BOSTON (CBS) — Tuukka Rask got snubbed.
There’s really no arguing against that fact after the three Vezina Trophy finalists were announced Wednesday, with Rask’s name noticeably absent.
The three finalists, as voted on by the 30 NHL general managers, were Sergei Bobrovsky, Henrik Lundvist and Antti Niemi. Bobrovsky is the odds-on favorite to win, just as he would have been even if Rask had been in the final three, so it’s not worth getting too worked up about Rask’s snub.
Still, it’s hard to believe that Rask was overlooked after the fantastic season he had for the Boston Bruins.
The Finn entered the season still a young’n at 25 years old, and despite three years’ worth of NHL experience, questions about Rask’s abilities as a starting goalie persisted. He answered them rather definitively, posting a 2.00 goals-against average and .929 save percentage. Those numbers aren’t far off from the 1.97 and .931 he posted in 2009-10, when the led the league in both categories.
This year, among goalies who made at least 30 starts, Rask was tied for first with Bobrovsky with that 2.00 GAA, though Rask technically led with a 1.996 GAA to Bobrovsky’s 2.000. Rask was second in save percentage among goalies with 30 starts, three points behind Bobrovsky’s .932 mark.
Among goalies with 30 starts, Lundqvist ranked third and Niemi ranked sixth in GAA. In save percentage, Lundqvist ranked fourth and Niemi ranked sixth.
Of course, those aren’t the only two categories that matter when considering a Vezina winner. Wins play a factor, and Rask was no doubt lacking in that category with just 19, compared to Lundqvist and Niemi’s 24. He also started nine fewer games than Lundqvist and Niemi. Yet, Bobrovsky started just three more games than Rask, and he won just two more games. Bobrovsky is still the prohibitive favorite to win the award, so the exclusion of Rask on those grounds doesn’t fully explain his absence on GMs’ ballots. Rask, despite fewer starts, also tied for the league lead with five shutouts, one more than Niemi and Bobrovsky, and three more than Lundqvist.
Where the Rask snub may benefit the Bruins is at the negotiating table. While it may not make the biggest impact, the fact that the other NHL GMs did not consider Rask to be at the top of his craft could help the Bruins save a bit of cap room when working out a deal with Rask this summer. Presumably, the Bruins feel Rask is their goalie of the present and the future, and signing him to a long-term deal no doubt would have cost a few extra dollars when working out a long-term agreement. (Of course, that will be a meaningless thought if Rask maintains his current level of play on a long postseason run. He’ll be poised to cash in big time if that keeps up.)
Yet for Rask, getting passed over for Vezina consideration was definitely unfair, and it serves as the latest example of awards being rather silly. There’s no ideal group that should be voting on these awards — writers cover one team and can’t possibly watch every single team with great regularity, players are so focused on their own games that they can’t be counted on to judge others, etc. — but general managers aren’t always so brilliant when it comes to assessing the value of men between the pipes.
Consider that Paul Holmgren, GM of the Flyers, thought it to be a wonderful idea to sign Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year, $51 million contract prior to last season, shortly after trading away two players who would play key roles in winning the Stanley Cup for Los Angeles. Bryzgalov has responded by posting GAAs of 2.48 and 2.79 and save percentages of .909 and .900. He may lose his starting job to Steve Mason next year. Holmgren voted on the Vezina.
Consider that Mike Gillis signed Roberto Luongo to a 12-year, $64 million contract in 2010. He also thought it’d be smart to pay Cory Schneider starter money, with a three-year $12 million contract signed before this season, under the assumption that another team would be desperate (and stupid) enough to trade for Luongo’s contract at the deadline. In a shocker of all shockers, nobody wanted to touch that Luongo contract, and he stayed with Vancouver. The Canucks had $9.3 million working against their cap for goaltending this year, and it got them exactly zero postseason wins. Gillis had a vote for the Vezina.
Now consider that in this lockout-shortened season, there were zero games that took place between Western Conference and Eastern Conference teams. The GMs surely paid some attention to the goings-on around the league, but aside from gauging potential trade targets, the happenings of the opposing conferences really didn’t concern them. That may have allowed the reputation of a great goalie like Lundqvist to get more votes.
Also, five teams averaged more than three goals against per game. Those five GMs had votes for the Vezina.
You get the point.
Ultimately, while Rask deserved better, there’s no reason to get too worked up. He’s still just 26, and when it comes to league-wide sentiments, it often takes two or three years of a player being on top of his game before recognition comes in the form of postseason awards. Plus, Rask is in the midst of trying to earn a much more important piece of shiny hardware. If he does that — or at least comes close — the rest of the league will give him his proper due, and the awards for the steady and consistent goaltender will eventually follow.