by PuckStopsHere on 11/26/08 at 02:59 PM ET
Before the season began, most people would have predicted the Vezina Trophy would go to one of Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils, Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks or Evgeni Nabokov of the San Jose Sharks but each of them has missed time to injury. Brodeur had surgery on his elbow and should be out for several months. Luongo has a groin injury and should be out for at least a month. Nabokov has a rather unimpressive .891 saves percentage and has missed three weeks with a lower body injury. None of them look likely to win the Vezina at this point. That leaves a wide open Vezina race with some unexpected candidates.
Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins has established himself as the front-runner with a league leading .944 saves percentage and a 1.80 goals against average. If the season ended now, he would be the runaway choice for the Vezina. If the season ended now, I would also nominate Niklas Backstrom of the Minnesota Wild along with Luongo. With Luongo’s injury, it is unlikely that he will maintain his position as a Vezina nominee for much longer. The most likely candidate to replace him is Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers. These are new names to enter the Vezina race.
Thomas and Backstrom have never seriously been in Vezina Trophy races in the past. Henrik Lundqvist has been a Vezina nominee in each of his three previous NHL seasons (in some cases his nomination was not deserved), but he has never seriously been thought of as a likely winner.
The goaltending injuries create the possibility for a first time Vezina winner. Somebody who has never had a serious Vezina Trophy candidate season will likely win this season.
It is possible that with Nabokov back in the lineup in San Jose that he may yet establish himself as a nominee or winner. It is possible that Luongo could return in a month or so and still play sixty plus games and thus establish himself as the Vezina winner. However, the smart bet is that the 2008/09 Vezina winner is a bit of a surprise.
There would be few candidates that would be a bigger surprise than Tim Thomas. Thomas has established himself as a top goaltender in the NHL in his thirties. Thomas was 28 before he played his first NHL game. He was 32 when he had his first season where he was his team’s number one goalie. At age 34, he continues to get better. His progression to an NHL star has been an improbable one. He has been counted out many times. This season, he was left off of the fan ballot for the All Star Game - a move that has become a bit of an embarrassing oversight for the NHL. Should Thomas complete the season as well as he has begun it, he should be the Vezina winner and a serious player in the MVP race. That result is very different from any pre-season predictions.
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