WINNIPEG - 2020 finally got something right. Connor Hellebuyck is a Vezina Trophy winner.
Hellebuyck received 19 first place votes and 123 points to edge Boston's Tuukka Rask by 24 points to win his first major award in the NHL. Tampa's Andrei Vasilevskiy, the 2019 winner finished third with 31 points.
"This is a huge moment in my life. First I would like to congratulate the other nominees that had a great year, a great season and it's an honour to be a part of that group," said Hellebuyck to the 1988 winner Grant Fuhr during their Zoom conversation following the announcement ahead of Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.
"I would like to congratulate my teammates. Without a good team, none of this is possible. I'd also like to congratulate my coach and the organization for believing in me the entire way. And most importantly I'd like to thank my family, my mom and dad for helping me through the years and taking me to all those countless practices, waking up early and really believing in me."
Fuhr played in an NHL record 79 games for the St. Louis Blues in 1995-96 and played more than 70 games three times in his career. Hellebuyck appeared in 58 of the Jets 71 games in the pandemic shortened season. So, it was obvious that Fuhr asked Hellebuyck how much say he had about his workload.
"That's a big conversation we always have - what's (games played) too much and what's not enough," said Hellebuyck.
"But in a season like we were having it's more of if you get the flow, play the guy whose hot. We have a great other goalie (Laurent) Brossoit with us, so being able to give and take and when I needed a night off he was right there playing well. I got hot and they rode me a little bit."
Hellebuyck was the runner up for the award in 2018 after posting 44 wins for the Jets - an NHL record for American born goaltenders. Hellebuyck believe his continued efforts to improving himself on and off the ice was a factor in winning the trophy this time around.
"I think the biggest and most important part is my mind. My mental game has gotten a lot calmer and I only care about the things I need to care about and I focus on the things I need to focus on," said Hellebuyck.
"I got some experience under my belt so I don't let my mind and the roller coaster ever happen too big."
The 27-year-old backstopped the Jets to a place in the Western Conference Stanley Cup Qualifiers, leading all goaltenders in games (t-58), shots faced (1,796), saves (1,656), and shutouts (6) during the season. The Commerce, Michigan native ranked second overall in starts (56), wins (31), and minutes (3,268:33). Hellebuyck recorded 31 of the 37 Jets wins (83.8%), the second-highest percentage among goaltenders on the 24 teams that qualified for the NHL postseason.
Perhaps the most impressive part of Hellebuyck's performance this season is that he faced 37-or-more shots on 13 occasions and posted a 10-1-2 record, 2.08 goals-against average, and a .949 save percentage in those contests. That includes a career-high 51 saves in a 3-2 win at San Jose on November 1, where he set the franchise record for saves in a period with 27 in the second frame.
"That will be a game that I will never forget definitely. That game was one of those where you're in the flow, you get a ton of shots. They guys in front of me they weren't playing bad, they (San Jose) were just getting a lot of shots," said Hellebuyck.
"I was able to get into my rhythm and kept my calmness and cool through all that and really allowed me to be kind of bored in that game in a way."
Hellebuyck becomes the third player in franchise history to win one of the NHL's individual awards. He joins Dany Heatley, who won the Calder Memorial Trophy in 2001-02, and Ilya Kovalchuk, who won the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy in 2003-04. Several players also won individual NHL awards for the Winnipeg Jets 1.0: Dale Hawerchuk (1981-82) and Teemu Selanne (1992-93) won the Calder Memorial Trophy and Kris King (1995-96) won the King Clancy Memorial Trophy. Two Jets 1.0 coaches also won the Jack Adams Award: Tom Watt (1981-82) and Bob Murdoch (1989-90).
With all the accolades Hellebuyck earned this season, it's the next one that will be the sweetest.
"I'm really looking forward to the next one, the next one is going to be very glorious and that's winning a Cup," said Hellebuyck.
"It's not going to be easy and it's not going to be just me, it's going to be the whole team in front of me that are all going to have to buy in. Kind of like we did this year, battle and grind. I think we have the locker room for it and it's only going to get better. I'm really excited for that grind."