The Vezina trophy is given out annually to the national hockey league goalie who is judged to be “best” at his position.
When introduced it in 1927 it was designed to commemorate George Vezina, the great Canadien’s goalie who died of tuberculosis the year before. The trophy was handed to the goalie or goalies who gave up the fewest goals in a season.
Back then there was only one goalie per team so the goalie on the team with the lowest GAA was seen to be the best in the league.
Come the 1980-81 season, Dennis Heron, Michel “Bunny” Laroque and Richard Sevigny became the first triumvirate to win the Vezina. However, their names don't resonate down the halls of NHL goaltender greatness.
It became obvious that the award was no longer rewarding the leagues best goaltender.
In this case, a committee of fair goalies playing on the best defensive team in the league won the award.
The William M. Jennings trophy was established the next year to reward the goaltenders on the team that allowed the fewest goals during the regular season. The Vezina would now be given out to the single goalie the 30 NHL general managers deemed to be the best in league.
The trophy thus wandered from being a quantifiable certainty to being a matter of opinion among the leagues GM’s.
What with the quirky NHL scheduling there could quite easily be very worthy goaltending candidates that a GM will never see play during the season so it’s useful to have some sort of statistical method to help determine the leagues best goalies.
The coming of the Jennings trophy also acknowledged that GAA was perhaps more indicative of overall team defensive play than a particular goalie's ability relative to others in the league.
Save percentage, wins and shut-outs are certainly helpful in trying to evaluate a goalie's ability. All these numbers of course can be tainted by how good or bad a defensive team is playing in front of them.
I’ve got no absolute solution for that problem and no perfect way to extract a goalie's contribution and his team's contribution from the various NHL defensive statistics.
I've collected GAA, save percentage numbers, wins, shut-outs, and minutes played for every goalie in the league. I’ve also taken the number of saves a goalie has made to date and divided that by number of minutes played, divided by 60, to get an average saves per game number for every goalie in the league.
I’ve also looked at the number of shots on goal each goalie’s team is giving up and subtracted their saves per game from that total for another type of goals against average.
There's no definitive numerical system for ranking goalies, but this is the result of what I've put together. I'm using the shots on goal that the various teams allow as a rough indicator of a teams defensive ability and an indication of how easy or hard a particular goalie's job is with a particular team.
The cut-off for ranking goalies was a third of their team’s minutes. If a goalie hasn’t played at least a third of his team’s minutes I didn’t bother counting his statistics or using them in the ranking process.
Even though I ranked those players, I can’t believe I’d consider a goalie for a Vezina unless he played at least half of his teams minutes. Back-up goalies have a lighter workload and tend to play against weaker teams which makes their numbers better.
Also Rans : These goalies have had great years but don’t make my top five.
Jonathon Quick LA Kings (2.50 GAA, .909 sv pct, 39 W, 4 SO)
Jonathon is having a great year for LA helping them to what looks to be their first playoff appearance in years. His numbers are buoyed by the fact that he’s played the second most minutes in the entire league.
His 39 wins are tied for second overall with Bryzgalov.
He's managed a 2.50 GAA, which is 14th among the goalies in the league who have played at least a third of their teams minutes. He has a fair .909 save percentage. The median save percentage in this group of 42 goalies is .912.
He’s playing on a Los Angeles team that gives up the third fewest shots on goal in the league which makes his job easier and perhaps make his numbers better than they should be.
Roberto Luongo Vancouver Canucks (2.48 GAA, .915 sv pct, 37 W, 3 SO)
Fresh from winning the starting job for Canada at the Olympics from Martin Brodeur and then winning the gold medal, this looked like a year for Roberto to challenge for the Vezina trophy.
Instead, last year's .920 save percentage has sunk to .915. Last year's 2.34 goals against average is now 2.48.
He’s still having a good year, but he’s sunk from fifth overall in both categories to 13th overall. He’s fifth in wins, ninth in minutes played and 11th in total saves.
That makes him a very good goalie, just not one of the four or five best.
Henrik Lundqvist New York Rangers (2.42 GAA, .919 sv pct, 29 W, 3 SO)
Henrik is one of the league leaders in wins, saves and minutes played.
He was a top twenty goalie in every statistical category I looked at, but like last year he grades out as the tenth or eleventh best goalie in the league.
Playing for the Rangers certainly hasn’t helped his win total.
Martin Brodeur New Jersey Devils (2.34 GAA, .914 sv pct, 40 W, 7 SO)
Brodeur is in the running as one of the greatest goalies of all-time.
Recent performances in the playoffs and at the Olympics this year have shown that age may be catching up with him.
He’s the league leader in wins and minutes played and is tied for second in shut-outs behind Bryzgalov.
The Devils seem to have recovered their defensive moxy this year and are giving up the second fewest shots on goal in the league, insulating Brodeur from too much pressure.
If they can continue to do that in the playoffs he could still perform well there.
Tuukka Rask Boston Bruins (2.02 GAA, .930 sv pct, 18 W, 4 SO)
Tuukka has been platooning with last years Vezina trophy winner Tim Thomas and they each played about a half of their team’s minutes.
Rask is the league leader in goals against and save percentage. His four shut-outs are more impressive because he’s played barely 58% of the minutes Ryan Miller has and Miller has five.
The Bruins are giving up a 15th worse in the league, 30 shots a game. Throw in the pressure on a goalie playing in front of Boston’s league-worst offense and Rask’s numbers seem more Vezina worthy than some others.
Tuukka unfortunately hasn’t played enough games.
He’s got just barely over half the minutes that Martin Brodeur has put in this season. A heavier work-load should increase that goals against average and decrease that save percentage.
If he manages to up his games played and maintain his other numbers look for the youngster to win a Vezina in the future.
Jimmy Howard Detroit Red Wings (2.29 GAA, .924 sv pct, 30 W, 1 SO)
Jimmy has finally supplanted Chris Osgood in Detroit.
This is while the Red Wings have slipped back from being defensive leaders in the league to giving up a 13th worst 29.8 shots per game against.
Howard has the fourth best save percentage and the sixth best goals against average in the league.
He’s taken on a fair workload having played 3,248 minutes so far and he’s tenth in wins with 30. Howard still needs to have his mettle tested in the playoffs but he’s having a break-out season in net for Detroit this year.
Contenders : These are my top five goalies who all have a shot at the Vezina
Evgeni Nabokov San Jose Sharks (2.43 GAA, .921 sv pct, 38 W, 2 SO)
Nabokov has developed a reputation for not being able to compete at the highest level.
He’s a great regular season goalie, but he can’t cut it in the playoffs or apparently at the Olympics.
Well, Nabokov is having another great regular season.
San Jose was last year's tightest defensive team giving up a mere 27.2 shots per game. This year they’re 18th and giving up 31 shots per game. In the face of that onslaught, Nabokov, rather than wilting, has bloomed.
Last year's .910 save percentage is now a seventh best .921. His goals against average, despite the extra three shots per game, has shrunk from 2.48 to 2.43.
He’s having a Vezina kind of year. It still needs to be seen if he’s having a Conn Smythe kind of year.
Craig Anderson Colorado Avalanche (2.53 GAA, .921 sv pct, 36 W, 7 SO)
Anderson's steady goaltending is a major reason for Colorado’s rebound from being the worst team in the western Conference last year.
He was baptized in fire with Florida last year, making a league-leading 33.12 saves per game. This year, the mere 32.1 shots per game Colorado gives up must seem like a vacation.
Despite almost doubling his work load from last year, Anderson has maintained his numbers. He has the seventh best save percentage in the league, the 17th best GAA, he’s second in shut-outs, third in minutes played, first in total saves made, fifth in saves per game made, and seventh in wins.
Anderson has been a saviour for the Avalanche and well worth Vezina consideration.
Miikka Kiprusoff Calgary Flames (2.21 GAA, .923 sv pct, 32 W, 4 SO)
After years of steadily decreasing performances, Miikka Kiprusoff has rebounded to become the goalie he was five years ago.
His fifth-best save percentage and fourth-best goals against average is one of the few bright spots left on a Flames team ready to miss the playoffs.
He’s a top ten performer in every category I looked at but saves per game. It’s a shame to see this performance wasted.
Tomas Vokoun Florida Panthers (2.45 GAA, .928 sv pct, 23 W, 7 SO)
While Craig Anderson managed to escape the shooting gallery, in Florida Tomas Vokoun was left behind.
Florida once again leads the league in shots allowed.
Vokoun once again is a league leader in stopping that hurricane of shots.
He’s third in save percentage, second in total saves and saves per game, second in shut-outs and tenth in minutes played. Playing a lot of games in a high shot environment hasn’t burnt him out yet.
There was talk Vokoun was going to be traded at the deadline.
If a regular goalie gets stuck with his job in Florida, we’ll see some goals against numbers that we haven’t seen in the league since the early '80s.
Ilya Bryzgalov Phoenix Coyotes (2.28 GAA, .921 sv pct, 39 W, 8 SO)
Bryzgalov is another goalie who appears to be carrying his team on his back into the playoffs.
He’s leading the league in shut-outs and is tied for second in wins. He’s fifth in goals against average and seventh in save percentage. Bryzgalov has played the sixth most minutes in the league and has made the sixth most saves.
Phoenix has had a middle-of-the-road defense this year, giving up the 12th most shots on goal.
Bryzgalov is almost my Vezina trophy winner.
Vezina Trophy Winner —Best Goalie in the League
Ryan Miller Buffalo Sabres (2.20 GAA, .929 sv pct, 37 W, 5 SO)
Miller returned to the NHL from an Olympic tournament where he won a silver medal and was chosen first team all-star goalie, best goalie of the tournament and tournament MVP.
His numbers in the NHL have been almost as good.
He’s got the second-best save percentage and the third-best goals against percentage in the league. He’s fifth in wins, seventh in shut-outs, fourth in saves, ninth in saves per game, and eighth in minutes played.
Buffalo, giving up a 22nd worst 31.4 shots per game, looks like a pretty ordinary team without Ryan Miller.
Take a look at what Buffalo did last year while Miller was hurt and Lalime was in net.
With Ryan Miller they’re looking like Northwest Conference champions. He’s been a good goalie for a while now in the NHL but this year he’s looking like the leagues best goalie.
NHL’s 10 Best Goalies This Season
1. Ryan Miller- Buf
2. Ilya Bryzgalov- Pho
3. Tomas Vokoun- Fla
4. Miikka Kiprusoff- Cal
5. Evgeni Nabokov- SJ
6. Craig Anderson- Col
7. Roberto Luongo- Van
8. Tuukka Rask- Bos
9. Jimmy Howard- Det
10. Martin Brodeur-NJ
Notes: A very few teams had two goalies sharing the duties in nets who were also top twenty goalies as far as save percentage was concerned: Boston, Montreal and St. Louis.
Both goalies are providing above average goaltending, but apparently the teams are so bad that only a top ten goalie can succeed with them.
That appears to be why Jaroslav Halak and Tuukka Rask have won the starting jobs despite very good play from Price and Thomas. Mason appears to have hung on to the job in St. Louis but he has managed a winning record 25-21-8—unlike Price’s 13-19-5, and Thomas’s 16-17-8.
Antti Niemi managed a 16th best save percentage of .913.
Behind Chicago’s league best defensive team play, this has translated into 20 wins, six shut-outs and a second-best in the league 2.19 GAA.
Cristobel Huet who has had a miserable year after a good start, has the league's eighth-best goals against average and 26 wins and four shut-outs. This all with the 39th worst save percentage among the 42 goalies who have played at least a third of their teams minutes; a horrible .899.
That Chicago defense makes up for a lot of deficiencies.
My choice last year as best goalie in the league, Niklas Backstrom, and my third place goalie Steve Mason, have fallen on hard times this year.
Mason has the second-worst save percentage among the league's starters. This year they’ve only been top 20 in categories like minutes played. Tim Thomas, my second best goalie last year, has fallen—but his numbers are still above average.
Nikolai Khabibulin, my fifth best goalie from last year, has fallen off the planet.
Marc-Andre Fleury, the Stanley cup champion goalie, is sporting a very ordinary .906 save percentage. He might need to get a little sharper come playoff time.