by PuckStopsHere on 01/05/09 at 10:32 AM ET
As the season progresses I like to keep track of the players who I think should win the major awards. I have been picking Derick Brassard of the Columbus Blue Jackets as the leader for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. This situation has clearly changed as Brassard has had to undergo surgery on his right shoulder. He is expected to miss the remainder of the season. This removes him from serious contention for the Calder Trophy, although he still ranks second in the rookie point scoring race (behind Kris Versteeg of Chicago and tied with Patrik Berglund of St Louis). Thus it is time to pick a new top rookie this season.
My choice is a Brassard teammate in Columbus. I pick goaltender Steve Mason.
Mason leads the NHL in goals against average with a 1.81 GAA. His .933 saves percentage ranks second in the league to Craig Anderson of the Florida Panthers (the difference is in the fourth decimal place). Mason has to be considered not only the Calder favorite, but also a serious Vezina candidate at this point.
The Vezina race is wide open, but I favor Craig Anderson who plays behind a less talented defence in Florida than mason does in Columbus. It is interesting that the goalies who are among the NHL’s leaders in starts are not having elite enough seasons to run away with the Vezina Trophy. Niklas Backstrom of the Minnesota Wild might be the best candidate to do that based on his play so far this season, but he is yet to take a commanding lead in the race. Other candidates include Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez, who have shared the goaltending job in Boston, Nikolai Khabibulin in Chicago and Roberto Luongo in Vancouver, assuming he returns from injury in the near future. The hardest working goaltenders this season (most starts) are not in the race. The top six goalies ranked by starts this season are Miikka Kiprusoff of Calgary, Marty Turco of Dallas, Joey MacDonald of the New York Islanders, Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers, Vesa Toskala of Toronto and Peter Budaj of Colorado. None of them can be considered serious candidates for the Vezina this year. Perhaps the strongest case would be for Lundqvist, but he has definitely not been the best goalie in the league. The lack of a goalie playing the significant majority of his team’s starts and dominating opens up the Vezina race to goalies with reduced workloads.
Steve Mason is definitely a Vezina candidate at this point. He is the clear front-runner for the Calder Trophy. Mason has emerged as the best rookie in the NHL so far this season. He did this despite a slow start, as he was still recovering from knee surgery when the season began. Mason has been the NHL’s rookie of the month in November and December and looks to establish himself as one of the better goalies in the NHL.
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