Vezina Trophy

Hellebuyck, Rask, Vasilevskiy voted 2019-20 Vezina Trophy finalists

Connor Hellebuyck of the Jets, Tuukka Rask of the Bruins and Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Lightning have been named the three finalists for the 2019-20 Vezina Trophy. The award, which is voted on by the NHL’s 31 general managers, is given to the goaltender “adjudged to be the best at this position.”

Vasilevskiy was a first-time winner last season.

The winner will be announced during the conference finals.

[2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule]

The case for Connor Hellebuyck: The Jets netminder was a workhorse this season leading all goalies in games played (58), shots faced (1,796), saves (1,656), and was second in minutes played (3,268:33). His .929 5-on-5 save percentage was fifth-best in the NHL and his six shutouts were tops in the league. How valuable was he for Winnipeg? He helped his team win 31 of their 37 games during the regular season and he faced 37-or-more shots in 13 games, posting a .948 save percentage over that span. A win would make him the first in franchise history to capture the Vezina.

The case for Tuukka Rask: No goalie in the NHL had a better 5-on-5 save percentage (.941) or goals saved above average (19.69) than the Bruins netminder. He was right behind Hellebuyck in shutouts with five. Along with Jaroslav Halak, the Boston tandem won the William Jennings Trophy as the goaltenders on the team allowing the fewest regular-season goals. Rask won the award back in 2013-14.

The case for Andrei Vasilevskiy: He led all goaltenders in wins (35), was third in overall ice time (3,121:54), was fourth in goals saved above average (9.77), and was sixth in even strength save percentage (.927) among netminders with at least 40 starts. One of Vasilevskiy’s highlights was leading the Lightning on a 21-game point streak (19-0-2) and helping them win 21 of his final 27 regular season starts. This is the third straight season he’s been a finalist and he would become the first back-to-back winner of the award since Martin Brodeur in 2006-07 and 2007-08.

NHL AWARD FINALISTS
Ted Lindsay Award: Leon Draisaitl, Nathan MacKinnon, Artemi Panarin
Calder Trophy: Quinn Hughes, Cale Makar, Dominik Kubalik
Jack Adams Award: Bruce Cassidy, John Tortorella, Alain Vigneault
Lady Byng: Nathan MacKinnonAuston Matthews, Ryan O'Reilly
• Masterton Trophy: Stephen Johns, Oskar Lindblom, Bobby Ryan

Selke Trophy: Patrice Bergeron, Sean Couturier, Ryan O’Reilly
• Norris Trophy: John Carlson, Victor Hedman, Roman Josi
Hart Trophy: Leon Draisaitl, Nathan MacKinnon, Artemi Panarin

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Byfuglien-sized surprises, disappointments for Winnipeg Jets

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the surprises and disappointments for the Winnipeg Jets.

Hellebuyck surprises with heck of a season for Jets

Depending on your interpretation of “most valuable player,” you can make a strong argument that Connor Hellebuyck deserves the Hart Trophy, not just the Vezina.

With injuries and the absence of Dustin Byfuglien dealing huge blows to the Jets’ defense, it’s truly remarkable that Winnipeg entered the pause in playoff position. To that, I offer a simple remark: it’s mainly because of Hellebuyck.

Hellebuyck managed a 31-21-5 record, but of course, it was about more than that. For one thing, you can break down Hellebuyck’s .922 save percentage compared to backup Laurent Brossoit‘s .895.

When you factor in the leaky Jets defense in front of him, Hellebuyck really shines.

Looking at Hockey Reference’s Goals Saved Against Average stat, Hellebuyck (22.40) only trails Tuukka Rask (22.51). Anton Khudobin sits in distant third at 17.75, while Darcy Kuemper (16.65) is the only other goalie who reached 14+.

Hellebuyck saved a lot of goals. He saved the Jets’ bacon.

If you choose MVPs based on the most indispensible player of a season, you’d probably pick Hellebuyck.

It’s not shocking that Hellebuyck ended up playing well, but carrying the Jets on his shoulders ranks as one of the bigger surprises of the season.

Neal Pionk > Jacob Trouba?

People understood that Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff had to trade Trouba’s rights. While one can only wonder if there was a better way to settle the situation, that moment passed.

Even so, plenty of people scoffed at Pionk being part of the return. Yes, Pionk scored a mind-blowing goal for the Rangers, and showed some scoring skill. But just about every other metric pointed to Pionk being … pretty bad.

Well, the Jets certainly can puff their chests out, because Pionk’s been crucial to their defense.

Now, it’s probably still true that you don’t necessarily want Pionk to be featured this much. An ideal blueline probably won’t lean on Pionk for a team-leading 23:23 per night. Sometimes things aren’t ideal, though. In reality, Pionk delivered incredible value for Winnipeg.

Meanwhile, Trouba looks like an $8M mistake for the Rangers. Pionk’s younger and cheaper than Trouba, and the Jets also nabbed a first-rounder in the deal. It’s remarkable just how similar Pionk and Trouba come across in this even-strength RAPM comparison chart via Evolving Hockey:

Wow. Pionk being arguably better than Trouba is quite the surprise for the Jets, and a massive disappointment for the Rangers.

Disappointments abound for Byfuglien, Jets

So, Pionk ended up being important to the Jets. And Hellebuyck cleaned up the many messes made by Pionk and that shorthanded blueline crew.

But none of it really washes down the disappointments involving Dustin Byfuglien and his now-former team, the Jets.

The COVID-19 pause creates extra uncertainty, but Byfuglien’s future seems like it would be cloudy either way. It’s also fuzzy figuring out what, exactly, happened. The situation ended up disappointing for Byfuglien’s accountant, at minimum, being that he walked away from a lot of money.

Hopefully we’ll get the pleasant surprise of an awkward-but-entertaining game whenever Byfuglien suits up for a different team against the Jets. The point being: it would be deeply, deeply disappointing if we never see the towering, one-of-a-kind defenseman ever play again. Especially since there would be no warning that we’d already seen his last game.

Either way, it was a highly disappointing end to Byfuglien’s lengthy, important stay with the Jets. The connections between the Thrashers days just keep fading away.

MORE ON THE JETS:

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

Lightning goalie Vasilevskiy wins first Vezina Trophy

Andrei Vasilevskiy has been an elite goalie for the Tampa Bay Lightning for some time. His strong recent work paid off as he won the 2019 Vezina Trophy, his first such award.

The other finalists were Ben Bishop of the Dallas Stars and Robin Lehner of the New York Islanders. Lehner won the Masterton Trophy earlier in the 2019 NHL Awards.

You can tell that this is a bittersweet night for Vasilevskiy and the rest of the Lightning, as it’s clear that the wounds haven’t totally healed from that shocking first Round 1 sweep at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

That shouldn’t take away from a strong season for Vasilevskiy, and the Lightning in general, so this award is part of that haul. Lightning teammate Nikita Kucherov has already started collecting his awards, and is likely to add more before the trophies are all handed out.

As you can see from the voting results, Vasilevskiy won by a large margin. Personally, I believe Bishop had a strong argument in his own right, but this is a fine choice:

Last year, Pekka Rinne won the Vezina, beating out Vasilevskiy, who was a finalist.

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

Bishop, Lehner, Vasilevskiy are 2019 Vezina Trophy finalists

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Awards season shifts to the crease as the three finalists for the NHL’s top netminder were unveiled on Saturday.

The nominees, voted by the league’s 31 general managers, including Ben Bishop of the Dallas Stars, Robin Lehner of the New York Islanders and Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The award was first presented by Leo Dandurand, Louis Letourneau and Joe Cattarinich, former owners of the Montreal Canadiens,1926-27 in memory Georges Vezina, who died in 1925 from tuberculosis. Prior to the 1981-82 season, the goaltender(s) of a team with the fewest number of goals allowed during the regular season was awarded the trophy.

The winner will be announced on June 19 (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN) at the 2019 NHL Awards in Las Vegas.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The case for Ben Bishop: Bishop was superb all season, leading all goalies with a .934 save percentage, finishing second in goals-against average with a 1.98 and third in shutouts with seven. Bishop came to life down the stretch, going 8-0-1 in his final 10 appearances as the Stars grabbed the first wildcard spot in the Western Conference. He had three straight shutouts during that span, setting a franchise record for longest shutout streak at 233:04. His .934 save percentage was also a franchise record and the eighth-best by any goalie in league history. Bishop was 27-15-2 in 46 games.

The case for Robin Lehner: Lehner had a turnaround season for the ages, overcoming some personal demons and switching teams from Buffalo to the New York Islanders. Lehner thrived in his move across state, posting the second-best save percentage in the league at .930, third in goals-against at 2.13 and tied for fourth with six shutouts. Lehner’s season play really shined between Dec. 18 and Jan. 10 where he won eight straight games. He, along with Thomas Greiss, formed a formidable one-two punch in the Islanders’ crease, one that ultimately helped the Isles into the postseason after losing John Tavares to free agency last summer. The Islanders went from worst in goals-against to first, a feat only done once before in NHL history. Lehner was 25-13-5 in 46 games.

The case for Andrei Vasilevskiy: Vasilevskiy posted 39 wins in 53 games and was a big reason why the Tampa Bay Lightning tied an NHL record for most wins in a season with 62. Vasilevskiy won 18 of the first 21 games he appeared in to get Tampa to the feat, including a 10-game winning streak between Feb. 9 and March 5. Vasilevskiy’s best play came after a loss. In fact, he only lost consecutive outings once all season, posting a 13-0-1 record following a defeat. He finished third last season and has a good chance to take home the hardware this year.

MORE 2019 NHL AWARD FINALISTS:
• Selke Trophy
Lady Bing Trophy
Masteron Trophy


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

Bishop’s shutout streak for Stars enhancing Vezina Trophy case

There are two big points on the line Thursday night in Minnesota when the Wild host the Dallas Stars. Both are pursuing playoff spots in the Western Conference, but the Wild will face a tall task in trying to score on Ben Bishop, who’s been unbeatable of late.

Bishop has shutouts in each of his last three starts and hasn’t surrendered a goal since late in the second period of the Stars’ March 2 win over the St. Louis Blues. His shutout streak is currently 204:20, the second-longest in franchise history behind Eddie Belfour’s 219:26, which was set in 2000. He’s also the third goaltender in franchise history to record three straight shutouts, joining Belfour’s 2000 run and Cesare Maniago who did it in 1967.

“It’s just one of those things,” Bishop said after Tuesday’s win Buffalo. “I’ll take it. The wins are what’s important. Obviously the shutouts are nice but it’s not why we play the game. The guys are doing a great job in front of me, big blocks at important times, big penalty kills, and then a couple of posts. Things are going my way right now, just try to ride the high as long you can.”

Bishop’s play has NBCSN’s own Brian Boucher, who owns the NHL record for longest shutout streak at 332:01, a little nervous:

What this run for Bishop has also done is move the 32-year-old netminder into the Vezina Trophy discussion. He’s now tied for second in the league with six shutouts, tied for first among goaltenders with 35 appearances with a .935 even strength save percentage, and tied for third among goaltenders with 1,500 minutes played with a .869 high-danger save percentage (via Natural Stat Trick).

Another stat for Bishop’s Vezina resume? He’s third in the league with a plus-15.32 goals saved above average, which measures how many goals a goaltender has saved compared to a league-average netminder.

“There’s just a calmness to him, of when he’s stopping pucks and when he’s handling pucks, that you know when he’s really on top of his game,” said Stars head coach Jim Montgomery.

After falling short as a finalist in 2014 and 2016, could 2019 be Bishop’s year to take home hardware? At the moment, there are a good number of contenders with Frederik Andersen, Marc-Andre Fleury, Robin Lehner, and Andrei Vasilevskiy as some of the names in the mix. It will have to come down to who impressed the league’s 31 general managers the most when it’s time to vote.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.