BY JEFF ANGUS
Henrik Lundqvist, inarguably the best goaltender in hockey, finally captured his first Vezina Trophy last season. The Vezina is awarded to the league’s top goaltender, and Lundqvist beat out Pekka Rinne and Jonathan Quick for the award (although Quick won some more important hardware last year – the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP).
Lundqvist is a heavy favourite to repeat as the Vezina winner this season, and for good reason. He is in his prime, the Rangers are arguably the best team in the league, and he is going to play a lot in the condensed 48-game season. But he isn’t the only contender – read on to find out what other NHL goaltenders could potentially unseat King Henrik in 2012-13.
Henrik Lundqvist (+300 to Win the Vezina Trophy)
The reasons for Lundqvist winning this award have already been covered, so I’ll leave you with some visual evidence instead:
Jonathan Quick (+333 to Win the Vezina Trophy)
Quick is fully recovered from off-season back surgery, but it will be interesting to see how his game looks after so much time off the ice. The Kings have decided to keep talented young backup Jonathan Bernier around (for now), which may signal that they plan to give Quick more than a few nights off this season. There is no reason for him not to carry over his elite play from last season, but he may be a bit lacking in the motivation department after winning the Cup and inking a massive 10-year, $58-million contract extension last summer.
Pekka Rinne (+450 to Win the Vezina Trophy)
Most people around hockey concur that the loss of Ryan Suter will have a negative impact on Rinne’s numbers. But by how much will his play falter? The Predators still boast a solid defense led by Shea Weber, and they play a very structured game in front of Rinne. Nashville traded away backup goaltender Anders Lindback to the Tampa Bay Lightning last summer, and that should mean even more starts for Rinne (relative to the total number of games played, of course).
Tuukka Rask (+1400 to Win the Vezina Trophy)
Rask has waited patiently behind Tim Thomas for his chance to start in Boston, and he will receive that opportunity this season. Thomas decided to take a year off from the game (although he reportedly wants to return in 2013-14 to play again), and Rask doesn’t have any competition for the starting gig with the Bruins (Russian goaltender Anton Khudobin is expected to back him up). Rask has dealt with a few minor injuries throughout his career, which is something to keep in mind during the condensed season, as goaltenders won’t have the same amount of recovery time in between starts. During the lockout, Rask went over to Europe to play for a little while. He allowed only 14 goals in eight Czech league appearances.
Cory Schneider (+900 to Win the Vezina Trophy)
Much like Rask, Schneider has waited patiently for his time to start in the NHL. He may have to wait a little while longer, depending on how the Roberto Luongo trade saga plays out. If Luongo somehow remains in Vancouver for the time being, Schneider’s upside takes a considerable hit. If/when Luongo is traded, expected Schneider to prove ready for the task at hand. He is composed, confident, and technically proficient, and he gave the Canucks some impressive big-game performances last season.
Kari Lehtonen (+3300 to Win the Vezina Trophy)
It is extremely difficult to succeed on talent alone, and Lehtonen found that out the hard way during his first few years in the NHL. He relied on his large frame and impressive athleticism to stop pucks, but he neglected proper training and nutrition. That led to injuries and fatigue as the games played piled up. After coming to Dallas, Lehtonen rededicated himself to hockey (thanks in large part to Stars goaltending coach Mike Valley). Lehtonen is a top 10 goaltender and the Stars are a team on the rise – if he plays at an elite level with some consistency this season, he could surprise a lot of people around the league.
Semyon Varlamov (+4000 to Win the Vezina Trophy)
Varlamov spent the lockout playing in the KHL, where he was the best goaltender across the entire league. He is big, flexible, and confident in his ability to be a star goalie at the NHL level. Colorado is still a young team, and they may be without two-way center Ryan O’Reilly to start the season, as he is holding out for more money. Varlamov will play a lot, and he will continue to receive support and advice from veteran backup JS Giguere. Like Lehtonen he isn’t a favourite to be in the mix for the Vezina, but he is a great value selection if you feel like taking a chance.