Kukla's Korner

23 Intently Staring Goalies

Bobrovsky wins the Vezina—and that’s okay!

The definition for the Vezina trophy according to the NHL website: "The Vezina Trophy is an annual award given to the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at this position as voted by the general managers of all NHL clubs."

The Vezina trophy changed from being a totally objective award to a more subjective one back in 1981, when the Jennings trophy was introduced to award the goaltender with the lowest goals against average. And if you're old enough to remember when the CBC only showed the second and third period for Hockey Night in Canada, you probably spent more than a few seasons being more than a bit miffed when you thought the best goaltender that year wasn't necessarily the one who had the lowest GAA.

The trouble is, the GAA isn't the only indicator of how well the goalie has played. Take a look at the Vezina trophy winners from the 1980's when the philosophy was "don't worry we'll score more"; the GAAs are pretty scary. And if you look at who won the Vezina and who won the Jennings, they don't match. In fact, in some seasons it looks like the Jennings was "best goaltender not playing in the Eastern Conference".  So, it appears that the GMs aren't necessarily voting based on sheer numbers.

Which is why I'm perfectly good with Sergei Bobrovsky winning the Vezina this season. Yes, the Columbus Bluejackets didn't make the playoffs, but Bobrovsky's play made them competitive, which if you've been following the Bluejackets since their inception, is a major accomplishment. And 17 of the GM's showed their appreciation by giving Bobrovsky a first place vote, with 9 giving a send place vote, and one a third place vote (And yes, I would love to know the reasons the 4 who didn't give Bobrovsky a vote did not do so. Well, I'd also like to hear from the GM who gave Ray Emery the single first place vote--seriously, guy?).

I don't expect to see this happen again--a lot of things had to come into play to have a goalie whose team didn't get into the playoffs win a trophy. But it's good that this particular bromide has been put to bed. Yeah, it never happened before, and yeah "back in the old days", but a lot of less than stellar decisions were made in the old days, and sheer age shouldn't be used for making a decision.

And yeah, I expect to hear the "well let's see what he does next season (Can we get the Wicked Witch of the West in here to do the V/O work? Thanks!), but the trophy is for this season, and Bobrovsky deserves it. I'm going to be interested in seeing how Bobrovsky does next season, especially with a move back to the Eastern Conference. But John Davidson has confidence in Bobrovsky, and I think Davidson knows his goalies.

Here's what Aaron Portzline at the Columbus Dispatch has to say:

One year ago this week, Sergei Bobrovsky was acquired by the Blue Jackets from the Philadelphia Flyers. What is harder to fathom now, that the Flyers parted ways with Bobrovsky or that his arrival in Columbus — for three draft picks — was met with so little regard? Bobrovsky won the Vezina Trophy last night as the NHL’s top goaltender, accepting the award at Chicago’s United Center before Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

“It’s a great accomplishment for me and for my team,” Bobrovsky said through an interpreter. “Thank you to everyone who voted for me.”

Bobrovsky earned 17 first-place votes from the 30 NHL general managers, who voted before the start of the playoffs. He also got eight second-place votes and one third-place vote, totaling 110 points. He was left off four ballots.

Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers (three first-place votes, 55 points) was second, and Antti Niemi of San Jose (six first-place votes, 46 points) was third.

“When I got (traded) to Columbus, I didn’t care what people (around the league) think or what they say,” Bobrovsky said. “The most important thing for me was, ‘How can I help this team? What can I do to get better?’ That was my only focus.”

Bobrovsky, 24, also finished fifth in voting for the Hart Trophy, given to the NHL’s most valuable player. Alex Ovechkin of Washington won the Hart. He is the first Russian player to win the Vezina, and the youngest player to win it since Jim Carey, 22, in 1996 for the Capitals.

The Blue Jackets had only two major NHL award winners before last night. Goaltender Steve Mason won the Calder Trophy (top rookie) in 2009 and former captain Rick Nash shared the Maurice Richard trophy (most goals) in 2004.

No Blue Jackets player has ever received a vote for the Hart.

“This is a tremendous moment for Sergei, and similarly for our franchise,” said John Davidson, the Blue Jackets’ president of hockey operations and a former NHL goaltender. “He became a guy you could count on every day. He set an example for our franchise.”

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About 23 Intently Staring Goalies

23 Intently Staring Goalies comes from the 23 close-up photos of goalies that used to line the walls of my office.

On the good side, it kept down interruptions, but it also made sure I had to leave my trash outside my door if I wanted it picked up.

I've been watching and analyzing goaltenders for going on 40 years. Some of that was spent drawing goalies on my grade 8 math homework. Then it was taking my card decks and printouts to Indianapolis Racer games. Luckily, the Internet took off, and by 1991 I was half of the duo that would ultimately become the Plaidworks hockey mailing lists. I wrote "Handicapping the Goalies' for the San Jose Sharks mailing list, and took a lot of photos of goalies in action. I have around 5000 slides of mostly goaltenders in action from 1989 through 2001 from the WHL, IHL and NHL. Since I've gone digital, I've added about 10,000 more images to the library. During summers and when the league went dark, I was reading through multiple SF By area news papers, tracking ice hockey from the 1917 recreational leagues up through the California Seals.

We'll be talking about goalies and goaltending. We'll talk about whats going on now, who's in the system, and when the doldrums hit, I'll haul something out of the big bag of history, or something from the photo archives. We'll talk about who's hot and why, and who's not and what they can do to get back on track. We'll take a look at the trends in scouting goalies, and why a style may work for one team but not another. I'll battle with my dictation software to get it to understand Bryzgalov and Bobrovsky.

It should be interesting--hope you want to come along for the ride!