It’s the summer doldrums but the hockey beat marches on.
BetMGM recently released their odds for the Vezina Trophy, one of the most popular awards handed out each season. Andrei Vasilevskiy is the consensus best goalie in the league, but will he hold down the top spot in a position that’s notoriously difficult to predict?
Here’s a quick look at some of the biggest names on the board and why each of them could have a strong case:
Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning – 9.00
The Case For: You can’t go wrong with the reigning Conn Smythe winner and the Lightning’s three-headed monster of Victor Hedman, Mikhail Sergachev and Ryan McDonagh is as good as any in the league. Vasilevskiy has been a model of consistency, finishing top three in Vezina voting for four straight seasons.
The Case Against: We shall see if Brian Elliott’s a good insurance policy, but if the NHL participates in the Olympics, the Lightning may elect to give Vasilevskiy some more rest during the season. The Lightning demand a lot of respect as back-to-back champs, but there’s no doubting that their depth has taken a hit.
Marc-Andre Fleury, Chicago Blackhawks – 9.00
The Case For: Did you see Fleury’s numbers?! After being written off and threatened to have his role reduced after Vegas signed Robin Lehner to a long-term deal, Fleury responded with one of his best seasons ever. He will turn 37 years old in November, but clearly, there’s still more in the tank.
The Case Against: Did you see Fleury’s numbers?! A .928 Sv% and 1.98 GAA will be difficult to replicate, especially if Fleury takes on a bigger workload and the Blackhawks defense isn’t nearly as deep or high-quality as the Knights’. The Blackhawks play an up-tempo system and bled scoring chances, and that will likely be the theme again in 2021-22 even with the addition of Seth Jones.
Phillip Grubauer, Seattle Kraken – 9.00
The Case For: Grubauer has been quietly very good over the past five seasons, ranking fifth with a .920 Sv% (min. 50 GP) and second with a 2.33 GAA. But the Avs’ dominance last season really showcased how good he can be, and he led all goaltenders with seven shutouts.
The Case Against: The Kraken won’t be able to provide Grubauer with the same kind of offensive support he received in Colorado, and the Kraken are also missing elite defensemen even though it looks like a pretty well-rounded group. Don’t forget that Grubauer will probably cede a ton of games to Chris Driedger as well, so his limited appearances may hurt his case. Digging deeper, Grubauer ranked 10th in Sv% (min. 10 GP) and 18th in 5v5 GSAA/60 (min. 1000 TOI), according to Natural Stat Trick’s model.
Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets – 11.00
The Case For: I like the value pay here because the Jets defense has improved a lot with the addition of Brenden Dillon and Nate Schmidt. They’re already tough to play against and Hellebuyck has been consistently good over the past few seasons, finishing top-four in Vezina voting in three of the past four seasons. Among goalies at the top of the board, Hellebuyck has one of the best chances of unseating Vasilevskiy.
The Case Against: There’s not a lot to dislike about Hellebuyck’s chances. The Jets addressed their blueline depth, but they also face a tough division and wins will be hard to come by.
Darcy Kuemper, Colorado Avalanche – 15.00
The Case For: If you compare numbers over the past four seasons, Kuemper’s .921 Sv% and 2.39 GAA put him at the top of the league. Those numbers are comparable to Vasilevskiy’s, and over the past three seasons, Kuemper’s 0.18 5v5 GSAA/60 is equivalent to Hellebuyck’s and better than Carey Price’s. The Avs will also be the best team Kuemper’s ever played on, giving him plenty of goal support to rack up wins.
The Case Against: The reason Kuemper isn’t mentioned in the same breath as the other goalies? Health. He’s battled injuries and appeared in just 56 games over the past two seasons. If he can stay healthy, this is an intriguing bet.
Thatcher Demko, Vancouver Canucks – 17.00
The Case For: He’s an excellent goalie who has stolen games despite playing behind a horrific defense that bled quality shots and scoring chances. He did not garner any votes last season but his body of work did not go unnoticed – just ask the Knights – and the Canucks improved their defense this season.
The Case Against: The Canucks are still just a playoff contender and it’s anybody’s guess how well they will fare this season with such a big roster turnover. A lot of their success will depend on newly acquired Oliver Ekman-Larsson, whose play has declined over the past few seasons in Arizona. They play an aggressive style that can lead to a lot of odd-man rushes when they turn over the puck, and that makes Demko’s job more difficult than usual.
Robin Lehner, Vegas Golden Knights – 17.00
The Case For: It’s Lehner’s net now in Vegas, who are expected to cakewalk to the division title. Lehner has earned votes for the Vezina in two of his past three seasons and won the Jennings twice in the same span.
The Case Against: Lehner’s very good with a limited workload, but what happens when has to start the lion’s share of the games? He had just a .887 Sv% in the playoffs the season after it looked like he had won the starting job. Lehner’s set up for success and the odds are enticing, but he hasn’t shown the consistency that’s required to win.
Igor Shesterkin, New York Rangers – 21.00
The Case For: Over the past two seasons Shesterkin’s 5v5 GSAA/60 of 0.34 ranks ninth in the league, according to Natural Stat Trick, tied with Vasilevskiy and better than both Grubauer and Hellebuyck. The former Olympic gold medallist and KHL champion certainly has the pedigree.
The Case Against: The Rangers defense lacks depth. They’ll need Fox to replicate his Norris-winning season, which will be difficult to do, and he may end up splitting duties with Alexandar Georgiev. If the Rangers move Georgiev, Shesterkin could be a good value bet.
Linus Ullmark, Boston Bruins – 51.00
The Case For: Considering what the defense looked like in front of him, Ullmark’s six-year tenure with the Sabres and .912 Sv% is mighty impressive. Once named the Swedish League’s best goalie, Ullmark will finally be playing in front of a good team with a very good defense.
The Case Against: Ullmark hasn’t quite faced this kind of pressure before in the NHL. He’s now the starter on a team expected to make the playoffs and maybe make a deep run, and there’s always a chance that Jeremy Swayman comes in and takes the job. The B’s made a big bet on Ullmark, who has never started more than 37 games in a season.