Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price is coming off a Hart Trophy season and has been described as a living how-to DVD for the position, so not putting him at the top of preseason predictions for another Vezina Trophy would be overthinking things.
Not only did Price lead the NHL in save percentage (.933), goals-against average (1.96) and wins (44) last season, but according to war-on-ice.com, he was at or near the top in even-strength save percentage (.943) and adjusted save percentage (.939), which weighs the quality of shots based on distance from the net.
The fact all were career bests suggests a correction is possible, and Price could take a step back this season, but watching how subtle tweaks under goaltending coach Stephane Waite have allowed him to improve the past two seasons, it seems just as possible Price could become the first goalie since Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils in 2007 and 2008 to win consecutive Vezina Trophies.
For all the natural talent Price possesses, it is his willingness to work that will continue to keep him at the top of an always improving, evolving pool of NHL goaltenders.
The seemingly effortless, silky mobility that many now try to emulate comes from a constant focus on crease-movement patterns, something that started under goaltending coach Roland Melanson (now with the Vancouver Canucks). It will continue because Price considers movement they key to all he does, and with Waite as an authoritative guide to ensure he doesn't wander too far, a problem that plagued him in the past, there's no reason to think the calm 28-year-old can't continue to improve with experience.
That said, coming off a season when his Vezina votes more than doubled Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators in second place, Price will have to keep improving to stay on top because the competition among NHL goalies promises to be intense.
Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild -- If there was a goalie who provided enough temptation to be placed ahead of Price, it was Dubnyk.
Dubnyk finished second to Price with a .929 save percentage last season but would have led the NHL with the .936 he had after Jan. 13, when he was traded by the Arizona Coyotes. Dubnyk will be the first to admit he benefits from good defensive support in Minnesota, part of the reason he signed a six-year, $26 million contract to stay.
Even with that working relationship intact, some are predicting a statistical correction and step back for a goalie who was in the American Hockey League two seasons ago. After watching Dubnyk this summer, it may be safer to bet on more of the same, if not a continued rise in the NHL rankings and Vezina voting after a third-place finish in 2015.
Rather than rest on the stability of a new contract, Dubnyk worked on the off-ice training and on-ice technical tweaks that preceded last season's breakout, and by one account was the dominant player at an offense-driven preseason camp in Vail, Colo., that included Sidney Crosby, John Tavares, Matt Duchene and Jeff Skinner.
There won't be any Vezina votes handed out for that performance, but it should at least serve notice that Dubnyk intends to be more than a one-hit wonder. Given how well he fits in the goalie-friendly system in Minnesota, don't be surprised if he pushes Price for the Vezina this season.
Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals -- Holtby finished fourth in Vezina voting last season, two points behind Dubnyk, and could close that gap with another season of Barry Trotz hockey.
The defensive structure that came with Trotz as Capitals coach benefited Holtby and should continue to this season, but there were early questions internally about how the athletic goaltender would fare without being as busy as he was used to. There were signs of needing to adjust to the lack of action early last season, including a sub-.910 save percentage through mid-November, but once Holtby settled in behind fewer chances, he was able to take advantage of a better defensive focus and a tighter personal style under goaltending coach Mitch Korn. Holtby finished tied for seventh in the NHL with a .923 save percentage, led the League with 72 appearances, and matched the Capitals record with 41 wins.
ALSO IN THE MIX: Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets; Steve Mason, Philadelphia Flyers; Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers; Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators; Cory Schneider, New Jersey Devils.