Trophy Case: Breaking down the Vezina finalists

Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby comments following the Caps Game 6 win against the Philadelphia Flyers.

With NHL Awards set for June 22 in Las Vegas, the three finalists for the Vezina Trophy — awarded “to the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at his position,” as voted on by the league’s 30 general managers — were announced Wednesday.

So, which goaltender is most worthy of the hardware?

Starting with the most deserving, we break down the finalists and make the case for one who just missed the cut.

Braden Holtby

Visualize it: Braden Holtby walking to the dais and accepting the Vezina Trophy. It’s happening.

The Washington Capitals‘ first true No. 1 in years has posted consecutive 40-win campaigns and tied legend Martin Brodeur’s NHL record for wins in a single season with 48—that would be four more Ws than Carey Price had in 2014-15, when he won the Vezina and the Hart and anything else heavy he could find. That stat alone makes Holtby the one to beat.

The Capitals would not have claimed the Presidents’ Trophy were it not for the 26-year-old from Lloydminster, Sask. The first-time Vezina finalist also ranked fifth in overall in goals-against average (2.20), sixth in saves (1,661) and eighth in save percentage (.922).

“He’s earned it. He’s had a good workload. Numbers are all good. Five-on-five save percentage is good,” said Caps GM Brian MacLellan, who had a vote. “I think he deserves it. I think he’ll get it.”

So do we.

Ben Bishop

Injuries and inconsistency plagued the defending Eastern Conference champions this season, but not Bishop.

All healed up from a painful 2015 Stanley Cup Final, Big Ben’s 35 wins arrived on the heels of his Lightning-record 40 wins in 2014-15. He surpassed Nikolai Khabibulin as the winningest goalie in club history, finishing the campaign with 115 for Tampa Bay.

Bishop, who finished third in 2015 Vezina voting, posted an NHL-best 2.06 goals-against average and his .926 save percentage ranked second overall. Both numbers are career highs and single-season Tampa records. Want one more career high? Six shutouts.

Jon Cooper, who raves about his goaltender any chance he gets, wishes he had a vote to give to “Bish,” please.

“Obviously it would be a great honour,” Bishop told reporters Wednesday. “I don’t really go out and say, ‘I want to win the Vezina.’ I go out and want to play well and give the team a chance to win. If you do that, stuff takes care of itself.”

Jonathan Quick

Quick is so good, his backups seemingly all graduate to become No. 1s elsewhere. The Kings’ $58-million man was a workhorse of a Drew Doughty degree in 2015-16, pacing all netminders in appearances (68), starts (68) and minutes (4,034).

The 30-year-old two-time Cup winner finished second in wins with 40, snapping his own club record of 39 (2009-10).

A second-time finalist here, Quick also finished fifth in saves (1,671), tied for fifth in shutouts (five), and seventh in goals-against average (2.22). The knock on Quick? He plays behind a world-class defence, but his save percentage (.918) ranks 22nd among goalies who played at least 1,000 minutes.

Odd man out: Brian Elliott

Partly due to Price’s injury, the Vezina race was wide open this season. In addition to the names above, a finalist case could be made for Roberto Luongo, Corey Crawford, Cory Schneider or Marc-Andre Fleury.

How about the resilient Elliott, though? He loses half a mark for splitting the crease with Jake Allen, but the Blues goaltender still appeared in 42 games and posted an NHL-best .930 save percentage. Toss in four shutouts and a fantastic 23-8-6 record, and one wonders where Elliott — a playoff marvel so far — would rank on this list if he had Holtby’s 66 starts.

The series of award announcements continues Thursday, when the three finalists for the Frank J. Selke Trophy will be unveiled.

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