by PuckStopsHere on 04/01/10 at 11:42 AM ET
There is a lot of support to give Ilya Bryzgalov of the Phoenix Coyotes the Vezina or even the Hart Trophy. I think this idea is misguided. The idea is that Phoenix has been the most improved team in the league. They have done so without significantly increasing goals scored (last year they scored 2.50 goals per game and this year its 2.56). Their improvement has come by reducing goals allowed from 3.04 to 2.41. They are crediting this improvement to Bryzgalov. This idea is flawed, in part because Bryzgalov was their goalie last season, so any improvement in goaltending merely shows improvement in Bryzgalov and not his being the most valuable player. It is this kind of thinking that often gives the coach of the year to the most improved team’s coach.
I think the biggest reason for Phoenix’s reduction in goal allowed is better team defence. For the most part this comes from better coaching. Dave Tippett is a far better coach that Wayne Gretzky and this shows in the standings. As a team, Phoenix has made great strides defensively. That will improve their win totals and improve their goaltenders statistics.
This improvement is seen in both Phoenix goalies. Jason LaBarbera has a .929 saves percentage and a 2.16 GAA in limited work. Last year he put up a .901 saves percentage and a 2.78 GAA. Bryzgalov had a .906 saves percentage and a 2.98 GAA. Their numbers have both improved significantly. We are seeing the effects of an improved defence in front of them. Both the quality and quantity of shots they have faced have gone down.
You cannot give an award to a team defence, but giving it to the goalie instead is pointless, when the defence is what made a big part of the difference.
This is not to say that Bryzgalov is not having a good season. I would not seriously consider him for the Hart Trophy, but he is a candidate for the Vezina Trophy. I see Ryan Miller as the Vezina leader. I think the rest of the pack is a battle between several candidates including Tomas Vokoun, Jimmy Howard, Evgeni Nabokov, Miikka Kiprusoff, Craig Anderson, Henrik Lundqvist and Bryzgalov. The season is not over and there is more than enough time for him to improve his case, but I would not nominate Bryzgalov for Vezina if the season ended now. His nomination would be based on Phoenix’s improvement and not on his individual play. Their improvement is more clearly the result of coaching and the team defence it produced. Bryzgalov (and Jason LaBarbera with fewer games played) have played well, but they have also been beneficiaries of this improvement.
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