NHL Awards: Vezina Trophy Has Four Worthy Candidates

Semyon Varlamov
Chris Humphreys USA TODAY Sports

The Vezina Trophy is handed out each year to the goaltender “ajudged to be the best at his position as voted by the general managers of all NHL clubs.” It’s always important to remember who votes for these things. The general managers will generally have a less-divergent view, if not simply by the fewer number of votes.

This year’s nominees are as follows: Tuukka Rask (BOS), Semyon Varlamov (COL) and Ben Bishop (TBL). All three nominees are up for the award for the first time in their careers, though, in the case of Rask especially, it likely won’t be the last.

Ben Bishop – .924 Overall Save%, .932 Even Strength Save%, 37 Wins

Bishop was acquired from the Ottawa Senators last year in exchange for Cory Conacher. Conacher was a waiver wire claim from Ottawa to Buffalo this year, Bishop is a Vezina nominee. Funny how things work out sometimes.

Managing 37 wins in a season is nothing to sneeze at for a goalie, but doing it on a non-playoff team from a year ago that lost their best player for over half a season is even more impressive. Also, had he not been injured down the stretch, there is a solid chance he would have been one of two goalies with 40 wins this year.

Facing an even 18 shot attempts at 5-on-5 per 60 minutes isn’t a heavy workload nor is it extraordinarily light. There were times this year when Bishop had to be exceptional for the Lightning and he was: Bishop only had six official goalie blow-ups (five goals or more on 40 shots or less; a save percentage of .850 or less in a game) which is the same number as Tuukka Rask.

One knock I have against Bishop is that he wasn’t overly consistent this year. When he was good, he was amazing: November through February (1014 shots against) produced a save percentage of .937; October, March, and April (744 shots against) produced a .907 save percentage. There’s no doubting Bishop was excellent but there were consistency issues (later in the season was likely due to injury).

Tuukka Rask – .930 Overall Save%, .941 Even Strength Save%, 36 Wins

It startled me initially when I heard “Rask’s first Vezina nomination,” forgetting that he hadn’t been nominated last year and it was his first season as a true starter. It still feels weird for the goalie who might be the consensus top goalie on the planet.

Of course, Rask’s numbers certainly won’t suffer playing behind the lineup that the Boston Bruins can roll out each night. The health of his team also helped this year: Zdeno Chara, Johnny Boychuk, and each of their top-six forwards all played at least 75 games this season. The defense was more banged up past Chara and Boychuk but their depth shone through. Rask was limited to 58 games this year but that was just his coach giving him rest down the stretch rather than some sort of short-coming.

Rask’s workload was a lot less than most goalies. Carey Price faced 20.64 shot attempts against per 60 minutes this year, Rask was at 16.57 (all at 5-on-5). He also didn’t have to worry about the penalty kill as much, as the Bruins were 19th in times short-handed and mid-pack in shots against per 60 minutes at 4-on-5.

All this shouldn’t really take away the fact that Rask led the league (min. 40 starts) in even strength save percentage at .941. Obviously Rask had an excellent team in front of him. Look no further than Jonathan Quick and Antti Niemi, though. It takes more than an excellent team for a goalie to produce league-leading numbers over the course of an 82-game season.

Semyon Varlamov – .927 Overall Save%, .933 Even Strength Save%, 41 Wins

After two below-average seasons (as an aggregate) to start his career with the Colorado Avalanche, Semyon Varlamov showed the promise he had at times with Washington by posting the second-best save percentage in the league (I don’t count Josh Harding, 26 starts isn’t enough). He also led all goalies in wins with 41. Yes, having the fourth-highest scoring team in the NHL will help with that wins total. So will his numbers.

Varlamov faced 19.7 shot attempts per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play, by a decent margin the most of the three finalists. Colorado didn’t take many penalties – 24th in the NHL in times short-handed – but they did give up the sixth-highest shot rate at 4-on-5 when they did. He also faced the most shots overall in the NHL (2013) and it wasn’t really close – second place was Kari Lehtonen with 1888. Bishop was ninth at 1758 with Rask at 15th at 1641. Varlamov also had just six blow-ups this year.

What impressed me most about Varlamov’s season this year was his consistency. He didn’t post a single month with a save percentage under .915 (December) and that was also the only month when he didn’t win at least half of his appearances. For a young team that was getting caved in shots-wise – Colorado was 25th in shots against, the lowest of any playoff team – they needed a consistent, reliable goaltender. They got that and more with Semyon Varlamov this year.

Predicted Winner: Semyon Varlamov

Maybe it’s just wishful thinking but I do think Varlamov deserves it. He didn’t have the top numbers in each category, but he was second in overall save percentage, led the NHL in wins by a goalie, and is the reason the Avalanche won their division. A division that includes Chicago, St. Louis, and two other playoff teams. The workload he faced relative to the others, and the consistency he provided in that workload, was the deciding factor for me.

Alternate Nominee: Carey Price (MON)

Carey Price had the same save percentage as Semyon Varlamov (.927) and was fifth in total shots faced this year. In fact, he faced 77 more shots than Ben Bishop did in four fewer starts.

Had Price not been injured coming out of the Olympic break it would be interesting to see how the voting would have fallen out. Canadiens fans were panicking after the break when Price was out and Peter Budaj was losing games for the team. Colorado may have been the worst in shots against among the playoff teams, but Montreal was second-worst (22nd in the NHL). Despite the workload throughout the season, and the injury at the Olympics, he posted a better even strength save percentage (.934) than either Bishop or Varlamov.

I don’t see the Price non-nomination as any sort of oversight on him. All three goalies on the list had fantastic years and someone was getting left out. He has the same case as Varlamov and Bishop in that he’s the main reason his team made it to the playoffs. It’s just unfortunate for Price that there are four clear front-runners and only three get official nominations (with all due respect to Jonathan Bernier and Sergei Bobrovsky).

** As always, thanks to Extra Skater, Behind The Net, Hockey Reference, and Hockey Analysis

Scroll to Top