Other goalies gain on Vasilevskiy in Vezina race

1 Comment

At the end of 2017, Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy looked like an absolute no-brainer to win his first Vezina Trophy. He already had 24 wins and a sparkling .934 save percentage, checking the boxes for basically every type of hockey person.

The gap has been closing for some time now, and while Vasilevskiy still stands as the best choice, the race could really heat up during the final quarter of the 2017-18 season.

For the sake of simplicity, we’re going to look at the top seven goalies in wins (28 or more) to get a quick viewpoint on how things are starting to get snug. You can dive deeper here, noting some reasonable dark horse candidates including Marc-Andre Fleury and John Gibson.

Vasilevskiy: 38 wins, 2.41 GAA, .925 save percentage
Pekka Rinne: 35 wins, 2.33 GAA, .927
Connor Hellebuyck: 34 W, 2.40 GAA, .922
Frederik Andersen: 32 W, 2.74 GAA, .920
Braden Holtby: 29 W, 3 GAA, .908
Devan Dubnyk: 28 W, 2.61 GAA, .917
Sergei Bobrovsky: 28 W, 2.44 GAA, .920

Right or not, voters still weigh wins fairly heavily, so it would probably be tough for “Bob” and others to catch Vasilevskiy. Rinne stands as the biggest threat right now, as he’s been a huge part of the Predators currently leading the Western Conference and Central Division.

Rinne is often the source of derision on Hockey Twitter, but it’s difficult to imagine too many harsh criticisms of his play this season (they’re out there, mind you). Consider this: many prefer even-strength save percentage as it ignores poor penalty killing that can submarine a goalie’s stats. Rinne is tied with Carter Hutton for the best even-strength save percentage among goalies who’ve played at least 30 games with an impressive .939 mark. Vasilevskiy isn’t far behind at .933, yet Rinne does edge him there.

The next month or so could conceivably swing things to Rinne’s favor, or possibly to someone else.

While the Predators continue on a hot streak, Vasilevskiy has stumbled lately, at least by his lofty standards. Via Hockey Reference’s split stats, Vasilevskiy went 29-9-2 with a .931 save percentage, 2.18 GAA, and seven shutouts in 41 games heading into the All-Star Break. In the 13 games since, he’s 9-3-1, but with a .911 save percentage, 3.11 GAA and zero shutouts.

There’s no shame in those post-break numbers, especially since he’s continuing to pile up wins. That, along with his continued health, is what the Lightning really care about.

That said, if Rinne finishes the season with more wins, more shutouts, and a better save percentage, who knows? The Finnish netminder’s already been piling up milestones this season, and with zero Vezina wins to his name, the 35-year-old might get a sentimental vote or two over Vasilevskiy, who’s just beginning his prime at 23. Such thoughts might be significant if the goalies end up with very similar stats.

To reiterate, Vasilevskiy still stands as the goalie who would justifiably win the Vezina if it were decided today. He leads the NHL in multiple categories, including when you go deeper. According to Hockey Reference, Vasilevskiy is tied for point shares alongside workhorse Frederik Andersen with 12, and he leads the league in Goals Saved Above Average at 22, edging second-place Rinne at 21.

Vasilevskiy is a big part of why the Lightning currently sit atop the NHL’s standings. In fact, his strong work is cited by many when they’re trying to argue against Nikita Kucherov‘s Hart credentials.

Still, the final stretch of the season could shrink his lead even more, whether it means Rinne grabbing edges or Connor Hellebuyck continuing his contract year for the ages by passing both of them with a red-hot March. It should be a fun race to watch, and maybe a palate cleanser if you want to mix things up after going blue in the face arguing semantics over “most valuable” in Hart debates.


James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bruins’ David Backes suffers leg laceration in collision (video)


A scary scene unfolded in the first period between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the visiting Boston Bruins on Saturday night.

David Backes and Yanni Gourde came together in the Lightning crease, with Gourde’s skate appearing to cut Backes on the outside of his right leg.

Backes was able to make his way to the Bruins bench on his own, but he was clutching the back of his leg before getting some help down the tunnel.

Backes did not return to the game.

The Bruins said that Backes suffered a laceration above his right knee, which required several stitches to close.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Dundon, Hurricanes suspend search for new GM: report


The Carolina Hurricanes’ search for a general manager is on hiatus.

Sportsnet’s John Shannon reported Saturday that the process of replacing former GM Ron Francis is being put on hold for the time being, citing that owner Tom Dundon needs more time.

“Tom hasn’t had the time he needs to do face to face interviews and feels that waiting will pay off,” Shannon wrote in a tweet.

Francis was removed from his post as GM on March 7 and “promoted” to a new role as president of hockey operations. There was only one catch: whoever replaced Francis would bypass the Hurricanes’ legend and report directly to Dundon.

The search, thus far, hasn’t been going that well, with three potential targets already withdrawing any interest they were thought to have had.

Part of that problem could be how hands-on Dundon appears to want to be. Part of it could just be timing. Fenton, for instance, could be on his way to a Stanley Cup ring this year in Nashville.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman touched on the situation in a recent 31 Thoughts column.

“I think what I’m looking for, is we have to be comfortable with each other. That’s the most important thing,” Dundon told Friedman when asked what he wants in a new GM. “I actually like to disagree and argue. I don’t want someone to come in and just do what I say, and I don’t want to make decisions. Someone to create a structure of how something is a good idea, and now we are going to get it done.”

You can add Pittsburgh Penguins assistant GM Bill Guerin to the list:

I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that Dundon wanting his hands all over the team — including whatever the GM is doing — isn’t the best selling point.

There’s some good, young talent on the Hurricanes for a new GM to come in and build around, but there’s also some dead weight, including what’s turned into a bad contract with goalie Scott Darling.

No GM wants to play puppet for an owner.

TSN’s Pierre LeBrun said the Hurricanes will suspend their search until the summer when a larger crop of candidates reveals itself.

Still, you have to wonder who’ll be willing to take that plunge. Someone will, of course, but people haven’t exactly been lining up to fill the role.

UPDATE: On Headlines on Saturday, Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos reported that the salary being offered to a prospective GM in Carolina is $400,000, to which he said he doesn’t see any GM taking as it’s too low. Friedman, meanwhile, believes the search for a new GM is not on a complete hiatus.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

St. Patrik Laine has Jets looking like perennial contender

Leave a comment

The Winnipeg Jets can thank their own St. Patrik for their success this season and potentially for years to come.

Patrik Laine was the consolation prize in the 2016 NHL draft behind generational talent Auston Matthews. But he has been a cause for celebration in Winnipeg as a franchise-changing superstar at age 19.

Mathieu Perreault saw the power Alex Ovechkin had to alter the direction of the Washington Capitals and turn them into a perennial playoff team and Stanley Cup contender. When Laine arrived from Finland, the winger started doing the same things in Winnipeg.

“The organization wasn’t having a whole lot of success, and then they get Ovi as a young kid and he starts scoring goals, and all of a sudden the team starts winning,” Perreault said.

“They became a very dominant team for many years. So you kind of sense that here, where the team’s been struggling for many years, not making the playoffs. And then you get this young kid coming in and scoring goals for your team and helps your team win games. I think coming up in Winnipeg we’ll have a dominant team for many years.”

That’s because Laine is already a dominant player. With 16 goals and eight assists in his past 14 games, Laine has the longest point streak by a teenager and already passed Wayne Gretzky for the most goals by a player before turning 20.

The best part for the Jets? Laine is just getting started.

“It’s really impressive when you factor in he’s still learning the game,” coach Paul Maurice said. “His scoring has taken off of late, but so has his game, his all-around game. … He’s an impressive young man at 19. At any age, those numbers would be elite. But at 19, that’s pretty exciting because there’s lot of room as he physically matures, for his game to change and become a power forward and a big, strong man who can score off the rush. Take pucks to the net. There are lots of places Patty is going to improve over the years.”

Laine is drawing comparisons to Ovechkin for his shot, which teammates and opposing goaltenders say is even more deceptive than the Russian 600-goal scorer ‘s blast. Capitals goaltender Philipp Grubauer, who has taken Ovechkin shots in practice for years, said Laine’s long stick changes the angle of where the puck is going.

“He shoots it, he pulls it in a little bit weird – long stick – and makes it really hard for us to read,” Grubauer said.

As much as Laine looked up to Ovechkin as a kid, the respect is now mutual. When Ovechkin scored twice Monday to reach 600 and get to 42 this season, Laine answered with his 41st and showed he has what it takes to go goal-for-goal with hockey’s best.

“He’s a great talent and still young and still can produce lots of dangerous (chances),” Ovechkin said.

Laine said it has always been a goal to win the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer, and he’s in the race to do that. Entering Saturday, he’s one behind Ovechkin and one ahead of Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin.

“It’s always been one of my dreams to win it,” Laine said. “It’s good motivation for me.”

Laine is also motivated by trying to help set the Jets up for the playoffs and make a long run this spring. Winnipeg has been banged up and secondary scoring has been hot and cold, but Laine’s scoring pace has his teammates believing anything is possible.

“You give him one opportunity and it’s in the back of the net,” Perreault said. “Right now every shot it seems goes in. It helps us win games when he scores like that. It’s been fun to see.”

Maurice doesn’t know what he sees as Laine’s ceiling, but doesn’t think it matters. As Laine’s game rounds out, he’ll face different kinds of defensive challenges, and then it’ll be up to him to prove he can sustain scoring the way Ovechkin has over the past decade-plus.

“The overall game Patty will play will become far more important than whether it’s 40, 50 or whatever that number (of goals) ends up being,” Maurice said.

“At some point, Patty is going to play 20 minutes a night. Maybe not at 19, but when that happens, he’ll be playing against the `A’ group. It’s not as easy to keep scoring like Ovechkin has when you move up the lineup and you play more minutes and you play against the other teams’ best.”


This stick save by Roberto Luongo is absolutely incredible


The Florida Panthers are one of the hottest teams in the NHL and desperately trying to make an improbable run for one of the playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.

Great goaltending will go a long way toward getting them there, and Roberto Luongo is still one of the best in the business even in his age 38 season.

On Saturday afternoon against the Edmonton Oilers he made one of the saves of the year when he did this to help the Panthers hold on to a 2-1 lead in the second period.

That looked like it was going to be a sure goal for Anton Slepyshev.

Luongo has been limited to just 26 games this season but has been absolutely spectacular when he has played, carrying a .926 save percentage into Saturday’s game.

Unfortunately for the Panthers that save by Luongo was not enough on Saturday as they ended up giving up three consecutive goals to fall, 4-2.

The Panthers entered the day three points out of a playoff spot with games in hand on the teams they are chasing. They are still 16-5-1 win since Jan. 30, but if the New Jersey Devils and Columbus Blue Jackets pick up wins on Saturday their playoff chances are going to take a pretty significant hit, even with the games still in hand.



Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.