At the end of each season, the NHL’s 30 general managers sit down and vote on which goalie they deem to be best at his position. The reward for said goaltender is the coveted Vezina Trophy and this season it could go to Philadelphia Flyer's netminder Ray Emery.
The list of goaltenders who have won the Vezina include, Turk Broda, Tony Esposito, Grant Fuhr, Patrick Roy, Dominik Hasek, Martin Brodeur and the legendary Jacques Plante, who owns the NHL record with six Vezina awards.
Prior to the start of the 2009-10 NHL season, many writers listed the “usual suspects” as their favorites to win the Vezina.
Veterans Brodeur, Roberto Luongo, Evgeni Nabokov, and 2008-09 winner Tim Thomas were often mentioned, as was sophomore goaltender Steve Mason and, to a lesser extent, the Calgary Flames' Miikka Kiprusoff.
Try as you might, one name you will be hard-pressed to find on any of the lists is Emery's.
Coming off of a successful season in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), where Emery posted a very respectable 22-8-0 record with a sparkling 2.12 GAA and .926 save percentage, there were still a ton of doubters unwilling to give Emery a shot with an NHL club.
Emery sought out the Russian League in order to exorcise the demons of his past—a past filled with on- and off-ice troubles, including scuffles with teammates, run-ins with the police, and an ongoing feud with his coach.
The 2009 off-season saw just one team step up to give Emery a chance.
That team was the Philadelphia Flyers, and, given his play early on, they are very pleased that they did.
With his past seemingly, for the lack of a better phrase, in the past, Emery has come back to the NHL with a vengeance. His solid play has the Flyers poised to make a run at the Atlantic Division title and has some people in Philly talking about a Stanley Cup.
To date, after 15 games Emery has a record of 10-4-1. His ten wins ranks him seventh amongst all NHL goaltenders and has him on pace to win well over 40 games on the season.
Emery’s 2.24 GAA is good enough for eighth overall, while his .921 save percentage is 11th best in the league, just .18 off league leaders Ryan Miller and Antero Niittymaki.
To be fair, Emery’s numbers are not the NHL’s best. But he is certainly in the running for the Vezina, especially when you consider the confidence and other intangibles that Emery has brought to the Flyers, as well as his exceptional play of late.
In his past six starts Emery has given up just nine goals and has a record of 5-1 to show for it. In that span, Emery’s numbers have been amongst the NHL’s best, as good as Brodeur, Kiipprusoff, Nabokov, and even Miller, who has been exceptional himself.
Emery has a ways to go, but his early success has Flyer fans, and many NHL fans in general, buzzing about the possibility of Emery not only being an Eastern Conference All-Star (if there was an All-Star game this season), but also being in the race for the Vezina.
Lord knows, outside of the lucky few that chose their goalies early, many fantasy owners would like to have a redo on their goaltending pick, with Ray Emery being at the top of many lists.
And I suspect there are a few NHL GM's that would like to have another shot at Emery as well.
As it sits right now, the race for the Vezina is very close.
Miller (12-2-1, 1.77, .939), Brodeur (12-4-0, 2.16, .921) and Nabokov (12-3-4, 2.16, .927) all have the upper hand on Emery at the moment. But given time, Emery could close in.
The fact is, there may be a few goalies out there that have better overall stats than Emery, but few have played as well as him: not Marc-Andre Fleury, not Roberto Luongo, not Pekka Rinne, not even last year's Vezina winner Thomas.
At the end of the day, one thing is for sure: Emery has our attention, and would be on the radar for the NHL All-Star game.
As for the Vezina? What was once a dream may soon become a reality.
You heard it here first.
Until next time,