage.
What he's likely to do the rest of the way: Jonathan Bernier is a wild card. He has played all of 64 NHL games prior to this season, and though his true level of ability in the majors is still unknown, his work in the minors suggests he's roughly a .919 save-percentage goalie.
He has some problems, though. The Maple Leafs are currently slumping badly, and Bernier's facing stiff competition for starts in the form of James Reimer, a very good goalie in his own right.
Bottom line: Bernier doesn't stand a chance if he can't cleanly win the starting job in Toronto. If he does, though, he might well be a legitimate contender.
The numbers: 31 games played, 16-9-6, .919 save percentage.
What he's likely to do the rest of the way: Roberto Luongo is a career .919 save percentage goalie sporting a .919 save percentage; this is his established level of ability, and it's awfully good. A hot stretch could push him higher and a cold stretch could push him lower, but the best bet is the status quo.
Bottom line: Very good goalies having great seasons win the Vezina; so far, Luongo's just a very good goalie having a very good season.
The numbers: 30 games played, 20-8-1, .924 save percentage.
What he's likely to do the rest of the way: It's impossible to completely ignore the NHL wins leader on this list, even if wins are an antiquated and inaccurate way of judging goaltending talent, and even if said wins leader is one of the most kicked-around goalies in the league.
Marc-Andre Fleury has turned in a fantastic performance for the Pittsburgh Penguins to date, and it's not that far ahead of his results in five of the last six seasons. He might be able to keep it up.
Bottom line: Fleury will be hard to ignore if he can maintain his performance to date.
The numbers: 25 games played, 8-17-0, .922 save percentage.
What he's likely to do the rest of the way: Ryan Miller has been providing a very bad Buffalo Sabres team with some very good goaltending. He's an unrestricted free agent and likely deadline trade bait; a move to a contender would help his chances at a second Vezina immensely.
Bottom line: Miller had a career year in 2009-10 to win once before; a strong second half could do it again.
The numbers: 25 games played, 16-8-1, .924 save percentage.
What he's likely to do the rest of the way: Who knows? Semyon Varlamov has enjoyed an erratic NHL career, turning in superb performances (such as his work in 2010-11 that convinced Colorado to trade for him) and disastrous campaigns (his collapse last year was a key factor in the Avs drafting Nathan MacKinnon). On his career, he's an above-average goalie, and he's flying high right now.
Bottom line: Colorado has been one, if not the best surprise in the NHL, and Varlamov's role in that will weigh heavily in the voting—if it lasts.
The numbers: 26 games played, 18-5-2, .934 save percentage.
What he's likely to do the rest of the way: Like Jonathan Bernier, Ben Bishop is a bit of a wild card, having played only 45 NHL games prior to this season. Also like Bernier, his past track record in the minors is pretty good.
Where Bishop differs from the Leafs goaltender is that there is no credible opponent to him for minutes in Tampa Bay; backup goalie Anders Lindback has been a disaster, and the Lightning will likely ride Bishop for all that he's worth.
Bottom line: Bishop is one of four goalies tightly packed near the top of this list, and he has solid (if short) career numbers. He's a contender.
The numbers: 29 games played, 16-11-2, .932 save percentage.
What he's likely to do the rest of the way: Carey Price has rebounded nicely after a lousy 2012-13 campaign, and while he has had some good years in the past, he's on pace for the best season of his career.
A lot of it is on the back of a .914 save percentage on the penalty kill; a year ago, that number was .804, and the year before that, it was .907. It'll be interesting to see how he performs.
Bottom line: He's a top goaltender and a legitiamte candidate, the second of four on this list.
The numbers: 27 games played, 18-5-3, .939 save percentage.
What he's likely to do the rest of the way: It's easy to forget—given Harding's health concerns and his performance in five games last season—that Harding was one of the top up-and-coming goalies in the NHL not all that long ago. As recently as 2011-12, he posted a .917 save percentage in 34 games for Minnesota, and he has a career number of .919.
He's playing extremely well, performing at Dominik Hasek-in-his-prime levels. That may not last, but he's not exactly coming out of nowhere.
Bottom line: If the voting were held today, Harding would deserve to win.
The numbers: 27 games played, 17-8-2, .934 save percentage.
What he's likely to do the rest of the way: The really incredible thing about Tuukka Rask's ridiculous numbers is that they really aren't particularly out of the ordinary. Rask is a .928 career save-percentage goalie, and he's the best bet in this group to be at the top of the list when the 2013-14 season is in the books.
One question worth asking is how much of it is on Rask and how much of it is on the Boston Bruins' defence. Sportsnet's Chris Boyle published an interesting study that suggested Rask generally faces less dangerous shots than someone like Carey Price, and it raises some questions about how far we can trust his straight save percentage.
Even so, he's almost certainly one of the best in the NHL.
Bottom line: An exceptional goalie in front of an excellent team, Rask seems like the best bet right now to win the Vezina this year.