NHL Power Rankings: Is Ryan Miller Still On Top?

Dave Haine@@DaveHaineContributor IIIOctober 26, 2010

NHL Power Rankings: Is Ryan Miller Still On Top?

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    Ryan Miller
    Ryan MillerRick Stewart/Getty Images

    During February 2010, Ryan Miller introduced himself to the world. Ryan's performance during the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics will be remembered fondly in the game's history. 

    Ryan then took that experience and added it to a great NHL season for the Buffalo Sabres to take home his first Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top goaltender.

    For the 2009 and 2010 season, Ryan's played in 69 of the Sabres 82 games and earning 41 wins, which was fourth amongst NHL goalies.  Ryan also worked over 4,000 minutes played for the second time in his seven NHL seasons. 

    Adding to Ryan's stats, he had the second best Goals Against Average (GAA) in the league of 2.22 maintaining a Save Percentage (SV%) of .929, which was also second best in the NHL.  It should be noted he also collected five shutouts.

    So is Ryan still the best in the game?  Is a second Vezina Trophy coming to the Michigan State University alum?

    This article will take a very early look at the leading candidates for the 2010-2011 NHL Vezina Trophy.

    To be a candidate a goalie must be a clear No. 1 tender for his own team.  This goalie should be expected to play a large number of games and still maintain a top notch GAA and SV%, plus collecting wins and shutouts.

    Goalie tandems or duos that split time will not make a run to the Vezina.  If one goalie steps up and takes the clear No. 1 spot, that could change.  The best example I can use to explain this is Tim Thomas.  The 2008-2009 Vezina winner, Thomas will be unlikely to reclaim his clear No. 1 rank in Boston over Tuukka Rask. 

    That being said, after four starts Tim has been great, collecting four wins and only allowing three pucks behind him.  Tuukka had a great year last year, and will at the very least split but likely play 70 percent of the Bruins games. 

    It's early, but here are the 10 goalies who have thrown their names into the race.

The Usual Suspects: Luongo, Lundqvist, Ward, Kiprusoff and Marty Brodeur

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    Roberto Luongo
    Roberto LuongoJonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    It's so early that it it would be a mistake to count out long-time star goalies.  At this point, none of them have had the start to the 2010-2011 campaign that they would hope for.

    The buzz in Vancouver about their prized tender, Luongo, is his heir to the throne, maybe his backup Corey Schneider.  Vancouver gave Luongo a very rich, long-term contract not too long ago, but Luongo's playoff struggles have led to plenty of drama. 

    Roberto "chose" to give back the captain status so he could focus on being the best goalie possible for the Canucks, despite that he has only picked up one win in his six starts.  His backup, Schneider, is undefeated in his two starts. This is a classic "what have you done for me lately?"

    In New York, Lundqvist or King Hendrik as the media named him, has been nominated for three Vezina's already in his career, placing third each time.  This year, however, Hendrik has staggered out of the gates.  It is not normal for Hendrik to have a GAA of 3.40.

    Cam Ward is healthy again and looking to lead Carolina towards another long playoff run. Cam has started this season at a reasonable level. Winning four of his first six games holding .923 SV% and a 2.78 GAA.  Carolina doesn't have a great lineup in front of Cam, which leads me to believe he won't be a true Vezina contender.

    The Calgary Flames will continue to ride Miikka Kiprusoff at an alarming pace.  Kipper will likely break 70 games and the team in general is simply not good.  His stats are worth Flames fans getting excited winning four of seven games.  Miikka has a .923 SV% combined with a nice 2.14.  It will all fall apart before Jan. 1.

    Future Hall-of-Famer the great Marty Brodeur continues to pad his amazing stats including two shutouts.  Marty isn't what he once was, and his team infront of him doesn't play the same system. The 38 year old icon is barely breaking a .900 SV% and holding a 2.69 GAA. Marty still leads the NHL in minutes played being the workhorse he is.

    At some point each of these goalies will make a run, which will once again add their names into the Vezina debate.  Until that time they don't belong in the top 10. 

No. 10 Kari Lehtonen: The New Star

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    Kari Lehtonen
    Kari LehtonenJoel Auerbach/Getty Images

    Despite what you may suspect this is not a slide about the injury list.  Lehtonen has so much talent in a big frame but has rarely been able to stay on the ice. 

    By his number so far this year, Kari deserves to be higher then 10th on the list.  Five wins in his seven starts a GAA of 2.38 and a SV% of .930 are all extremely impressive. 

    Dallas made the move last year to bring in the promising talent Lehtonen.  This was the transition from long-time Stars goalie Marty Turco.

    In the end, I believe Kari needs to show he can play the demanding schedule of an elite No. 1 goalie. 

    Kari was drafted second overall in 2002 and has battled a number of injuries. 

    For Kari to be a realistic contender when it's all said and done, he'll need to play in over 60 games while continuing on this impressive start he's put together.

No. 9 Niklas Backstrom: Is It About the System?

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    Nik Backstrom
    Nik BackstromJeff Gross/Getty Images

    The Minnesota Wild had a consistent goalie in their net with Niklas Backstrom.  The veteran 32-year-old Finnish tender is playing in the most defensive system in the NHL.

    Known as a consistent goalie and will need to play more the 60 games and will need to return back to his 2008 form.

    Backstrom has a .923 SV% along with a 2.32 GAA, while winning three of his first six games. 

    The long-term run towards a Vezina for Backstrom seems unlikely to me.  

No. 8 Michal Neuvirth: Who?

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    Michal Neuvirth
    Michal NeuvirthBruce Bennett/Getty Images

    The Washington Capitals are a Stanley Cup contender.  This leads to a chance for their starting goalie to collect wins.

    Over the offseason, Jose Theodore moved on and once again Semyon Varlamov is battling an injury leaving the door open for Michal.

    Michal has produced a solid .921 SV% combined with a 2.53 GAA.  His development includes back-to-back Calder Cups in the AHL.

    Teaming up with Varlamov should hurt his Vezina chances, but his start is noteworthy.

No. 7 Marty Turco: Can He Lead the Windy City to Another Stanley Cup?

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    Marty Turco
    Marty TurcoJonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    This long-time Dallas Star is now the focal point for the Chicago Blackhawks.  It's said that defending a championship is even harder than winning the first time.  Marty has the talent, but will everything fall into place.

    Marty has accepted this challenge head on winning four of his six games.  Add that to his .921 SV% and a 2.65 GAA, and Marty has made a smooth transition to Chicago.

    Marty's starts will slow down as the the team's focus is the Cup, so look for Marty to have a good regular season but be plenty rested for the playoffs.

No. 6 Ilya Bryzgalov: Can He Repeat What He Did Last Year?

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    Ilya Bryzgalov
    Ilya BryzgalovChristian Petersen/Getty Images

    Tough act to follow.  Ilya was so dominant last season many felt he was not just worthy of the Vezina but also the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP.

    Phoenix was one of the leagues biggest surprises making the playoffs despite all the off ice issues about ownership. Ilya won 42 of 69 games with a .920 SV% and 2.29 GAA. 

    This year he will need to repeat those numbers for the Coyotes to make the playoffs and have a shot at a Vezina nomination.

    Here we are a few weeks in, and Ilya is posting a 2-1-2 record along with a .929 SV% and a 2.54 GAA. I feel a drop-off is likely for the Coyotes, so I don't see a Vezina for Ilya.

No. 5 Jonathan Quick: No Respect, Even in His Own Organization.

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    Jonathan Quick
    Jonathan QuickJeff Gross/Getty Images

    In the Kings organization, Quick may not even be the best Jonathan in their net. This will be his largest obstacle in his quest for a Vezina. 

    The highly-touted Jonathan Bernier is pushing hard to over take the No. 1 spot from Quick. 

    The Kings are an up-and-coming team with a goal of winning the Stanley Cup not too far away.  Quick will probably end up with less than 60 starts thanks to Bernier.

    Quick was Ryan Miller's backup at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. 

    So far this year Jonathan has posted a .929 SV% and won four of his first five starts.  His most impressive stat so far is his GAA of 1.97.

    Quick will have a good year but won't be on the final Vezina ballot. 

No. 4 Jimmy Howard: The Red Wing Rebuild On the Fly!

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    Jimmy Howard
    Jimmy HowardGregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Jimmy Howard is yet another impressive draft pick by Ken Holland. In 2003 the Wings selected Howard with their second-round pick, 64th overall. 

    Last year, Jimmy took the reigns from veteran Wings tender Chris Osgood.  Osgood is a great mentor for Howard.  Jimmy was on the ballot for rookie of the year last year.

    Jimmy has continued his success in Mo-town this season going 4-0-1 in five starts while maintaining a .925 SV% and a very impressive 2.14 GAA.

    This year, I believe Howard will find himself as a finalist for the Vezina trophy.

No. 3 Ryan Miller: He'll Be In the Vezina Hunt All Season!

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    Ryan Miller
    Ryan MillerDave Sandford/Getty Images

    The Buffalo Sabres continually mention how they need to reduce Ryan's minutes through the season.  In the end, they know they need to ride Miller if they have any shot at making the playoffs.

    To repeat his success of 2009-2010 would require the Sabres roster raising their play.  Ryan continues to impress despite only winning three of his first seven games.  As usual Ryan still has a great GAA of 2.27 and a .919 SV%.

    When the NHL awards take place in July, I expect Ryan to be a Vezina nominee.

No. 2 Carey Price: Did the Habs Trade the Wrong Goalie?

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    Carey Price
    Carey PriceRichard Wolowicz/Getty Images

    Still to this day, many Montreal fans are upset they traded away the wrong goalie.  It's tough to argue with the way last season went for Price.

    The exhibition season started with Carey and the Habs boo birds re-introducing themselves to each other.  The love-hate relationship has had more hate than love over the last three seasons. 

    Still so young and full of promise, Carey has stepped up so far posting a .919 SV% and a 2.27 GAA.  In his first seven starts as the clear No. 1 in Montreal, he's earned four wins including a big shutout.

    Carey will play over 60 games this year and the roller coaster will continue on their ups and downs.  For that reason, commend Price for his performance so far, but he won't be on the final ballot for the Vezina.

No. 1 Jaroslav Halak: A New Home and the Same Results!

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    Jaroslav Halak
    Jaroslav HalakDilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    Last year he took the Montreal Canadiens on his back and carried them past the high-flying Capitals and the heavy favorites from Pittsburgh.

    Jaroslav Halak has continued on his role, despite being traded by the Habs to the St. Louis Blues.  

    Halak is the clear No. 1 in St. Louis and will play 60-plus games on a team on their way up.

    So far this season, Jaroslav been on a level all to himself.  In his five starts he has four wins, one shutout, a .929 SV% and most impressive is a 1.81 GAA. 

    Halak's performance reminds me of the breakout of six-time Vezina winner Dominik Hasek.  That maybe lofty praise, but when the NHL awards take place in July, I expect Halak to be a Vezina nominee.