To mark the beginning of the 2020-21 regular season, NHL.com is running its first installment of the Trophy Tracker series. Today, we look at the race for the Vezina Trophy, the award given annually to the goalie adjudged to be the best at his position as selected by the NHL general managers.
Andrei Vasilevskiy likely would have won his second straight Vezina Trophy last season if not for a slow start.
The Tampa Bay Lightning goalie was 17-9-2 with a 2.89 goals-against average and .906 save percentage on Dec. 31, 2019, but went 18-5-1 with a 2.16 GAA, a .930 save percentage and three shutouts from the start of 2020 until the season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. He then started each of the Lightning's 25 postseason games and finished 18-7 with a 1.90 GAA and .927 save percentage, helping the Lightning win the Stanley Cup for the first time since 2004.
With the expectation that he'll build on that success, Vasilevskiy is NHL.com's preseason favorite to outperform Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck and win the Vezina for the second time in three seasons. Hellebuyck won the award last season with 19 first-place votes.
Every voter on NHL.com's 19-person panel submitted a top five for the Vezina, in order. A point total was assigned to each vote. Vasilevskiy received nine first-place votes and defeated Hellebuyck (two first-place votes) by 23 points in the poll.
"The thing with [Vasilevskiy] is he does everything in his life to be the best goalie he can be," Lightning goaltending coach Frantz Jean told NHL.com this month. "He wants to be the best goalie in the world. I've been with him since 2012, and there's not one day I have told him to step it up. He's all-out, all the time. Sometimes you have to rein him in. He's a phenomenon. He's determined, driven, the ultimate horse."
Video: Top 25 Andrei Vasilevskiy saves from 2019-20
Vasilevskiy has been a finalist for the Vezina each season since 2017-18, winning 118 games in that span, the most in the NHL.
"He pays attention to details," Jean said. "He is really a student of the game, and that's why all the success he's having is not an accident. It's by design."
Hellebuyck became the first goalie in Jets/Atlanta Thashers history to win the award after he was second in wins (31), first in shutouts (six) and seventh in save percentage (.922) among NHL goalies who played at least 20 games last season. He was the runner-up in 2017-18, when Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators was voted the winner.
"Now the only one that matters is the Stanley Cup," Hellebuyck said last week. "I'd love to win another Vezina, that would be great, but it's time. I'm in my prime, this team's in its prime, it's time to win a Stanley Cup and every day has to be building toward that."
Video: Top 10 Connor Hellebuyck saves from 2019-20
Carter Hart of the Philadelphia Flyers received three first-place votes and finished third in the preseason poll. The 22-year-old was the youngest goalie in the NHL to start at least 20 games last season and went 24-13-3 with a 2.42 GAA and .914 save percentage in 43 games (40 starts).
Voting totals (points awarded on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis): Andrei Vasilevskiy, Lightning, 79 points (nine first-place votes); Connor Hellebuyck, Jets, 56 points (two first-place votes); Carter Hart, Flyers, 40 points (three first-place votes); Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens, 32 points (two first-place votes); Robin Lehner, Vegas Golden Knights, 29 points (two first-place votes); Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins, 20 points (one first-place vote); Jacob Markstrom, Calgary Flames, 8 points; Ben Bishop, Dallas Stars, 7 points; Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida Panthers, 3 points; Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues, 3 points; Ilya Samsonov, Washington Capitals, 3 points; Igor Shesterkin, New York Rangers, 2 points; Semyon Varlamov, New York Islanders, 2 points; Thatcher Demko, Vancouver Canucks, 1 point