Written by Dan Greene
This year’s competition for the coveted Vezina Trophy, given to the NHL’s top goaltender during the regular season, is as tight and fierce as ever. Two of the finalists, Tim Thomas and Roberto Luongo, have been nominated previously and Thomas has already won the trophy. Also, both of these elite goaltenders played in the Stanley Cup finals this year with Thomas’ Bruins lifting the Cup in seven games and Thomas was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy for Playoffs MVP.
However, even though Thomas led all NHL goaltenders in Goals Against Average (GAA) and Save Percentage, and Luongo led the NHL in wins, it is the third finalist, Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators, that deserves the award. The least known of the three, it became clear this year that it won’t be for long.
A close look at the respective seasons of Thomas, Luongo and Rinne, will demonstrate just why Rinne should be considered the right choice.
In the GAA category, the trio rounds out the top three with Thomas leading the way with a 2.00, followed by Luongo at 2.11 and Rinne just behind him with 2.12. Thomas leads the pack once again in save percentage with a record-setting .938%, but Rinne is right on his tail at .930%. Luongo is behind with .928%, which is not even the highest on his team.
Based on statistics it looks like Thomas is the frontrunner for the trophy. But, one must look at other statistics, as well as the game situations that each goaltender was in.
For example, Rinne faced 1905 shots, which was about 100 more than Thomas and 150 more than Luongo. Rinne also led the trio in saves with 1771, which is over 70 more than Thomas and about 145 more than Luongo. Rinne also played in 64 games compared to Thomas’ 57 games (55 starts) and Luongo’s 60 games.
Another important aspect that needs to be accounted for is the team each player played for. Both Thomas and Luongo played on teams with star studded casts, while Rinne’s team was good but not to the same degree.
First, look at Luongo and the Vancouver Canucks. This team had numerous stud forwards like the Sedin twins and Ryan Kesler that led an offense that averaged a league-leading 3.15 goals per game. They had three players with 20+ goals (two of which had 41 goals apiece) and five skaters with 50+ points (three of which had 70+ points). The Canucks also featured one of the top blueline corps in the league and had three defensemen with at least a +19 rating. Luongo was also helped by the fact that Cory Schneider was one of the top backups in the league with a 2.23 GAA, .929 save percentage, and 16-4-2 record in 25 games.
Thomas also benefitted from having several great players in front of him. The Boston Bruins featured four players with 20+ goals and 50+ points, which led to the league’s fifth best offense at 2.98 goals per game. Thomas’ defenders were also a major factor in his success as three of the B’s blueliners had plus/minus ratios better than +20. The Bruins finished the regular season sixth in the league in blocked shots.
Also, according to DailyFaceOff.com, Thomas’ stats might be slightly padded:
“Thomas has only started 14 out of a possible 25 games against the rest of the elite netminders in the League. While some of this may have been to shelter his opposing number one, it should be seen as a relatively big reason why he has such stellar numbers. Regardless, despite this sheltering, Thomas fared well posting a 7-4-3 record with a 2.07 GAA but .930 SV%. Clearly he deserves his accolades but Claude Julien gave him a helping hand or two.”
Rinne was not as fortunate as these two goaltenders. He played behind the 21st ranked offense in the league (2.60 goals per game), which featured only two players with 20+ goals (Sergei Kostitsyn and Patric Hornqvist) and 50 points (Kostitsyn and Martin Erat. Likewise, the Predators defense was not as deep as Boston or Vancouver as only one Predator had a plus/minus rating of +20 (Ryan Suter). Also, Nashville was 27th in the NHL in blocked shots far behind both Boston and Vancouver.
Another important reason that Rinne deserves the award is that he came up biggest when his team needed him most. For example, his save percentage while his team was shorthanded. When killing a penalty, Rinne stepped up his game where he stopped .925% of the shots he faced, which was second in the league. Luongo and Thomas were not even close with .898% and .889%, respectively.
From the start of the calendar year, Rinne started 42 of the Predators’ remaining 46 games—allowing only two goals or less more than half of those games (28 times). He also picked up 25 wins during this span, second most in the NHL.
The Western Conference playoff race was extremely tight and Rinne was the engine behind Nashville’s run to a fifth place finish.
There is no doubt that there’s more than just wins, goals against average, and save percentage that needs to be factored in to determining who was the best goaltender. Thomas and Luongo had tremendous seasons, but the timing of Rinne’s play, the situations he faced, the lack of offensive night in and night out, and his brilliant, calm and consistent response are the reasons that Rinne should win the Vezina Trophy.
Remember to check out Pekka and the other nominees at the NHL Awards Show on Wednesday, June 22 at 7 p.m. EST. You can see all the action from Las Vegas on Versus.