by PuckStopsHere on 01/11/09 at 02:23 AM ET
As the season progresses, I like to track the players who I feel are front-runners for the NHL’s awards. I had been picking Craig Anderson of the Florida Panthers as the Vezina leader. This pick was a little unsatisfactory because Anderson has only 21 games played (and only 18 decisions). This is less play that Tomas Vokoun, his Florida teammate with whom he has been sharing the Panther goaltending position. This makes him the nominal number two goalie in Florida and it is odd to call a number two goalie the NHL’s best.
The Vezina race is relatively wide open because none of the goalies who have the most games played are asserting themselves as front-runners. It is hard to call the current games played leaders (Miikka Kiprusoff of Calgary, Marty Turco of Dallas, Henrik Lundqvist of the NY Rangers, Joey MacDonald of the NY Islanders or Vesa Toskala of Toronto) serious Vezina candidates. None of them have been consistently outstanding goalies.
The best goaltenders have all played a lesser number of games so far this season. They include Anderson, Tim Thomas of Boston and Steve Mason of Columbus. Recently, one of these goalies, Steve Mason has played well enough to take over the lead. Mason has clearly taken over the number one goaltender position in Columbus and given Pascal Leclaire’s ankle injury that has him on the injured reserve, he is unlikely to give it up soon. Mason leads the NHL in both goals against average with a 1.75 GAA and saves percentage with a .938 saves percentage. He is having an outstanding season.
This season is made all the more outstanding given that he is a rookie. I pick Mason as the Calder Trophy leader as well. It is not an unknown situation for a rookie goaltender to win the Vezina Trophy. In the last 25 years, Ed Belfour of Chicago, Ron Hextall of Philadelphia and Tom Barrasso of Buffalo have all accomplished this feat. It was last accomplished in 1991.
Mason is having a great rookie season that could see him win multiple awards. This is a strong footing for what should be a great career. If Mason can continue this level of play throughout his career, he may one day be considered one of the best goaltenders of all time. For now, he is the front-runner for both the Vezina and Calder Trophies.
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