Early Trophy Predictions: William M. Jennings Trophy

By Chris Nosek

Whenever goaltending is spoken about, it’s almost always about individual goaltenders – which is where the Vezina Trophy comes into play. The William Jennings Trophy doesn’t necessarily go to the team with the best goaltender, but instead to the team who’s goaltenders kept them able to compete in most games by allowing the fewest goals over the duration of the season. The large majority of the time, this award goes to a team with a solid pair of goaltenders who compliment each other and both play at a high level during their starts. Unable to find true Vegas odds for this award, let’s take a look at who has a shot to win based on where MOST hockey experts would rate out some of the leagues netminders.

ELITE LEVEL:

Robin Lehner & Marc-Andre Fleury

While Vegas was a perennial cup favorite, arguably since selecting Marc-Andre Fleury 1st overall in the expansion draft, last year they dealt for Robin Lehner from the Chicago Blackhawks in a deal that has left Chicago wishing they could hit the “UNDO” button. Lehner saw tremendous growth to his own play while playing behind Corey Crawford in Chicago and played outstandingly in the 2020 postseason posting a .917 SV% and 1.99 GAA over his 16 games. Now the number one in Vegas, he has a 3-time Stanley Cup winner in Marc-Andre Fleury behind him, who also posted really solid numbers over 48 starts last season. With Colorado and St. Louis having the most prolific offenses in the newly formed Honda West division, these two have a solid opportunity to separate themselves from all the other goaltending tandems in the league. 

Tuukka Rask & Jaroslav Halak

The winners of the hardware last season, and the runners up the year before, Boston returns these two netminders for their third season. While SOME Boston fans may be sour on Tuukka for leaving the playoff bubble still (but seriously, get over it) he is still one of the league’s best at stopping the puck and the relationship that he and Halak share hasn’t been shaken. Bruins’ head coach Bruce Cassidy has made it known that the team will consciously keep a distance between their two netminders in an effort to “avoid a Denver quarterback situation” and be stuck in a position that neither are able to start a game due to COVID-19 protocols. Therefore the team shouldn’t be without one of these two for a game barring injury – and until proven otherwise, they are going to be considered a favorite for this hardware again. 

Andrei Vasilevskiy

When Jonathan Quick won the Williams Jennings on his own the second time back in 2017-18 he started 64 games, and he started 49 games the first time he won it in 2013-14. Braden Holtby, in 2016-17, (also winning it on his own) started 63 games. Other than these two goaltenders, you have to go all the way back to 2009-10 when Martin Breaur started 77 games for the New Jersey Devils. So clearly the odds are stacked against the 26-year-old Russian netminder. However, with defenders like Ryan McDonagh, Victor Hedman, Erik Cernak and Mikhail Sergachev playing in front of him Vasilevskiy will have the help in front of him to get the job done. It also helps that he is one of the most talented netminders in the league, having finished 3rd in the Vezina voting last season and tied for 5th with 144 goals allowed among goaltenders with a minimum of 50 starts – of which there were 13. In a 56-game season, Vasilevskiy is primed to earn this on his own having started 52, 53, 65, and 50 games over the past 4 seasons. 

Other Top Options: 

Jusse Saros & Pekka Rinne

A sure fire Hall of Famer now relegated to the number two role – just like Marc-Andre Fleury in Vegas – Pekka Rinne finished last season with numbers quite sub-par to his career numbers. This poses the question just how much he has left in the tank. Saros on the other hand, took a solid step forward in his career by starting 34 games. Continued growth from Saros, allowing Rinne to play in fewer games, primes the Predators, who also have solid defensive talent skating along their blueline to set up their all-time netminder for a bounce back season. If they are able to hold back the scoring by the prolific offenses in Tampa Bay and Carolina, then there is a solid chance that Rinne takes home the second piece of hardware of his career (adding to his 2017-18 Vezina Trophy). 

Elvis Merzlikins & Joonas Korpisalo

Like the pairing above, this duo has to contend with the prolific offenses of Carolina and Tampa Bay. These two, however, are better equipped to split the games on more of a 50/50 basis and have one pick up the slack for the other should they start to see some struggle out of one of them. The benefit that these two have is that they have one of the best pairings of defenders in front of them in Seth Jones and Zach Werenski. Both netminders post quality start percentages of roughly 55% or higher which will go a long way to helping them keep their opponents from scoring. 

Braden Holtby & Thatcher Demko

Everyone remembers Thatcher Demko’s three game performance in the playoffs last season when he only allowed 2 goals across his three starts. With their backs against the wall, Demko backed Vancouver with 42 saves on 43 shots and helped the Canucks stay in their series with Vegas. He followed that up with another 48 saves in a shutout win, bringing them to game 7 and another 33 saves on 34 shots. With his prior partner, Jakob Markstrom, off to Calgary, the Canucks brought in 2-time All-Star and Stanley Cup winner Braden Holtby. With his own career save percentage of .916, his numbers last year were just a bit sub-par for his standards (his save percentage last season was .897). Paired with Demko, these two are one of the most promising pairs between the pipes that no one would be surprised if they took home some hardware. 

Longshots:

Pavel Francouz & Phillip Grubauer

With all eyes focused on the offense being led by Nathan MacKinnon (and rightfully so), the Avalanche snuck their way to a three-way tie for goals allowed last season with 190 – they were tied with the New York Islanders and St. Louis Blues. Returning their netminding duo of Francouz and Grubauer, who only take up $5 million of their cap space seemed like a no brainer for them. With solid defensive play in front of them from guys like Graves, Girard, Byram, and an always improving Cale Makar, these two not only have the ability to help carry this team to another deep playoff run. Add a little help by allowing the offenses of Vegas and St. Louis to struggle, these two could walk away with this hardware as well as other teams beat up on each other. 

Tristan Jarry & Casey DeSmith

With Pittsburgh currently ahead of only Chicago in goals allowed, this long shot starts the season as the longest shot on this list. However, last season Jarry posted a .921 SV% over 31 starts. He is most definitely capable of playing better than he has been this season while DeSmith has been playing a little better than Jarry as well – however, he too is capable of more. If these two are able to settle down in their crease and find their game, there is plenty of season left they can limit the goals for their opponents and take away this trophy together. The question is, will they be able to find their game in a division stacked with as much scoring as is in the MassMutual East division?

Igor Shesterkin & Alexandar Georgiev

Another longshot pair of youngsters in arguably the toughest of the realigned divisions, these two will be reliant on the veteran Keith Kinkaid, who is on the teams Taxi Squad to help them navigate the uncertainties of this season. With an ability to split the games as needed, head coach David Quinn will be able to ride the hot hand, while allowing a slumping netminder to rediscover their game. While they will have eyes on them as they look to take the mantle from league legend Henrik Lundqvist, they could combine to stunt the goal scoring in the MassMutual East just enough to take home this trophy. There are other youngsters in town with even more pressure to perform, but these two are capable of turning even more heads in the direction of the New York Rangers. 

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