With NHL Awards set for June 24 in Las Vegas, our writers make a case for each nominee — Ben Bishop, Tuukka Rask and Semyon Varlamov — winning the Vezina Trophy, which is awarded “to the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at his position.” Which player is most deserving of the hardware?
Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning
The Tampa Bay Lightning surprised the NHL in 2013-14 with a second-place finish in the Atlantic Division and a trip to the playoffs for the first time since 2010-11.
Ben Bishop can take most of the credit.
Without their star player for the majority of the season, the Bolts banked on Bishop to keep the team alive, and that’s exactly what he did. In his first full season with the Lightning, the 6-foot-7 netminder set franchise records for wins (37, fourth in the league) and save percentage (.924). He rounded out those impressive numbers with five shutouts – good for fourth – and his 2.23 goals-against average ranked seventh.
More than just statistics, Bishop was Tampa Bay’s backbone. His importance to the Lightning wasn’t more apparent than when he suffered a wrist injury and was forced to miss the Lightning’s first-round series against the Canadiens. With their starting goalie out of the lineup, Anders Lindback posted a 2.90 goals-against average and a .892 save percentage. The Bolts were swept, and it was clear they had lost all confidence without Bishop to depend on for the big stop.
— Geoff Lowe
Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins
Rask is the best at his position, bar none.
Do you want statistics to back that claim? Rask’s 2.04 goals-against average was fourth best in the NHL, trailing two backups and Cory Schneider of the New Jersey Devils. No goaltender had more shutouts than Rask’s seven, and his .930 save percentage trailed only Josh Harding — who unfortunately did not play after Dec. 31.
The last goalie to win the Vezina with a sub-.930 save percentage was Ryan Miller (.929) in 2010.
Do you need proof of results? Fine. Rask backstopped the Presidents’ Trophy winners — playing with a mostly young defence corps, one that was also hampered by Dennis Seidenberg’s injury.
And the “hey, they have Zdeno Chara” argument doesn’t hold up, because Chara played his fewest minutes per game (24:39) since his 2003-04 season with the Ottawa Senators.
It’s time to give Rask some love. He backstopped the Bruins to the Stanley Cup Final last year, and this year he’s been even better. Simply put, he’s been the best goalie in the sport and deserves to become the Bruins’ fifth Vezina champion.
— Pat Pickens
Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche
The Colorado Avalanche surprised the hockey world this season with their incredible comeback effort – 29th place to third place ain’t no joke – and Semyon Varlamov was a huge part of the turnaround.
The 25-year-old posted 41 victories, which was four more wins than Bishop, five more than Rask, and a new Avalanche franchise record. His solid positioning and a much-improved butterfly led to a respectable 2.41 goals-against average and career-best .927 save percentage, which kept his team in a lot of games. He faced the most shots in the league, made the most saves, and became the first Avs netminder to earn a Vezina nod since his coach, Patrick Roy, got one in 2001-02.
This isn’t reflected on the stats sheet, but the Russian also had to overcome significant off-ice distractions. He was arrested in October and faced an assault charge for an alleged domestic dispute before having the charge dropped in December. That Varlamov was able to maintain his focus in net while all this was happening in court speaks to his poise.
— Mike Johnston