The Top Five Vezina Candidates for the 2011-12 Season
Last season Tim Thomas took the NHL by storm and captured his second Vezina trophy—awarded to the league's best goaltender—in dominating fashion. Tim Thomas has two wins in the past three years, Martin Brodeur had four wins in five NHL seasons from 2002-2008, and Dominik Hasek ruled the '90s as he pulled in six trophies. Despite the award's veteran tendencies, there is always room for a surprise candidate to rule the ice for a year, from Ryan Miller—off an MVP Olympic year—to Jose Theodore, who won the Hart and the Vezina not that long ago. Who will take home the hardware this season?
What does Pekka Rinne have going for him? Other than the fact he's protected by the NHL’s best defensive pairing (Top Defensive Pairings in the NHL), Pekka’s workload has been increasing every year, and every year he has responded with an excellent season, the last of which provided him with a Vezina nomination. Nobody could have beaten Tim Thomas’ record breaking year but Rinne was indeed one of the top three goalies in the league for which he earned his recognition.
Something else to give Rinne a little extra incentive to have a career year is the fact that this will be his contract year. Even if the Predators are not willing to shell out big dollars for his services, you can bet someone out there will be more than happy to.
Philadelphia’s new franchise goalie is only one year removed from a Vezina-nominated season with the Phoenix Coyotes. Philadelphia did not have a regular season shutout last year; Ilya Bryzgalov brings 21 with him from Phoenix. Playing behind a superior team at both ends of the rink, the Russian netminder will benefit from not constantly being under fire and having two star defensemen and leaders—Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen—in front of him.
The King had a career year in 2010-11, posting career highs in save percentage (.923) and shutouts (11) and an extremely respectable 2.28 GAA. The Rangers’ defense is improving every year. Players like Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, and Michael Sauer will make life much easier for Lundqvist currently and down the road.
The signing of Brad Richards is an added bonus for Lundqvist; when Richards is on the ice, the puck will most likely be in the offensive zone, leaving Lundqvist to daydream and watch his team score goals.
What else can be said about the man who took home the hardware last year? When Tim Thomas was between the pipes, the Bruins won. It’s been a long time since we have seen such a dominating and successful season from a goaltender who carried his team all the way to a Stanley Cup. Almost traded during the last offseason, Thomas probably would not have been a Bruin had he not had such a large contract.
The Bruins mantra should be "Sometimes the best moves are the ones you don’t make." There’s no reason to believe a healthy Thomas won’t be in the Vezina voting once again next year. Although repeating his numbers from last season might be a nearly impossible task, you can bet on him coming very close to playing at the same level.
Much in the manner that Tim Thomas had paid his dues before winning it all, perhaps it is Tomas Vokoun’s time to capture glory. At 35, Vokoun has not had the pleasure of playing for a dominant team or—some could even say—a good team. For the last four seasons with the Florida Panthers, Vokoun played in front of some decent defensemen, but never had the offense to complement them and create a winning team. Despite the fact that Vokoun was shot at more than a clay pigeon, he still managed to post six shutouts, a .922 save percentage, and a decent 2.55 GAA. Before his time with the Panthers, Vokoun played for two decent Nashville teams that, like Florida, just didn’t have the firepower or the complete defense to turn into anything special.
The fact is that wherever he has been, Vokoun has been a good soldier and carried his team to relative success. For the first time in his career, Vokoun will play for a Stanley Cup contender. Coming into Washington he will be handed the starting goalie job—despite fellow Czech Michal Neuvirth's dependable last season. Vokoun is a top five goalie in the NHL, and when he accepted a 1.5 million dollar deal, it proved he had one thing on his mind—winning it all—and that’s what the Capitals will give him a chance to do this season.