Ranking the 2013-14 Vezina Trophy Candidates

Steve Macfarlane@@MacfarlaneHKYFeatured ColumnistMarch 21, 2014

Ranking the 2013-14 Vezina Trophy Candidates

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    Brian Blanco/Associated Press

    The Vezina Trophy is given to the goalie whom the 30 NHL general managers judge to be the best at the position.

    But what makes a netminder the best in the league? Is it his goals-against average, save percentage, number of wins or shutouts? Is it more than a numbers game? How does the quality of the team in front of the netminder affect opinion, or should it play into consideration at all?

    Consistency could be key for some, while clutch saves might sway others jotting names down at the end of the year.

    There are plenty of quality goaltenders this season. Click through to see the merits and questions of the top candidates for the 2013-14 campaign.

Honorable Mentions

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    Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

    Corey Crawford (Chicago Blackhawks)

    It’s tough to leave the defending Stanley Cup winning goalie out of the top tier, but his team is so talented and his play so generic, he probably won't warrant much consideration from the GMs as the league’s top goaltender. The Blackhawks netminder could earn another Cup ring and stick them in his ears Patrick Roy style so he can’t hear any negative talk, though.

    Josh Harding (Minnesota Wild)

    Early this season, it looked as if Harding might be the runaway winner in this category, but battling multiple sclerosis proved to be a more difficult job than stopping pucks for the Wild. His numbers are stellar—better than the rest of the competition—but his health didn’t allow him to play enough games to warrant votes for the trophy.

    Ryan Miller (St. Louis Blues)

    If Miller had been with the Blues all season long, he might be in the top three. His .923 save percentage is right at the top with other full-time starters, and considering he toiled for the league's cellar dwellers most of the season, the former Buffalo Sabres backstop's 2.57 goals-against average isn't all that bad.

    Ben Scrivens (Edmonton Oilers)

    If Scrivens played for anyone other than the Oilers, he might actually win some games. Many of the half-dozen he has won since coming over in the trade with the Los Angeles Kings have been because of heroic efforts. His .931 save percentage is the best in the NHL for goalies who have played at least 30 games, and he has posted that total with both the Oilers and Kings this year.

9. Marc-Andre Fleury

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    Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

    Why he's worthy

    Marc-Andre Fleury is tied for second in wins with 34, and his goals-against average of 2.39 is respectable. With a save percentage of .915—higher than his career average of .910—Fleury is playing as well as he has in his career.

    Why he won't win

    Deserved or not, Fleury has struggled with his playoff reputation since his Stanley Cup victory in 2009. Not that his performance in big games in the postseason should factor into what he's doing this year but votes will be hard to come by for him partially because of his past and the perception he's not a top-flight netminder.

8. Jonathan Bernier (Toronto Maple Leafs)

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Why he's worthy

    Jonathan Bernier has been the Toronto Maple Leafs’ most valuable player this season. Anyone who says Phil Kessel is either Mayor of Toronto or related to Phil Kessel.

    Don’t get me wrong, Kessel has been amazing this year, but that only tells you how incredible Bernier has been for a Leafs team that has a porous defense and allows the most shots against per game (36.2) and generates some of the fewest (27.9) and still finds itself in a playoff spot.

    Bernier started the year in a bit of a time share with fellow backstop James Reimer but firmly grasped the starter’s role within a couple of months. He’s got a 2.61 goals-against average but a top-tier save percentage of .925.

    Why he won't win

    Bernier—who is currently out with a groin strain—hasn't started or won enough to be considered one of the finalists, although you never know what kind of votes he might get from those sympathetic that the best defensive defenseman in front of him is Dion Phaneuf.

7. Antti Niemi (San Jose Sharks)

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    Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

    Why he's worthy

    He’s an Al Davis-worthy goaltender. Antti Niemi just wins, baby. Not a flashy goalie or one who garners much attention overall on the West Coast but Niemi gets the job done for the San Jose Sharks.

    He’s up at the top when it comes to wins for goalies this season (35), with a 2.34 goals-against average and .914 save percentage.

    Why he won't win

    His numbers aside from the wins total don't match the elite numbers put up by the others in the category.

6. Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles Kings)

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    Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sport

    Why he's worthy

    He owns a 2.07 goals-against average, a .915 save percentage and 22 wins in 40 starts for the Los Angeles Kings this season. He was also Team USA’s starting goalie at the Winter Olympic Games, and while that doesn’t have anything to do with his NHL performance, it’s a fact not lost on voters.

    Why he won't win

    His groin strain cost him valuable time early in the season, and other goaltenders—Ben Scrivens and Martin Jones—also had success while he was out, making it valid to ask whether Quick is a product of coach Darryl Sutter’s defensive system or an elite goalie.

5. Carey Price (Montreal Canadiens)

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    Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

    Why he's worthy

    Because he backstopped Team Canada to a gold medal at...what? That doesn’t count?

    Carey Price has been just about as good for the Montreal Canadiens as the Canadians at the Sochi Games. He’s faced a lot of shots but has a save percentage of .924 and a respectable 2.38 goals-against average while putting together a 28-18-5 record so far to keep the Habs in contention for at least a wild-card spot.

    Why he won't win

    He went through a rough patch in January, including a stretch during which he allowed 17 goals in four straight losses. His post-Olympic injury also might have derailed any momentum he was building for votes. Also, there are other slightly more impressive candidates to choose from.

4. Sergei Bobrovsky (Columbus Blue Jackets)

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Why he's worthy

    For one, he’s proving last year’s win in the shortened season wasn’t a total fluke. Sergei Bobrovsky is still one of the league’s best goaltenders when healthy. He struggled early in the season, and an injury in early December kept him from gaining any kind of a rhythm.

    However, since Christmas he’s been a man possessed between the pipes, stringing together 17 wins in 25 games and improving his goals-against average to 2.49 on the season and his save percentage to .919.

    Without Bobrovsky’s strong second half this season, the Blue Jackets don’t stand a chance in the playoff race.

    Why he won't win

    That first half was just awful. In most fantasy hockey leagues, Bobrovsky became waiver-wire fodder by Christmas, and last year’s Vezina-winning performance was quickly forgotten. Without the consistency of an entire year, the question marks about Bob won’t go away.

3. Semyon Varlamov (Colorado Avalanche)

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    Michael Martin/Getty Images

    Why he's worthy

    The performance of the Colorado Avalanche is one of the best storylines of the season, and Semyon Varlamov has been as big a part of that success as the dynamic young forwards offering plenty of goal support.

    Varlamov’s personal off-ice issues had many wondering what his future might look like, but the Avs remained supportive. The Russian has rewarded the team with consistent and, yes, Vezina-worthy play.

    He's in the hunt for most wins on the season by a netminder.

    The young and flawed Avs defense allows plenty of chances for opponents, so Varlamov’s 2.49 goals-against average isn’t glowing, but his save percentage is an impressive .925.

    Why he won't win

    Rookie head coach Patrick Roy gets much of the credit for pushing the Avalanche into elite territory this season. Roy is a lock for coach-of-the-year honors, which means Varlamov—on top of the already stiff competition from his peers—might be losing to his coach in some aspects as well.

2. Ben Bishop (Tampa Bay Lightning)

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    Brian Blanco/Associated Press

    Why he's worthy

    Because the Tampa Bay Lightning lost Steven Stamkos to a broken leg and didn’t fall out of playoff contention. And because the team lost its captain when Martin St. Louis forced a trade out of town and the Bolts are still battling for the second spot in the Atlantic Division.

    Ben Bishop has used his 6'7" size and considerable skill to full potential this season, proving Lighting GM Steve Yzerman is a crafty guy for pulling the netminder out of Ottawa in a deal for a fourth-round pick and Cory Conacher, with Conacher now a member of the Buffalo Sabres after the Senators decided he couldn’t’ cut it on their team and waived him.

    Bishop’s numbers look just about as good as Rask’s, with a 2.17 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.

    Why he won't win

    In the two-horse race, Bishop’s jockey isn’t quite as good or as famous as Rask’s. The Bruins are a better team, and that could play into the voting. It's a bit of a coin toss, though, because that same factor could push him past Rask as a better goalie in some minds.

1. Tuukka Rask (Boston Bruins)

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    Francois Lacasse/Getty Images

    Why he's worthy

    When you put Tuukka Rask’s numbers across the statistical line together, they’re just better collectively than everyone else in the conversation. His 2.07 goals-against average is as good or better than every one of his competitors who have played at least 40 games this season. The same can be said for his .929 save percentage.

    It helps that he plays in Boston, where the Bruins boast the giant Zdeno Chara clearing the crease of bodies and rebounds, but the defensive depth of last year’s Stanley Cup runner-up has suffered with the loss of Andrew Ference to free agency and Dennis Seidenberg to injury. So many nights, the burden is square on Rask’s shoulders to shut down the opposition.

    He makes many difficult saves look easy and is definitely the favorite to take the trophy at the moment.

    Why he won't win

    One of the other goalies might have to invent a time machine, go back to the start of the season and hire a goon to whack Rask’s knee with a billy club. That, or the league’s voters feel Ben Bishop did as much or more with a weaker team in front of him.

    Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics are from NHL.com and current through March 20, 2014.

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