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Today we begin a five-part series, looking at top candidates for the different awards this season. Here are my top five Vezina Trophy contenders…
1. Martin Brodeur
The man already has four Vezina Trophies on his shelf… another one couldn’t hurt, right? Martin Brodeur – arguably the best goalie to ever put on pads – is still a top-notch netminder in the NHL. At 38 years old, he has shown no signs of slowing down; and this isn’t ‘the year’ he starts breaking down, either.
Brodeur has a very talented team in front of him, which now includes one of the premier shutdown defensemen and shot-blockers in the league (Anton Volchenkov). Even though he may start a handful less games this year because of Johan Hedberg, Brodeur’s will still play at a high level and post his usual great stats. I foresee a fifth Vezina coming his way.
2. Ryan Miller
For the next five-to-ten years, I do believe Ryan Miller will be the best goaltender in the NHL. He won his first Vezina this summer, going 41-18-8 with a 2.22 goals against average in 2009/10. Miller is only going to get better with more experience as the years go on.
The reason why I don’t see him repeating as the Vezina winner is because of team success… not anything related to his play. In regards to the Sabres, I don’t see them having as good a season as they had last year. What would that mean for Miller? A decrease in wins and probably a slight uptick on the goals against average. I’m not counting him out, but I simply don’t see him winning it in 2010/11.
3. Roberto Luongo
Like his Canucks and the Stanley Cup, Roberto Luongo has yet to claim the Vezina. He’s been a widely-debated topic over the last couple years, mostly because of his average postseason play. There is no denying the success he’s experienced in the regular season.
When healthy, Luongo has been a workhorse, and that usually pays dividends when it comes to this award. The Montreal native recently stepped down as captain of the Canucks, which can only help his game on the ice; he can now focus on stopping the puck instead of all the added nuances from wearing the ‘C’. Look for him to put up great numbers and easily surpass the 40-win mark.
4. Ilya Bryzgalov
Similar to Miller in Buffalo, Ilya Bryzgalov’s Coyotes may have overachieved in 2009/10. ‘Bryz’ was dominant, leading the Western Conference in shutouts (8) and finishing third overall in wins (42). The 30-year-old Russian finished second in the Vezina voting last year, a trophy that many thought he should have won over Miller.
But getting back to the team, this is going to be the same argument as I just made with Miller and Buffalo. Do I see the Coyotes making the playoffs? Yes. Do I see them recording 107 points again? No. I think he is a great goaltender and has the contract-year going for him… but he may have overachieved a tad last year – just like his team.
5. Pekka Rinne
Nashville’s Finnish sensation between the pipes finally gets his chance to be a full-time starter – which isn’t a good thing for the rest of the league. When Rinne got a chance to start on a consistent basis over the last two years, he was lights out. Following the Olympic break this past March, ‘Peks’ went 12-4-1 with a 1.97 goals against average and four shutouts. Moreover, he went 19-8-4 following the 2008/09 All-Star Game.
The thing that will help Rinne’s chances at contending for the Vezina is the fact that his backup is going to be inexperienced and new to the NHL. That should result in Rinne flirting with 70 starts this season. Judging by his success as the number one the last two years, he shouldn’t be forgotten in this conversation.
Honorable Mention: Tuukka Rask, Jimmy Howard, Miikka Kiprusoff
Photo credit: Getty Images
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