Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers, Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings and Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators are the three finalists for the 2011-12 Vezina Trophy.
This award isn't in the hands of the Professional Hockey Writers Association; instead, it's the League's 30 general managers that vote for "the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at his position." Because if there's anyone that can effectively evaluate the performance of an NHL goaltender, it's the men who live in a constant cycle of regret for handing them long-term contracts.
This has felt like a two-horse race for months between goaltenders that might also have a legit claim to the Hart Trophy as well: Lundqvist and Quick.
It was that third finalist slot that provided some intrigue.
Would Mike Smith of the Phoenix Coyotes get the nod for his career best 38-win season, with eight shutouts and a 2.21 GAA? Would Miikka Kiprusoff, every bit as vital to the Calgary Flames as Lundqvist and Quick were to their teams, get a nomination for his 2.35 GAA in 70 games; ditto Kari Lehtonen, who posted a 2.33 GAA and won 32 of 59 starts? Could the voters look beyond Brian Elliott's sample size and celebrate his 1.56 GAA in 38 games with the St. Louis Blues?
In the end, it was Rinne grabbing the third spot, no doubt due to his 72 games started and 43 victories.
Who wins the Vezina?
Why Lundqvist Deserves the Vezina
From the NHL:
Lundqvist was the anchor of a Rangers club that posted its best regular-season record since the Stanley Cup season of 1993-94 and captured first place in the Eastern Conference. He went 39-18-5 in 62 appearances, setting a career high in wins and becoming the first goaltender in NHL history with 30-plus wins in each of his first seven seasons. He placed near the top in all major goaltending categories: third in wins, tied for third in shutouts (eight), fourth in goals-against average (1.97) and fourth in save percentage (.930). Lundqvist is in quest of his first Vezina
Trophy win, following third-place finishes from 2006 through 2008.
It's his fourth Vezina nomination, which means he's the odds-on favorite to win the thing. He's the best player on the best team in the Eastern Conference, the backbone for everything they do well. He's also trying to become the first Vezina winner to have eight shutouts and a jam session with John McEnroe in the same season.
Why Jonathan Quick Deserves the Vezina
From the NHL:
Quick was exceptional in backstopping a Kings team that ranked 29th overall in offense to a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Coming off a franchise-record, 39-win season in 2010-11, the first-time NHL Trophy finalist posted a 35-21-13 record to become the first Los Angeles goaltender to post 30 wins in three consecutive seasons. Quick led all NHL goaltenders with a franchise-record 10 shutouts and also ranked among League leaders in goals-against average (second, 1.95), save percentage (fifth, .929) and victories (T-fifth, 35). He allowed one goal or shut out the opposition in 27 games and surrendered two goals or fewer 46 times.
Jonathan Quick is the only reason the Los Angeles Kings made the playoffs and are now 12 wins away from the Stanley Cup. Frankly, he had less to work with than Lundqvist. The Rangers were fourth in the League in blocked shots; the Kings were second to last. The Rangers were 17th in takeaways; the Kings were 28th. Quick faced 347 shots shorthanded to Lundqvist's 263, and still posted a better save percentage.
Why Pekka Rinne Deserves the Vezina
From the NHL
Rinne was among the NHL's busiest netminders in 2011-12, leading the League in shots faced (2,153) and saves (1,987), tying for first place in appearances (73) and ranking second in starts (72) and minutes (4,168:52). He thrived under the workload, topping all goaltenders in wins (43-18-8) and posting a 2.39 goals-against average, .923 save percentage and five shutouts. He was particularly tough to beat with a lead, as the Predators posted the NHL's second-best points percentage when scoring first (.833, 35-3-4). Rinne earned his second consecutive nomination as a Vezina finalist, having finished second to Boston's Tim Thomas last year.
His numbers were actually down from the previous season, but his appearances (and wins) were way up. He's achieved elite status in this League, and his play in the playoffs against Detroit validates that. (But the "leading the league in shots faced" thing is a bit of a swerve; Mike Smith, on average, faced more, for example.)
Who Wins the Vezina?
Lundqvist. The Western Conference netminders, many of whom are playing in Round 2, split the vote; and as stated earlier, Lundqvist is "due."
Who Should Win the Vezina?
Jonathan Quick. Better GAA, dead heat for save percentage and had less to work with than did Lundqvist. (Let alone overcoming a coaching change during the season.) Either one can win without a second thought, and both are MVP candidates as well. But I'd give Quick the nod.