By James Slater | Follow Me On Twitter @WhatsJamesBruin
With the 2020 NHL regular season in the books, and everyone gearing up for the hopeful return of playoff hockey, it is time to take a look at some of the “individual” awards Bruins players will be up for. The center of today’s topic? The Vezina and why it should once again belong to Tuukka Rask.
Having previously won the Vezina back in the 2013-2014 season, the Finnish netminder has proven once again why he’s a top “tendy” in the league and has put himself in another position to potentially take home some hardware. This year the Bruins’ top goalie was on fire at virtually every moment of the season. Giving Rask haters all but no room for criticism.
But before we can dive too far into Rask’s fabulous season (and it was just that) there may be some questions that need answering. Like “what is the Vezina trophy?” Or “Didn’t Rask already win an award?” First, yes, Rask and Halak won the Jennings trophy for the 2019-2020 season. The Jennings trophy is not a voted on the award and instead is awarded to the NHL goalie tandem that allowed the fewest goals all season.
The Vezina, on the other hand, is awarded annually to the goalie who is considered the best at the position. This is determined by the 31 NHL general managers each voting for who they believe is best. The voting is based solely on regular-season performance and is not affected by playoff performance in any way.
While it is true Rask benefited from splitting time with his 1A/1B tandem partner Halak, rest does not always correlate to premiere performance in the world’s top league. This is especially true for goalies, whose hot and cold streaks can baffle even the most tenured experts. So this brings us to the ultimate question, was Tuukka Rask’s season actually Vezina worthy?
Having played in just 41 games, before the season’s pause and eventual end, the former first-round pick still boasted 26 wins and only 8 regulation losses. Meaning the Bruins got at least 1 point in 33 of Rask’s 41 starts. That’s 80% for you math lovers out there. 80%! To compare with other Vezina caliber goalies, Tampa’s Vasilevskiy got points in 73% of his 52 games and Connor Helybuck posted a 64% through 56 starts.
Looking at Rask’s season from an even more statistical point of view (whether advanced metrics or otherwise) he is always a top name on the list. The veteran goaltender’s goals-against average (GAA) sits at 2.12, which is good for sole possession of first in the NHL(among goalies who played at least 23 games). While his save percentage (SV%) .929 is second only to his former teammate – and current Dallas Stars backup goalie – Anton Khudobin. Tuukka also ended the season with 5 shutouts, tied for second behind Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck (6).
I know goalies are a lot more than just stats. I agree that SV% and GAA are not always the most accurate depiction of a goaltender’s performance. But we can use them to help us indicate one thing: Tuukka Rask was an animal in the net. A man possessed if you will. Just check out this save of the year candidate. No paddle? No problem.
While Rask may not be on every highlight reel making the exciting diving save like above, there is something to be said for goalies who can make the game come to them, especially in the extremely fast pace of the NHL.
In the Vezina race, there’s still a very strong case to be made for Connor Hellybuck, as his defense was non-existent for much of the season. Yet I can’t help but feel this year belongs to Tuukka. If you don’t want to take my word for it, maybe some of the experts can sway you.
Tuukka Rask IS an elite goalie. It’s not up for debate. But will he win his second award of the year? Will he win his second Vezina trophy ever? I guess we will all just have to wait and see. Two U’s, two K’s, two Vezinas, please.