Since entering the NHL in 2005, Henrik Lundqvist has been absolutely stellar on some New York Rangers teams that have been good-to-average: Winning over 30 games in each of his first six NHL seasons, elevating the Rangers to a playoff berth in five of them.
This season, Lundqvist has been the backbone for a Rangers team that's currently leading the Presidents' Trophy race. Statistically, it's been his best season: 39 wins, a 1.93 GAA and a .931 save percentage are career highs; his eight shutouts are his third-highest total.
In his first three seasons in the NHL, Henrik Lundqvist was a Vezina Trophy finalist but didn't win. So beyond his qualifications this season, there's also a sense that he's "due"; that the baton will be passed to him much like it was from Patrick Roy to Dominik Hasek and then from Hasek to Martin Brodeur. That this could formally begin a reign for King Henrik, who is 30 years old.
Unless, of course, an invading army from the West unseats him and crowns a new King — Jonathan Quick.
The Vezina is voted on by the NHL's general managers, which makes it a bit of an oddity. The media is expected to crunch numbers, gather facts and give the proper vetting to their winners for the Hart, Norris, Calder and Selke. The broadcasters have a hell of a vantage point to see what, exactly, a coach is doing during the game to earn the Jack Adams.
But how do the GMs treat the Vezina? Stats based? Observational? Conversations with peers?
If it's as a de facto Goalie MVP award, considering how few netminders ever win the Hart, then Lundqvist probably wins in a walk.
(An aside: a goalie has won the Hart three times since 1965. In that same span, a goalie has won the Conn Smythe 15 times for playoff MVP.)
Lundqvist is the most important player on one of the League's best teams; that he has some flashy stats to justify it makes him all the safer choice. And the GMs are likely to reward a player from a team dominating its conference than one on the bubble.
Which is a shame, because Quick is the only reason the Los Angeles Kings have a sniff of the playoffs right now.
His 1.89 GAA, .931 save percentage and NHL-best 10 shutouts are as impressive as Lundqvist's numbers. He has 35 wins in 67 starts, six more appearances than Lundqvist.
Shorthanded, Quick has faced more shots (332) and has a better save percentage (.916) than Lundqvist (262, .908). In the shootout, Quick is 6-7 with a .667 save percentage; Lundqvist is 4-3 with a .720 save percentage.
(An aside: Lundqvist also looks better in a tux, with or without the Erin Andrews accessory.)
The fact that the Kings have had such a hard time putting the puck in the net has only made what Quick has done this season more impressive. Quick hasn't seen much of any sort of offensive support, as the Kings rank towards the bottom of the NHL in goals per game.
… Quick's 10 shutouts are tops in the league, including his blanking of the Edmonton Oilers on Monday, which helps the Kings creep closer to grabbing the third seed in the Western Conference. And while he's managed to get a win in those 10, he hasn't been so fortunate in others, as he's lost five games that ended in a 1-0 score.
Earlier this season, I suggested that Henrik Lundqvist was becoming a "lock" for the award. I'd like to take that back as Quick has leapfrogged him to take over the lead in the race for the Vezina Trophy. The two have posted very similar numbers, but Quick has done it for six more starts than Lundqvist, while getting next to zero offensive support from the guys playing in front of him.
There's no question that Lundqvist has gotten more support than Quick. The Rangers are No. 11 in the NHL in goals per game (2.74) while the Kings (2.26) are ahead of only Minnesota. The Rangers are the fifth-best team at even strength (1.18 5-on-5 goals for/against ratio) while the Kings are 17th (0.98).
Defensively, the Rangers are second in the NHL in blocked shots (1,321) while the Kings are second to last (944). Lundqvist, however, has still faced more rubber (28.4 shots per game) than Quick (27.0).
One reason why: Lundqvist has faced better teams with more frequency, according to Sean Hartnett of CBS New York:
The Pittsburgh Penguins are the highest-scoring team in the NHL with 273 goals and the Philadelphia Flyers rank 3rd overall in the league with 260 goals. In addition, the New Jersey Devils boast slightly better scorers (222) than the San Jose Sharks who lead all Pacific Division teams with 219 goals.
Through 19 Atlantic Division match-ups, Lundqvist has posted a 14-5-0 record with an outstanding goals against average of 1.84 and save percentage of .936.
Also, throw into the equation that Lundqvist faced the Boston Bruins on four occasions and has done an excellent job denying the second-best scoring team in the NHL.
If we're going "quality of opponents," Quick is 9-8-1 against the Canucks, Red Wings, Predators, Blackhawks and Sharks. He's also been the lesser netminder on the road (2.17, .923) than Lundqvist (2.05, .934).
But if you see the Vezina as an award not only for the goalie "adjudged to be the best at this position" but also the goalie who was vital to his team's success, then Jonathan Quick beats Henrik Lundqvist for the award. He has better numbers, less support and has frankly faced more adversity (goodbye, Terry Murray) than has Lundqvist.
Should Hank be penalized for playing on a machine-like team that's rolled through the East? Not in theory. But ask Mike Babcock how many Jack Adams he's won.
Should Hank be penalized for having his roughest month (March, 2.50 GAA) late while Quick had his early (November, 2.43 GAA)? Not in theory. But ask Corey Perry what finishing strong can do for your awards candidacy.
Will Hank win the Vezina?
Probably. As LeBrun noted on ESPN.com:
I just got off the phone with an NHL GM who was talking about his Vezina vote (the league's 30 GMs vote on the Vezina). He told me he was voting Henrik Lundqvist first, Quick second. I suspect that's likely going to be the case for most GMs, although some might put Pekka Rinne ahead of Quick for second. Honestly, between those three netminders, there's no bad choice. But it's likely accurate that Quick will fall victim to playing most of his games when half the league's GMs are asleep at night.
It's not only Rinne. Brian Elliott of the St. Louis Blues, Kari Lehtonen of the Dallas Stars, Mike Smith of the Phoenix Coyotes, Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Red Wings and Miikka Kiprusoff of the Calgary Flames are all going to siphon votes from Quick. Lundqvist only has Marc-Andre Fleury and Tim Thomas in the conversation back East, where apparently no one stays up to watch Center Ice.
Add my name to the petition. Jonathan Quick for Vezina.