Fun fact: Before becoming the remarkably mediocre sportswriter I am now, I was intent on becoming a lawyer.
I have a political science degree and barely-opened LSAT study books to prove it.
Obviously, that did not happen. But one of the main reasons that placed me hot on the path to law school is that my parents always told me, through gritted teeth, that I was very good at arguing.
So, that’s what I’m going to do today.
With you lovely readers as the jury, I’m going to select the four leading candidates for the Vezina trophy this season and present a case — pro bono, of course — for why each should take home the hardware.
Let’s do this, shall we? Court is now in session.
Igor Shesterkin – New York Rangers
Stat line: 46 GP, 32-10-4. 3 SO, .933 Save Percentage
The reason we’re even having this conversation at all can be attributed to Shesterkin turning into a pumpkin for the better part of the past month, posting a sub-.900 save percentage in five of his past nine games, including two below .800.
After crafting one of the more dominant starts from a goaltender in the NHL’s modern era, Shesterkin has seemingly crashed back to earth, taking his runaway Vezina candidacy with him.
But this is an award that encompasses an entire season’s performance, not merely a late-year blip.
And for 90 percent of the 2021-22 NHL season, Igor Shesterkin was, by leaps and bounds, the best player to set up shop in the crease. Frankly, it wasn’t even close. And you can bet your bottom dollar that the Rangers wouldn’t even be sniffing the playoffs without him.
Even when factoring in his nightmare month of March, Shesterkin’s current .933 save percentage is both ridiculous when factoring in how goal-scoring is at its highest in 26 years, and league-leading, with the Russian netminder being the sole member of the .930 Club.
Dig into some of the Nerd Numbers™, and Shesterkin still stands well above his peers, sitting atop the league-wide leaderboard in both goals-saved-above-average and goals allowed adjusted, while his 11.9 point-share ranks second among all goaltenders.
Frankly, if it weren’t for some mid-season injuries, which Shesterkin bounced back from immediately, his reign over the NHL’s stat sheet might be even greater.
His recent struggles can’t be ignored, and if Shesterkin continues them through the season’s remaining 10-12 games, then we’ll adjourn at a later date.
But, for now, he’s the clear favorite.
Juuse Saros – Nashville Predators
Stat line: 58 GP, 34-21-3, 3 SO, .921 Save Percentage
The Nashville Predators are a lot like the NFL’s Green Bay Packers, in that they’re a relatively small-market team with a passionate fanbase that saw one long-time franchise player retire after a storied tenure only to be replaced almost immediately by his arguably better protege — with (likely) little actual success to show for it.
Yes, I just compared Juuse Saros to Aaron Rodgers. No, I will not recognize their lack of similarities in basically all other aspects of life. Let’s just move forward.
It’s couldn’t have been easy to take the reigns from Pekka Rinne. But when the Predators legend retired ahead of the season, Saros didn’t just take over, he made the team’s crease his own, establishing himself as one of the NHL’s premier netminders and dragging the Predators into playoff contention in the process.
It should come as no surprise that Saros has the highest goalie point-share, a stat used to calculate a goaltender’s impact on their team’s point total, by a wide margin this season. Take those estimated 12.9 points away, and Nashville tumbles well outside the playoff picture, going from the top of the Western Conference’s wild-card race to below the Vancouver Canucks for sixth.
Obviously, no stat is completely accurate, and context is needed. So all you Uncles stop yelling at me. But Saros’ overwhelming dominance in the areas that measure team-specific impact can’t be ignored.
His sterling .921 save percentage while facing the second-highest shot total of any goaltender this season, along with his second-ranked goals-saved-above-average and fifth-lowest goals-allowed-adjusted only furthers my point.
If Saros doesn’t win, he should at the very least be nominated.
Jacob Markstrom – Calgary Flames
Stat line: 55 GP, 32-14-8, 9 SO, .924 Save Percentage
Jacob Markstrom has done wonders this season to dispel the don’t-sign-goalies-over-30-to-long-term-deals narrative that followed him around in 2021.
After a rough debut campaign in Calgary, Markstrom has not only returned to form in 2021-22, but has arguably surpassed the level from his Canucks days that earned him his pay raise in the first place.
Here’s a cool stat: over 16 percent of the opponents Markstrom has faced this season have failed to score a goal against him.
That’s wild. Especially when a goalie’s job is, you know, to stop opponents from scoring against them.
It probably doesn’t surprise you, then, to learn that Markstrom’s nine shutouts lead the league by a wide margin. A 33 percent margin, to be precise, with the Islanders’ Ilya Sorokin sitting closest to him on the overall leaderboard with six.
The .924 save percentage that Markstrom has put up to this point also stands as the best mark of his career, while his 11.3 point-share ranks third in the NHL, and his 26 goals-saved-above-average and 82 goals-allowed-adjusted land in the top-five, respectively.
But it’s Markstrom’s point-share, in particular, that warrants further focus, given how the Flames find themselves in the midst of one of the most successful seasons in franchise history which, after years of mediocrity, have seen them emerge as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
It’s not a coincidence that the Flames’ ascent to the league’s upper echelon happened to coincide with Markstrom’s.
He’s having a terrific season. And with how narrative-happy NHL GMs (who vote on the Vezina, for some reason) are, they might just side with the veteran.
Frederik Andersen – Carolina Hurricanes
Stat line: 48 GP, 33-12-3, 4 SO, .926 Save Percentage
Talk about a comeback.
Frederik Andersen looked cooked in his last season as a Maple Leaf in 2021, battling injuries all year long and performing terribly whenever he managed to see the ice. By the playoffs, Jack Campbell had surpassed him on the depth chart, nailing the coffin shut on Andersen’s tenure in the Hockey Mecca.
Facing free agency, things were looking bleak. But Andersen got healthy, signed a short-term deal with the Hurricanes, and became the latest goaltender to have a career-best season in his early-to-mid-30s.
It likely helps that Andersen plays behind one of the NHL’s best bluelines whose modus operandi is specifically dedicated to forcing opponents into low-percentage shooting lanes.
But you don’t put up a .926 save percentage and four shutouts on systems alone. Andersen has completely revived himself in his new/old home, registering a top-10 point-share while surrendering the third-fewest goals-allowed-adjusted among his peers.
The Hurricanes, meanwhile, are rolling, looking as dominant as ever. Sure, they’ve looked poised for deep runs in the past. But this otherwise meticulously constructed roster has had its contention potential knocked out from under it for the past three years by underwhelming goaltending.
Andersen sure is making it seem like that won’t be the case this year. And, in the process, is putting together quite the case for Vezina consideration.