Leading up to the regular season, we’ll be taking a look at some of the favorites for the major awards. Who are the top Vezina Trophy candidates for the 2011-12 season? 1. Ryan Miller, Sabres
Think 2009-10. Ryan Miller has seemingly had to deal with an average defense corps and hot-and-cold offense in the last few years. With Buffalo’s off-season spending spree, those question marks have been fixed. He has a deep blue-line in front of him, along with a solid forwards unit that will give him goal support – which means there will be less pressure on him and he should be able to rack up the victories. Miller has only had one season with a goals-against average lower than 2.53, but I see him having a big enough all-around year to be a finalist for the Vezina.
2. Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers
Similarly to Miller, this is a gut feeling more than anything that Henrik Lundqvist will have a huge year for the Blueshirts. In his six NHL seasons, Lundqvist has yet to hit the 40-win mark despite coming close. If he starts 70-plus games this year, he’ll have a good chance at getting to that plateau. This Rangers team is capable of overachieving and putting together a really good regular season, especially with the various question marks within the division. Lundqvist is simply one of the best netminders in the world. He has finished third in the Vezina voting three times in six years. I’ll say he bests that in 2011-12.
3. Pekka Rinne, Predators
What is there not to like about Pekka Rinne? He carries the Predators when the offense is fizzling, he makes highlight reel saves on a nightly basis, and he’s as humble as they come around the NHL. It may be difficult for Rinne to match his 2.12 GAA from a year ago, but there is no doubt he has established himself, currently, as an elite goaltender. If it weren’t for Tim Thomas’ banner year, he would have won the Vezina last year. For Rinne to win it in 2011-12, he’ll have to start/win more games and get off to a hot start to solidify his name in the conversation.
4. Carey Price, Canadiens
The oft-criticized Carey Price proved to the hockey world last year that he is capable of taking on the burden of being ‘the man’ in pressure-packed Montreal. An inconsistent second half of 2010-11 kept Price from making a trip to Las Vegas in late June. That said, without much backup support, Price will be relied upon to start in excess of 70 games. The Habs will need him to match last year’s success if they wish to make the playoffs. Winning the Vezina would be the perfect “I told you so” moment for Price, but he’ll need the team success to ultimately win it.
5. Corey Crawford, Blackhawks
Corey Crawford won’t have a problem with team success. The Chicago Blackhawks are primed to bounce back in a big way, and Crawford will be a key part of that. He is definitely a sleeper for the Vezina, and you may be surprised to see his name on this list. However, there always seems to be that one goaltender every year that busts through and proves himself. Crawford, who was robbed of a Calder nomination last year, has the supporting cast to propel him to the next level. The 26-year-old stood tall in the postseason; look for him to build on that success and prove his rookie year (33 wins, 2.30 GAA) was no fluke.
Dark horses: Antti Niemi, Sharks; Tomas Vokoun, Capitals; Jaroslav Halak, Blues
Our podcast 'RLD Hockey Talk' is LIVE every Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 ET/Noon CT. Some of our notable guests in past episodes have been Dustin Brown, Doc Emrick, John Buccigross, Dave Strader, E.J. Hradek, Elliotte Friedman and Jay Grossman.