The Vezina Race: Ryan Miller vs. the Western Conference

The NHL's 30 general managers vote on the Vezina Trophy, making it one of the most crassly political and reputation-based awards given out annually.

From 1999-2009, there were six different goalies who won the Vezina; in that same span, there were nine different Hart Trophy winners, an award voted on by the fickle Professional Hockey Writers Association.

This is partly because the Eastern Conference GMs tend to rally around one goalie, as evidenced by the East winning 15 Vezinas since 1992 (of course, a couple of guys named Martin Brodeur(notes) and Dominik Hasek(notes) provided ample opportunity) and in votes like last season's tally: Tim Thomas(notes) ran away with the award, and the next highest Eastern Conference keeper was sixth (Henrik Lundqvist(notes) of the New York Rangers).

All of this naturally points to Ryan Miller(notes) of the Buffalo Sabres receiving Eastern Conference support for what's been an incredible season; it also points to Miller's Olympic success having raised his profile to elite status, which will no doubt earn him majority support.

But would that unjustly ignore Western Conference candidates that can make as legitimate a claim to the Vezina as Miller can?

Here is the logical field for the top goaltender award, with its numbers through Sunday's games. We've used the miracle of brightness control to darken the names that have no shot at the Vezina so you can focus on the ones that do (from

We still have a few games to go, so Miller's statistic advantages in goals against average and save percentage -- he leads the League in both categories for goalies that have 55 or more starts -- could slip to other contenders by Game No. 82. That doesn't diminish Miller's chances, but two other categories might have him at a disadvantage.

Wins are always paramount in the Vezina race, so that buoys the chances for Brodeur and Evgeni Nabokov(notes) of the San Jose Sharks. It also helps Ilya Bryzgalov(notes) of the Phoenix Coyotes, and he's the goaltending story of the moment in the Western Conference.

Bryzgalov is just as vital to the Coyotes as Miller is to the Sabres, but the Coyotes are the bigger surprise. His eight shutouts lead the NHL; if you want to say that's a product of the team's system ... well, it's not as if the Sabres are playing fire-wagon hockey back East.

He's better in shootout than Miller, going 5-3 to Miller's 3-4. He's just about tied with Miller at even strength (.932 save percentage to Bryz's .931) but Miller is much better shorthanded, back-stopping the League's best penalty kill with a .916 save percentage to Bryzgalov's .886.

For the purposes of Vezina voting, Bryzgalov's at another disadvantage: Players like Nabokov, Craig Anderson(notes), Miikka Kiprusoff(notes) and Roberto Luongo(notes) are going to siphon votes from him. Miller will lose a few, but not many, to Brodeur.

We consider these Miller and Bryzgalov to be the favorites for the Vezina, and it's a shame one can't win the Vezina and the other the Hart, which we know sounds very Ron Wilson "there should be two gold medals" of us.

Pierre LeBrun is right that it'll be Miller in a landslide, because of the factors listed above and because there's an allergy to giving goalies the MVP award. Maybe Dave Tippett will allow Bryzgalov to hold the Jack Adams for a photo or two.

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