Ranking the Top Early Candidates for the 2014-15 Vezina Trophy

Steve Macfarlane@@MacfarlaneHKYFeatured ColumnistOctober 28, 2014

Ranking the Top Early Candidates for the 2014-15 Vezina Trophy

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    USA TODAY Sports

    It's never too early to talk trophies.

    Goaltenders have been a big storyline early in this NHL season, and the Vezina Trophy can only be claimed by one of them. Who will it be? There are a lot of games to be played and months to pass before we know for sure, but the last two winners aren't even on the list to be considered at this point.

    Granted, we're less than a month into the action; however, it's interesting to see that Boston Bruins star Tuukka Rask and Columbus Blue Jackets backstop Sergei Bobrovsky are posting less-than-impressive numbers so far. New Vancouver Canucks starter Ryan Miller is racking up the wins, but a goalie with a save percentage under .910 isn't going to take home the hardware.

    And in what world would you expect New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist to own a save percentage below .900 and a goals-against average above 3.00? Not one the Rangers want to live in.

    Taking wins, save percentage, goals-against average and reputation into account—something that inevitably happens come voting time regardless of whether or not it's supposed to—we've ranked the early-season Vezina candidates here.

    A couple of new names are right near the top of the list, thanks to smoking-hot starts.

    Click ahead to see where they land.

Honorable Mentions

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    Jonas Hiller, Calgary Flames: Despite sharing time with Kari Ramo, the former Anaheim Ducks starter has had huge moments in his limited starts and looks like a bargain veteran addition for the Flames with a 3-2-0 record, 1.78 goals-against average and .948 save percentage—including a shutout.

    Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins: Marc-Andre Fleury, the regular-season version, is back. A 4-2-0 record with a 2.34 GAA and .920 save percentage. Fleury has a terrible reputation in the playoffs but has always been near the top of the wins category. He hasn't had strong enough numbers in the individual performance categories to get the Vezina votes, however.  

    Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals: Holtby showed a lot of promise two seasons ago and looks to be back on track with the Caps. He started out of the games with a 3-1-1 record, a 1.92 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage with one shutout.

    Kari Lehtonen, Dallas Stars: The Stars are rolling early, and so is Lehtonen, who has yet to lose in regulation, and despite a higher GAA of 2.73, his save percentage of .915 is respectable, and he's been a key to the early success. All that and he's doing it with a weak group of defensemen in front of him.

    Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings: Like the Chicago Blackhawks' Corey Crawford, the Detroit Red Wings' Jimmy Howard doesn't get a lot of credit for the job he does between the pipes. His start to the year in another of the team's seasons of uncertainty has given him the title of the Wings' most consistent player in the early going. He has a 3-1-2 record, 1.96 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage.

7. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    By the numbers: 6-1-0 record; 2.67 goals-against average; .913 save percentage

    What they mean: Aside from the wins, his GAA and save percentage are nothing to get too excited about. But victories go a long way in the voting circle for the Vezina, and as long as Carey Price continues to be the workhorse for the Montreal Canadiens, he will get his fair share of glances.

    Projection for 2014-15: The Canadiens play a fairly high-risk game, so the goals-against average won't be in the upper echelon of goaltenders. But with his workload, his victories will be among the highest in number. The key for Carey will be his save percentage in case of a tie in the eyes of the voters. There are variables, however, including his perceived importance to the team. And Price is a big leader in the Habs locker room.

6. Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    By the numbers: 4-1-1 record; 2.21 goals-against average; .918 save percentage

    What they mean: Ben Bishop still has a way to go in proving his impressive debut as a starting goalie last season with the Tampa Bay Lightning is something he can equal or better. His first half-dozen games are a great start, and the elbow injury that kept him out of the playoffs appears to be completely healed.

    Projection for 2014-15: The Lightning may not have survived the loss of Steven Stamkos for much of last season without Bishop guiding them to the playoffs. With an even more dangerous squad in front of him, Bishop will once again be one of the top goaltenders in the NHL to help the Bolts challenge for the Eastern Conference title.

5. Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks

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    By the numbers: 3-0-1 record; 1.66 goals-against average; .926 save percentage

    What they mean: An injury after the first few games has put a dent into Corey Crawford's ice time, but he started the season strong for the Chicago Blackhawks as he looks to further establish himself as one of the league's top goalies.

    Projection for 2014-15: Crawford is skating, as per ESPNChicago.com's Scott Powers, a sign his upper-body injury is on the mend. Prior to being hurt, Crawford hadn't lost a game in regulation, and his GAA and save percentage were among the best in the league.

    He may never be the odds-on favorite, but he could find himself in the top five in the voting if he can pile up wins, keep his GAA under two and keep his save percentage in the 92 percent range.

4. Darcy Kuemper, Minnesota Wild

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    By the numbers: 4-2-0 record; 1.51 goals-against average; .934 save percentage; three shutouts

    What they mean: The Minnesota Wild must be pretty happy about the way things worked out with their insurance plan. With projected starter Josh Harding still working toward managing his multiple sclerosis symptoms and then fracturing his foot in a fit of rage during the preseason, Darcy Kuemper found himself with a new two-year, one-way contract.

    This is case rather than of his following through on his threats to bolt for the KHL if a new deal didn't guarantee him NHL dollars. Starting with back-to-back blankings of the Colorado Avalanche, Kuemper has been consistently good.

    Projection for 2014-15: With Harding's uncertain future and Kuemper's fantastic start, the Wild will ride their young netminder as long as possible, and he'll earn a significant number of votes for the Vezina if the team continues to play as well collectively as it has early on.

3. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators

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    By the numbers: 5-1-1 record; 1.81 goals-against average; .932 save percentage; one shutout

    What they mean: It seems Pekka Rinne is fully healthy after last year's awful hip injury forced him to miss 51 games. Even when he returned late in the season, he didn't look like his usual unflappable self. So far, so good in his 2014-15 debut as the new-look Nashville Predators have their reliable backstop playing as well as ever.

    Projection for 2014-15: If he's healthy and the Predators play as well throughout the season as they have the first couple of weeks, Rinne could get a heavy workload and come close to his career high of 43 wins. With his history and a strong group in front of him, he's a legitimate threat to win some hardware.

2. Frederik Andersen, Anaheim Ducks

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    By the numbers: 6-1-0 record; 1.69 goals-against average; .940 save percentage; one shutout

    What they mean: Undefeated in six straight starts before finally dropping a decision, Frederik Andersen has quickly taken control of the Anaheim Ducks goaltending position which was in flux after the team let former starter Jonas Hiller walk via free agency and allow two relatively unproven young netminders—Andersen and John Gibson—battle.

    Projection for 2014-15: Andersen's sky-high save percentage is impressive but will certainly level out over the season. He'll also give up more starts to Gibson in the coming weeks and months.

    As long as he continues to prove he can maintain his stellar numbers and the Ducks continue to win with him between the pipes, however, he'll get the majority of starts and be among the league's top goalies in the win column by the end of the year.

1. Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings

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    By the numbers: 5-1-1 record; 1.61 goals-against average; .953 save percentage; two shutouts

    What they mean: Jonathan Quick is a polarizing goaltender whose somewhat pedestrian save percentage over the years hasn't quite matched the success he's enjoyed as a member of the Los Angeles Kings. But early this season, he's been a man possessed. Quick's goals-against average is characteristically low, but his save percentage is way up from his typical regular-season numbers.

    Projection for 2014-15: The Kings are one of the best teams in the league, and Quick is showing he's not just a beneficiary of good team defense. If the team continues to play well deep into the season and he stays healthy, it could finally be his year to be honored with the Vezina nod.

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