I guess five shutouts in a 48-game season just don’t count as much as they used to.
In fact, stats in general don’t seem to matter if you look at the three finalists the NHL general managers picked for the Vezina Trophy, which goes every season to the goaltender considered the best by a vote of the GMs.
Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask was not among the final three announced Wednesday. As he prepares to play for the Bruins in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Wednesday night in Toronto, with the Bruins ahead two games to one, Rask undoubtedly could give a heck about the Vezina. Nonetheless, if he needs something to fill a sliver of motivation in his tank that’s probably already full based on his unwavering desire to win, Rask can find it in this terrible decision.
Despite starting fewer games than all the finalists, Rask was tied for the league lead with four other goaltenders with five shutouts. Columbus’ Sergei Bobrovsky and San Jose’s Antti Niemi were tied for second with four. New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, last year’s Vezina winner, had just two shutouts.
Lundqvist and Niemi both started 43 games, while Bobrovsky made 37 starts and Rask 34. Rask beat out Lundqvist and Niemi in save percentage with a .929 compared to .926 and .924 for those two, respectively. Rask’s goals-against average of 2.00 was the same as Bobrovsky’s and better than that of Lundqvist and Niemi. Lundqvist was at 2.05 and Niemi 2.16. All four goaltenders faced between 25-26 shots per game on average.
So what gives? One can only assume there was a West Coast bias, by which the GMs didn’t want all the nominees from Eastern-based teams. Or perhaps the Bruins’ defensive reputation hurt Rask’s chances, although the Rangers’ defense-first approach didn’t seen to hurt Lundqvist.
Rasks’ snub comes one day after the voters of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association left defenseman Zdeno Chara out of the Norris Trophy final three. That omission was a little less egregious. We all know Chara is the best defenseman in the NHL now that Nicklas Lidstrom is tucked into retirement. But maybe Chara didn’t have the best season of all the league’s defensemen. He was plus-14, but put up just 7-12-19 totals. Sure, he faces the other team’s best player every night, and is the one guy no one wants to match up against, but he scored half the number of points of finalists P.K. Subban and Kris Letang, who both played less games than Chara. You can break down the defensive play all you want and look at the overall time on ice and the shorthanded time on ice, and you’re still not going to find a number that will stop writers from voting for the guys with the most points. Minnesota’s Ryan Suter should probably be the winner based on his 32 points, plus-2 rating and solid ice-time minutes despite playing a team that barely qualified for the playoffs.
The Rask snub is worse than Chara’s because the numbers should settle these debates, and they all say that the only goaltender that should’ve been a challenger to Rask was Bobrovsky. Yet the GMs managed to find two others. Oh well.
Awards make for good filler when a player’s career is over and you need to fill in his bio. They probably take up space that could be used better in a player’s home. They’re subjective and based on the opinions of a small sample of executives or writers. In the grand scheme of things, people don’t remember who won the Vezina, the Norris or the Calder as well as they remember the one everybody wants and actually requires work, the one that no one votes on, the Stanley Cup.
That’s what the games are played for, that’s what Rask and Chara really want more than anything, and so that’s what they’ll keep pursuing regardless of what public opinion is of them and their stats.