The NHL season has started, giving InGoal Magazine writers a sneak peak at a couple of key contenders before submitting their Vezina Trophy predictions for 2016-17.
Of course prohibitive favourite and Montreal Canadiens superstar Carey Price has yet to play, missing the first two games of the season with what the team called a “severe case of flu, accompanied by fever” that required antibiotic, rest at home and daily evaluations by the team doctor. All of which is bound to have Canadiens fans, still smarting from a season without their saviour, sweating feverishly as well, and as much as we’d like to calm their fears with this season’s predictions, Price was curiously only atop three of six InGoal ballots.
At the risk of letting it go to his head, we’ll start the list with the one returning voter who correctly picked Braden Holtby as the Vezina Trophy winner last season (and before Canadiens fan panic, Price did fare better in the overall standings, which appear at the bottom, after all the individual picks are listed):
Here’s what Campbell had to say about his choices: “Picking the Vezina winner isn’t the same as picking the best goaltender. I believe, barring injury, Price will turn in the best goaltending season this year. However, Bishop will have a season that appeals most to the voting general managers. Tampa Bay promises to be an Eastern powerhouse, and Bishop will benefit greatly from their success. His aggressive style and daring puckhandling lend themselves well to the highlight reel.
“I wanted to name Schneider to my top spot, but his tireless, consistent efficiency won’t be rewarded unless the Devils make the playoffs, an unlikely event. I expect Lundqvist to execute another excellent season that garners little attention: he makes the extraordinary look routine, to his Vezina detriment. Holtby will be playing behind more or less the same Washington team as least season, meaning he will once again garner the wins and low goals-against average that will attract votes.”
Silverman’s take: “Hate to be the contrarian but the more I think about it, the more I think this is Schneider’s year. The New Jersey starter has been on my ‘snub’ list the last two seasons and I think he’s only missed nomination by virtue of the MISERABLE product the Devils have iced in front of him. This year, though, they actually have some solid offensive weapons; in addition to names like Adam Henrique, they’ve got Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri to bolster a previously lackluster offense. If the Devils even sniff the playoffs, Schneider may finally get the credit he’s due.
“After him, things got harder. I’ve got a weird feeling Murray may put on a clinic this season but ultimately, I couldn’t bring myself to put him above Price. They both make strong cases for candidates, though, as does Crawford, who holds the distinction as the goaltender I’ve changed my mind on the most in the last year. I used to think he got too much credit, but his game has matured while we were all busy falling for Price and Holtby.
“My final spot almost went to Lundqvist, but ultimately I think voting won’t go in his favor again this year. Too much is stacked against him, particularly his defense. As a result, you have to think Holtby is making his way into the league’s heart as the next perennial nominee; hopefully, instead of Jonathan Quick.”
McGregor explains why he went off the board with Crawford: “Along with Patrick Kane, Crawford was a major reason why Chicago posted a 47-win, 103-point campaign last year. He led the league in shutouts, tied for second in save percentage and tied for fourth in wins. In fact over the past two seasons, only two netminders have posted a better save percentage than Crawford: Price and Schneider.
“With the Blackhawks core getting that little bit older and the unlikelihood that Kane is quite that good again this year, Crawford’s role on the team will be even more important this season – and he will step up, the Hawks will make the play-offs and Crawford will finally get the credit he deserves.
“As for Price, no need for superlatives; they’ve all been used before. There’s little to add other than I think Montreal will miss the playoffs and that will deny the Team Canada No.1 his second Vezina Trophy because the actual Vezina voting seems to be tied to this silly notion a team has* to make the playoffs for their goalie to win (* Sergei Bobrovsky was a special exception in a lock out shortened season)
“Schneider is the poster boy for the ‘who should win versus who actually won’ debate that so frequently accompanies the Vezina Trophy. While it is still hard to see New Jersey as a playoff team, improvements to their roster should put them under the spotlight a little more, allowing Schneider to shine. Like Price, his team will probably cost him a genuine shot at winning the award but he should at least receive a nomination if he plays anywhere near his best.
“As for Lundqvist, a surprisingly high number of people believe the Rangers will miss the playoffs this year but it won’t be their goalie’s fault. A perennial Vezina candidate, the veteran Swede remains one of the league’s elite goaltenders but a weak blue line and questionable roster overall will ultimate harm his chances of individual honours because that seems to be how the voting goes.
“Holtby will continue to rank somewhere between good and very good, the Capitals will keep winning and thus Holtby will remain a contender for the Vezina Trophy again this year. A few extra nights off might help his cause, but he’ll be there or there abouts once again.”
1. Carey Price
2. Henrik Lundqvist
3. Cory Schneider
4. Braden Holtby
5. Roberto Luongo
Balloch was too busy in his Jr. A video coach and goalie consultant duties to give his reasons, but it’s hard to argue with his picks, even if he had Semy0n Varlamov first and Holtby first last season.
1. Carey Price
2. Ben Bishop
3. Braden Holtby
4. Henrik Lundqvist
5. Pekka Rinne
We’ll ignore the fact the InGoal founder didn’t even have Holtby on his ballot and picked Rinne to win last season, and let him explain this year’s choices anyway: “Price, the best goalie in the world is off to a strong start with the World Cup performance. As much as I’m a huge P.K. Subban fan, I expect Shea Weber and a desire to maximize the acquisition through a further commitment to team defence will translate into a win for Price – as if he needs the improved defense to stand out from the rest.
“I’d prefer to put Schneider in the second slot. Deserving, but he’ll likely be overlooked again. Assuming he remains a Bolt all season, I think Tampa’s strength gets Bishop noticed by GMs voting once again.
“Holtby is the reigning champ on a team that will contend again and GMs stick with the tried and true here. Will a relative snub at the World Cup motivate?
“Lundqvist is consistently at a level above all but Price; I expect the Rangers to take a step back but the King will do everything in his power to prevent it and be recognized (again) for his work.
“As for Rinne, I’ll probably have the InGoal team disagreeing with me here and he has enough technical issues to warrant that scorn, but Nashville will be strong this season and someone is going to benefit from the Subban-Weber trade. I think that will be Montreal on the defensive front as I said but let’s call this covering my bet.”
1. Carey Price
2. Semyon Varlamov
3. Braden Holtby
4. Henrik Lundqvist
5. Ben Bishop
This isn’t a matter of leaving the best for last because Woodley had Devan Dubnyk atop this list last season and Holtby finishing fourth. He is also nicknamed “Donator” in most of his hockey pools, not nevertheless we’ll let him try to justify his picks again: “Price is at a level above all others, so unless you are predicting another long-term injury any preseason Vezina ballot without him at the top is a case of overthinking things. If he gets the Canadiens back to the playoffs after last season’s disaster without him, you might as well lock him in for a second Hart Trophy in three seasons as well as his second Vezina.
“I’ll borrow from Greg’s call last season on Varlamov, who should have won a Vezina in 2013 ahead of Tuukka Rask, and should benefit from improved defensive structure under a new coach after being asked to bail out too many high-quality chances behind the Patrick Roy-coached Avalanche. Holtby and Bishop will rack up enough wins and good numbers behind great teams – and so might Pekka Rinne when it comes to wins – to stay deservedly in the mix for the Vezina but don’t be surprised if Lundqvist, who many expect to be hung out to dry by a depleted defense, gets back into the conversation he was strangely left out of last season despite advanced statistics that showed he was still among the NHL’s elite.”
(using reverse points system, so 5 for first place vote, 1 for fifth)
1. Carey Price — 27 points; 3 first-place votes
2. Cory Schneider — 14 points, 1 first-place vote
3. Henrik Lundqvist — 12 points, 0 first-place votes