Vezina Trophy Watch: Preseason Ranking of Top Candidates for 2013-14 Award

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistSeptember 23, 2013

Vezina Trophy Watch: Preseason Ranking of Top Candidates for 2013-14 Award

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    Try to get by without a great goaltender in the NHL, and you are fighting a losing battle.

    Average to good teams can become great when they receive a superior performance from a goaltender. On the other hand, excellent teams can become ordinary if the goaltender fails to perform.

    No goaltender put on a better show last year than Sergei Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets. He carried the team on his shoulders and nearly led them to a spot in the playoffs. He won the 2013 Vezina Trophy.

    Bobrovsky should be a prime contender for the award again this season. However, he's going to have to hold off the likes of Henrik Lundqvist, Jonathan Quick, Pekka Rinne and Tuukka Rask if he is going to repeat.

    Here's our look at the top candidates for the 2013-14 Vezina Trophy.

9. Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings

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    2013 regular-season numbers: 2.13 goals-against average; .923 save percentage, five shutouts

    Career notables: 2009-10 All-Rookie team; 2012 All-Star Game

    Overall game: Jimmy Howard has superb reactions and quickness. He also understands what the shooter is going to do because he studies his opponents and keeps a book on them. Since the Red Wings are switching from the Western to the Eastern Conference this year, it may take Howard some time to learn his new opponents. However, once he faces everyone once, he should regain his advantage.

    Howard is a battler who relies on positioning to make the first save and will do anything he can to keep the puck out of his net on the second and third attempts. The Red Wings will have a lot of talented younger players on defense, and Howard may have to bail the youngsters out from time to time. He should be prepared for that task.

    Odds he'll win Vezina: 19-1

8. Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators

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    2013 regular-season numbers: 1.69 goals-against average; .941 save percentage, three shutouts

    Career notables: 2009-10 Led NHL in saves (2047); 2009-10 tied for third in shutouts (seven)

    Overall game: Anderson appeared to be just another goalie until the Ottawa Senators acquired him from Colorado in 2010-11. Once he donned his Senators uniform, he became one of the most consistent goalies in the league. 

    While he was limited by injuries last year, he excelled when he was in the lineup. One of his best attributes is his ability to cut off the angle, and he also has an excellent glove hand. The Senators feel quite secure with their goaltending duo of Anderson and Robin Lehner. While Lehner is quite competent, Anderson can be special and give his team a chance to win even when the Senators get outplayed.

    Odds he'll win Vezina: 16-1

7. Antti Niemi, San Jose Sharks

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    2013 regular-season numbers: 2.16 goals-against average; .924 save percentage, four shutouts

    Career notables: Won 2010 Stanley Cup; 2013 Led NHL in minutes (2581). 2009-10 third in shutouts (seven)

    Overall game: Antti Niemi is going to be in goal for the San Jose Sharks on a nearly every-night basis. He led the league in minutes played last year, and it would be no surprise if he did the same for head coach Todd McLellan again this year.

    Niemi does not get the recognition and respect he deserves, and that may have a lot to do with the way he was eschewed by the Chicago Blackhawks. He backstopped them to the 2010 Stanley Cup, yet they did not want to pay him the following year and he was allowed to walk away as a free agent.

    He has been solid with the Sharks, as he is a battler who will play his best in big games. Rebounds will occasionally give him trouble, but he responds well to adversity and rarely plays two bad games in a row.

    Odds he'll win Vezina: 13-1

6. Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets

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    2013 regular-season numbers: 2.00 goals-against average; .932 save percentage, four shutouts

    Career notables: 2013 Vezina Trophy

    Overall game: Sergei Bobrovsky appeared to step up his game last year for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Once he was entrusted with the starting job, he was a dominant performer between the pipes. Bobrovsky has one huge advantage over most of his competitors: He has magnificent vision that allows him to track the puck superbly. He also has exceptional quickness and athleticism.

    His mental makeup also serves him quite well. Bobrovsky is not going to let a mistake impact the next shot. He has the ability to move past a bad goal allowed or a poor game without any anxiety. If he can keep his concentration at a high level once again this year, he should be able to come close to last year's stellar performance.

    Odds he'll win Vezina: 11-1

5. Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks

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    2013 regular-season numbers: 1.94 goals-against average; .926 save percentage, three shutouts

    Career notables: Won Stanley Cup 2013; William M. Jennings Trophy 2013 (with Ray Emery); All-Rookie first team (2010-11)

    Overall game: Remember the problems Corey Crawford had against the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final? He had a weakness with his glove hand, particularly on shots that went high. That was not a figment of the media's imagination. He struggled at various times throughout the series, particularly in the fourth game.

    However, despite his troubles, the Blackhawks won the game and captured the series. Few goalies would have been able to bounce back after such a problem, but Crawford did not hesitate for an instant and gave up just three goals the rest of the way.

    While he had a problem with his glove hand in that series, it is not a weakness overall for him. He has a lightning-fast glove hand and moves with explosive quickness in the crease because of his great leg strength.

    Crawford is a dynamic performer who simply wins big games.

    Odds he'll win Vezina: 9-1

4. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins

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    2013 regular-season numbers: 2.00 goals-against average; .929 save percentage, five shutouts

    Career notables: 2009-10 led NHL with 1.97 GAA

    Overall game: Tuukka Rask demonstrated his talent in 2009-10 when Tim Thomas had a hip injury and he was forced into the lineup. Rask was sensational during the regular season, and general manager Peter Chiarelli knew he had his goaltender of the future.

    The future arrived shortly after the end of the 2011-12 season when Thomas announced he needed a year off. Instead of being the fill-in, Rask became the No. 1 goalie —and he was all that the Bruins could have wanted.

    Rask is a big goalie with excellent positioning, and that allows him to stop most shots. He also reacts well and knows how to scramble to stop the second and third shots in a sequence.

    Odds he'll win Vezina: 8-1

3. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators

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    2013 regular-season numbers: 2.43 goals-against average; .910 save percentage, five shutouts

    Career notables: 2010-11 NHL All-Star (second team)

    Overall game: Pekka Rinne has been one of the keys to Nashville's competitiveness. The Predators have been a low-scoring team, but they have been able to earn a spot in the playoffs in seven of the last nine seasons. Rinne was nominated for the Vezina Trophy in 2011 and 2012, and he is hungry to finally bring that award home.

    Rinne is a huge man and can cover the majority of the net with his 6'5" frame. Additionally, he has excellent reflexes and a reliable glove hand.

    Odds he'll win Vezina: 6-1

2. Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings

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    2013 regular-season numbers: 2.45 goals-against average; .902 save percentage, one shutout

    Career notables: 2012 Conn Smythe Trophy 2012 All-Star Game; 2012 Stanley Cup champion; 2011-12 NHL All-Star (second team)

    Overall game: Jonathan Quick has had a eye-catching two-year run. He led the Los Angeles Kings to the only Stanley Cup in their history in 2012, and it was quite clear that if he had not been as razor sharp as he was, the Kings probably wouldn't have gotten past the second round.

    Quick has magnificent reflexes. He goes post-to-post as well as any goalie in the league, and his leg strength gives him an excellent push off the ice. He also has a great glove that few can match. His glove hand was a factor in the Stanley Cup win over New Jersey as well as last year's conference semifinal win over San Jose.

    Odds he'll win Vezina: 7-2

1. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

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    2013 regular-season numbers: 2.05 goals-against average; .926 save percentage, two shutouts

    Career notables: 2011-12 Vezina Trophy; 2005-06 All-Rookie team (first); 2011-12 All-Star (first team)

    Overall game: Henrik Lundqvist has been the backbone of the New York Rangers since 2005-06, and he's the reason they were deemed favorites to win the Eastern Conference each of the last two years. While they were unable to get to the Stanley Cup Final in either season, it had nothing to do with any weakness in Lundqvist's game; it was more the Rangers' inability to produce enough goals.

    Lundqvist is a workhorse who has played 60 games or more in his last six full seasons. Lundqvist is the only goalie in NHL history to win 30 goals or more in his first seven seasons. Lundqvist's reactions and instincts give him a sixth sense that allow him to know just what the shooter will do when he gets an opening. Lundqvist wins the battle more than any other goalie in that situation.

    Odds he'll win Vezina: 2-1

Others to Consider

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    We fully expect the Vezina Trophy winner to come from the previous nine candidates. However, other goalies could emerge.

    Tim Thomas, Florida Panthers—He may have taken a year off and angered the Boston Bruins, but he has decided to come back and is a two-time Vezina Trophy winner. He wants to play goalie for the U.S. Olympic hockey team, and if he plays his best hockey for the Panthers, he may have a chance.

    Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens—After slumping at the end of the 2013 season, it's difficult to call Price a legitimate Vezina Trophy contender. If he doesn't upgrade his performance, he could lose his job in the Montreal net.

    Jonathan Bernier, Toronto Maple Leafs—Bernier was the best No. 2 goalie in the league for the Los Angeles Kings and will get his opportunity to start this year, assuming he can hold off James Reimer. If Bernier is a legitimate star, he could be a Vezina Trophy contender.

    Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks—The Canucks had washed their hands of Luongo, and now they want to kiss and make up. Luongo is the public-relations winner in this one and has always been a solid regular-season performer. He has an outside chance to contend for the Vezina Trophy.

    Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres—Miller won the Vezina Trophy after the 2009-10 season when he was at the top of his game. He has slipped since then, and he gets little support from his teammates. It seems unlikely that Miller could turn back time and contend for the top goaltending award once again.