Vezina Trophy Top 5: Who's Leading the Race as the NHL's Best Goalie?

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistMarch 24, 2021

Vezina Trophy Top 5: Who's Leading the Race as the NHL's Best Goalie?

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    The Vezina Trophy is awarded annually to the NHL's top goaltender as voted by the general managers of all 31 clubs. Two recent winners are once again in contention for this prestigious honor.

    Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets won the Vezina for the first time last season. He also became the first goaltender in Jets history to accomplish that feat.

    The Tampa Bay Lightning's Andrei Vasilevskiy was also a first-time winner in 2018-19. Like Hellebuyck, he was the first netminder in his franchise's history to take home the award.

    Hellebuyck and Vasilevskiy remain among this season's elite netminders past the midpoint of the 2020-21 schedule. However, they face strong challenges from several others for the honor of this year's top goalie.

    Here's a look at the top five goaltenders in the race for the Vezina Trophy.

5. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets

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    Larry MacDougal/Associated Press

    Connor Hellebuyck was runner-up for the Vezina Trophy in 2017-18 before winning the award last season. The Winnipeg Jets goaltender led the league with six shutouts, finished second in wins (31) and seventh in save percentage (.922) among goaltenders who played at least 20 games. He also faced the most shots against (1,796), finishing with a 2.57 goals-against average.

    Hellebuyck's goals against (2.72) and save percentage (.913) this season aren't at the same level as his 2019-20 performance. Nevertheless, he sits fourth with 14 wins despite facing the second-most shots (774) among all goalies.

    Thanks in part to Hellebuyck's clutch play while enduring a heavy workload, the Jets are jockeying for first place in the Scotia North Division. That ensures he remains among this season's Vezina Trophy contenders.

4. Semyon Varlamov, New York Islanders

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    The New York Islanders are neck and neck with the Washington Capitals for first place in the MassMutual East Division. A big reason for that is goaltender Semyon Varlamov. His solid play in the Islanders' march to the 2020 Eastern Conference Final has carried over into this season.

    Now in his 12th full NHL season, the 32-year-old is enjoying his best performance in years. He has the fourth-best goals-against average (2.17) and save percentage (.923) among goaltenders with at least 20 games played this season. He's also among the league leaders with three shutouts.

    Since he joined the Islanders as a free agent in 2019, Varlamov's game has improved under their respected director of goaltending, Mitch Korn. He's putting up the kind of numbers that could make him the first Islanders goaltender to win the Vezina since Hall of Famer Billy Smith in 1982.

3. Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    A year ago, Marc-Andre Fleury's career seemed to be on the downside. His struggles during the second half of last season prompted the Vegas Golden Knights to acquire and sign Robin Lehner. He lost his starting job to Lehner and became the subject of trade rumors during the playoffs and offseason, especially after his agent suggested head coach Peter DeBoer had stabbed him in the back.

    The Golden Knights, however, stuck with Fleury, and the 36-year-old goaltender rewarded their loyalty. With a concussion sidelining Lehner for more than a month, Fleury turned back the clock with an impressive effort. He's second among all goalies with four shutouts. Among goalies with 20-plus games played, he's second in save percentage (.931) and third in goals-against average (1.93) and wins with 16.

    Thanks in part to Fleury's efforts, the Golden Knights sit atop the Honda West Division. His workload will lighten now that Lehner has returned to action, but they could ride the hot hand for the remainder of the season. Fleury's late-career resurgence makes him a serious Vezina Trophy contender.

2. Philipp Grubauer, Colorado Avalanche

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    The Colorado Avalanche are surging up the Honda West Division standings thanks in no small part to goaltender Philipp Grubauer. They've won nine of 12 games in March and are in the midst of a seven-game winning streak, entering Tuesday's contest with the Arizona Coyotes. He is enjoying what could be a career-best performance.

    Forced to adopt a heavier workload with regular backup Pavel Francouz sidelined indefinitely, Grubauer has risen to the occasion. The 29-year-old Avs starter leads the league with five shutouts and sits second with 19 wins. Among goaltenders with at least 20 games played, he has the best goals-against average (1.71) while his .930 save percentage is third-best.

    However, the Avs risk losing Grubauer to injury or burning him out before the playoffs without a suitable backup to share the burden between the pipes. Their recent acquisition of Jonas Johansson from the Buffalo Sabres could alleviate that concern until Francouz returns. If Grubauer can stay healthy and maintain his current standard of play, he will garner serious consideration for his first Vezina Trophy.

1. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Andrei Vasilevskiy has emerged in recent years among the NHL's elite goaltenders. Winner of the Vezina Trophy in 2018-19, he was also a finalist last season and in 2017-18. Having backstopped the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup last year, the 26-year-old netminder is once again enjoying another stellar campaign.

    With the Lightning now in the second half of their schedule, Vasilevskiy is dominating between the pipes. He leads all goaltenders with 20 wins and all starters with a .933 save percentage. He's also second in goals-against average (1.86) and among the league leaders in shutouts with three. He has achieved those numbers while facing the fourth-most shots against (674) in the league.

    Vasilevskiy's play this season is a big reason why the Lightning are perched atop the overall standings. He must be considered the favorite to win the Vezina for the second time in three years, which would secure his place as the NHL's most dominant goaltender.

             

    Stats (as of March 23) via NHL.com.

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