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Stating our case for the Vezina winner

Wednesday, 06.16.2010 / 10:05 AM / 2011 NHL Awards

By NHL.com Staff

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Stating our case for the Vezina winner
One highly-decorated goalie and two first-time candidates are in the running for the 2010 Vezina Trophy. The NHL.com staff writers cast their vote for the three finalists.
All this week is Awards Poll Week at NHL.com, where our collection of staff writers is stating a case for each finalist in some of the League's major postseason awards. We have opinions and we're not hesitant to share them.

Martin Brodeur of New Jersey, a four-time Vezina Trophy winner who last took the honor in 2007-08, is joined by first-time finalists Ilya Bryzgalov of Phoenix and Ryan Miller of Buffalo.

The Vezina Trophy is presented annually to "the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at his position" as voted by the general managers of each of the 30 clubs. It was first awarded in 1926-27 to honor Georges Vezina, goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens who collapsed during an NHL game on Nov. 28, 1925, and died of tuberculosis a few months later.

The winner will be announced at the 2010 NHL Awards, to be held in Las Vegas on June 23. The ceremony will be broadcast live from the Pearl Concert Theater inside the Palms Hotel Las Vegas on Versus in the United States and CBC in Canada.

Here's how the NHL.com writers would cast their vote:

Why Martin Brodeur should win …

One of these days Martin Brodeur's age and the amount of minutes he plays when healthy for a full season are going to catch up and turn him into a mere mortal goaltender. Maybe then the Vezina Trophy will be up for grabs.

For now, it still belongs to a healthy Brodeur, who was again simply the best at his position in the NHL for an entire season and should win the trophy for the fifth time since 2003. He's nominated for the ninth time in his career.

Ryan Miller and Ilya Bryzgalov had outstanding seasons, but nobody did more with less than Brodeur, who led the Devils to their ninth Atlantic Division title and a second-place finish in the Eastern Conference with 103 points despite playing three-quarters of the season without the help of Paul Martin, arguably his No. 1 defenseman.

Brodeur still led the League with 45 wins and nine shutouts. His 2.24 goals-against average was third and he also had a .916 save percentage, fourth-best among goalies who played 70 or more games. He finished the regular season by allowing only seven goals over his last seven games (4-1-2), with two shutouts.

New Jersey is still an annual contender in the post-work stoppage NHL because of Brodeur. The fact that Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, Brian Rafalski and Ken Daneyko have been replaced by Martin, Bryce Salvador, Andy Greene and Mike Mottau hasn't mattered to the always affable and ready Brodeur.

Brodeur, now 38 years old and with a record 63,520 minutes played in his NHL career, is supposed to be slowing down, especially after suffering through his first injury-plagued season in 2008-09.

Don't tell him that.

Brodeur led all goalies this season with 76 starts and 4,499 minutes played.

He's supposed to be in the process of passing the torch, but the Devils had no reason to bring up prospect Jeff Frazee this season because Brodeur was again simply the best in the NHL for an entire season.

He'll probably be that until he retires.

-- Dan Rosen


Why Ilya Bryzgalov should win …

It's no coincidence that while Ilya Bryzgalov was establishing career-best totals across the board, the Phoenix Coyotes were qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in seven seasons.

The fifth-year Russian was that good -- and was a huge part of a miraculous turnaround that saw the Coyotes finish with a franchise-record 107 points.

Behind Bryzgalov, the Coyotes placed higher than fourth in the Pacific Division for the first time since 2001-02 while finishing with the third-lowest goals-against average in the League for the regular season at 2.39. Don't forget, the team was only one season removed from a collective 3.04 GAA -- 24th in a 30-team League.

He posted career-best totals for games (69) and minutes played (4,084), victories (42), shutouts (8) and goals-against average (2.29), as the Coyotes set franchise records for wins (50) and points in a season. Bryzgalov also produced a .920 save percentage, which fell just short of the .921 percentage he posted in his first season in Phoenix in 2007-08.

Bryzgalov ranked second in the League in shutouts, tying the single-season franchise record (Nikolai Khabibulin in 1998-99), and third in wins, shattering the old franchise mark of 33 that was shared by three goalies (Brian Hayward in 1984-85; Bob Essensa in 1992-93; Sean Burke in 2001-02). He started 29 of 36 games down the stretch and posted a 19-8-2 record over that span in helping lead Phoenix to the fourth seed in the Western Conference.

Phoenix coach Dave Tippett knows first-hand how integral a role Bryzgalov played in his defense-first approach.

"Every team, especially if you look at our team, you wouldn't say we're the highest-scoring team in the League (2.57 goals per-game), so we have to defend very well," he said. "Part of that defending is the goaltender has to be very good, and I think what's happened this year, there's a very good respect between Bryz and the players in front of him because they know that Bryz has given a great game, and Bryz knows the effort in front of him to make his job easier is going to be there."

-- Mike Morreale


Why Ryan Miller should win …

If Ryan Miller wasn't the best goalie on the planet at the start of the 2009-10 season, he sure made a strong case by the conclusion.

The Buffalo Sabres' goaltender will likely be accepting the Vezina Trophy in Las Vegas after completing an extraordinary 2009-10 season that saw him finish second in the League with a 2.22 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage.

The 29-year-old also finished fourth in the NHL with a franchise-record 41 victories, helping his club beat out the Ottawa Senators to win the Northeast Division as the Sabres racked up 100 points.

Although it won't be taken into consideration by voters, Miller was downright sensational for Team USA at the Olympic Games in February. During that two-week stretch in Vancouver, the East Lansing, Mich., native helped the upstart Americans win a silver medal. For his efforts, Miller was named MVP of the star-laden, high-profile tournament.  

Nonetheless, Miller's night-in, night-out effort during the regular season should make him the frontrunner to win the Vezina. One statistic to consider: the Sabres scored one fewer goal than Philadelphia, yet finished 12 points ahead of the Flyers. Miller's presence and the stability he provided between the pipes surely had a lot to do with that.

His season ended prematurely as the Sabres were ousted in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Boston Bruins, but Miller was hardly to blame. He posted a .926 save percentage and a 2.34 GAA, but his offense was stagnant. Buffalo went 0-for-19 on the power play in six games.

"I feel confident I did everything that I could do," Miller said. "But when you come up short, it doesn't feel good. I feel good about myself on a personal level."

Come next week, Miller will have another reason to feel good when he's recognized as the League's top goaltender.

-- Brian Compton