By Chris Nosek
It was determined last season (as I mentioned on Puck Off many times) that Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets was the best goaltender in the National Hockey League – he even beat out Boston’s Tuukka Rask (and Dillon’s favorite, Andrei Vasilevskiy) for the Vezina Trophy. After starting in 52 games last season for Winnipeg, it’s clear the Jets will look to ride their netminder during the course of the shortened season as well, but will he play well enough to defend his much deserved trophy?
Andrei Vasilevskiy, Connor Hellebuyck, and Carey Price are the odds on favorites in Vegas to take home the goaltending hardware this season. For any of these guys, it would be their second time winning the award and it would be much deserved by any of them. While Hellebuyck is the incumbent winner, Vasilevskiy took home the award after the 2018-19 season, while Price earned 96% of the votes after the 2014-15 season. All three are positioned to help their respective teams finish high in their division and make some noise in the playoffs. While any of them taking home the hardware wouldn’t be a surprise, there are many others who could take it as well.
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The 22-year-old Hart draws comparisons to his idol Carey Price all the time and many believe he will become just as good, if not better than Price at his peak. He’s off to a pretty good start in his career to get there for sure. After getting 40 starts in the shortened season last year, and helping the Flyers get to the new number 1 seed and into the second round, where they would lose to the New York Islanders, Carter Hart started to turn some heads posting 2 shutouts, a .926 SV% and a 2.23 GAA during a 14 game postseason run. With a team that is ready to make noise, Hart is bound to draw attention of his own. What remains to be seen is over the 56-game schedule is how many games will Brian Elliott start?
Finishing 2nd in voting last season, Rask proved that he’s still in the same form that won him the Vezina for the 2013-14 season. Yes, a family emergency made him leave the Toronto bubble in the playoffs last season (that still doesn’t take away from his .926 SV%, 2.20 GAA, and QS% of .634 over almost 6000 playoff minutes) – Bruins fans, it’s time to move past this. Having started 40+ games each of the past 7 regular seasons and a combined 58 postseason games over that same stretch, the all-time franchise leader in shots against, saves, save percentage, and minutes played (2nd in shutouts) is coming into the season with arguably the most rest he’s ever had in his career. At only 33 years old, he has plenty left to offer this team between the pipes and will prove just that this season. Halak will take some starts from Tuukka as Boston looks to prioritize a playoff run, but at his best – Tuukka is capable of posting numbers so ridiculous that he will be in this conversation.
After his success in the playoffs last season, and fresh off signing his new 5-year contract, Lehner is looking to start the season splitting time with Marc-Andre Fleury. Head Coach Peter DeBour has made it clear that to start the season he will split the starts 50/50 between the two netminders. While his sample size with the Golden Knights is still very small, the numbers that Lehner has been able to post have been outstanding. If he is able to separate himself from the 3-time cup winner and take over the starting role, he will draw eyes from all around the league. His ceiling is high enough that he will be in consideration for the Vezina, the only question that remains is how much of his thunder with the guy known as Flower be able to take from him.
The book on Blackwood is still very thin as he’s only played in 72 career games, starting 66 of them. With a very young team (average age of 25.5) in front of him, the 24-year-old has a chance to keep this team more competitive than people give him credit for. With the Devils landing in arguably the toughest of the realigned divisions, he will see a large percentage of shots from some of the best players in the league. Backstrom, Barzal, Crosby, Eichel, Giroux, Hall, Malkin, Marchand, Pastrnak, and the list goes on and on in the MassMutual East. Keeping the Devils competitive in this division will turn some heads.
After taking over in Pittsburgh when they “cast aside” their multi-cup winner in Marc-Andre Fleury, Murray finds himself in those same shoes now. Having been sent to Ottawa in favor of the younger, more promising Tristan Jarry. All Fleury did in this position was start 61 games, have a 2.24 GAA with .927 SV%, and lead the Golden Knights to the cup final in their inaugural season. While this Senators team isn’t quite poised to make THAT kind of playoff run, Murray can make a serious case for his own hardware in this newly set up North Division with only teams in Canada. Above, I mentioned the fire power in the East that would help make a case for Blackwood, and the same thing can be said for Murray in the North. Whether it’s the trios of DuBois, Wheeler, and Scheifele in Winnipeg or Tkachuk, Monahan, and Gaudreau in Calgary, every team in this division is capable of scoring a ton of goals. Murray shutting them down sure is a great way to prove to Pittsburgh they made a mistake from moving on from another goaltender. Oh, and let’s not even talk about the fact that Murray will go against Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl a total of NINE times this season. McDavid and Draisaitl have 218 and 220 points respectively over the past 2 seasons – which, for perspective, is over 20 points higher than anyone else in the league (other than Nikita Kucherov who is 3rd on the list with 213 points). Patrick Kane and Nathan MacKinnon are tied with 195 over the same time frame.
Gibson is another netminder who will be trying to remind everyone just how good he is. Playing for the Ducks, who are stuck between rebuilding and being competitive, he will be going against three top offenses in Vegas, St. Louis, and Colorado for a total of 22 games this season. That’s 40% of their schedule – but last time I checked, Arizona, Minnesota, and San Jose all still have very capable goal scorers as well. At only 27-years-old, Gibson will continue to hold the keys to the castle here. If he is able to backstop this team to the playoffs, he will turn some heads back his way – which will be crucial to getting 1st place votes for the Vezina.