It has been a strange week for the Colorado Avalanche. While they have been unable to get anything accomplished on the ice, three of their players have officially been named finalists for NHL awards, the latest being goaltender Semyon Varlamov who is up for the Vezina Trophy awarded to the best goaltender as voted by the league's general managers. Earlier in the week Ryan O'Reilly was named a finalist for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy and Nathan MacKinnon was nominated for the Calder Memorial Trophy.
Varlamov is certainly a deserving candidate to win the Vezina after the season he has had. He led the NHL in wins with 41, breaking a franchise record previously held by his head coach, Patrick Roy. He also faced far more shots than any other netminder in the league (2,013) and made more saves (1,867). Despite how immensely busy he was in net, he still posted a .927 save percentage. The most mind boggling stat of all is the fact that the more shots he faced, the better he played. When facing 40+ shots during the regular season, he was 8-1-1. It's a highly counterintuitive nugget of information, and was the subject of jokes for Avalanche television commentators. They would sometimes say things like, "well, the Avalanche are almost at 40 shots against tonight, they just need to give up a few more and they'll be in good shape." Joking aside, it's easy to see why Varlamov is up for this award.
The other finalists for the Vezina Trophy are Tuuka Rask of the Boston Bruins and Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Between those two goaltenders, Rask is probably the biggest threat to Varlamov's chances of winning the Vezina. The Boston netminder posted a .930 save percentage while earning seven shutouts for the Bruins. There's also the fact that the Bruins are a much more high profile organization than the Avalanche. Sadly, players seem to have a better chance to win awards if they play for nationally popular teams in big cities like Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles or New York. But the fact that Rask is a Bruin and Varlamov is an Avalanche should actually help Varlamov, if the voting proves to be entirely merit based.
Rask had the best defense in the NHL playing in front of him, while Varlamov had one of the worst in front of him. Their save percentages were almost the same (.927 and .930) but their goals against averages were not (2.41 for Varlamov, 2.04 for Rask). Think about that for a minute. How could the percentage of shots that they stopped be almost the same while one of them gave up more goals? It's simple; Varlamov faced WAY more shots than Rask. The same percentage of more shots equals more goals of course. If Rask had faced 400 more shots to put him on par with what Varlamov had to deal with, he obviously would have had a higher goals against average himself. This is why save percentage is a much more accurate and fair statistic for measuring a goaltender's performance than goals against averages. Despite the fact that Varlamov faced a much tougher task game in and game out, he still stopped approximately the same percentage of shots.
Given Varlamov's workload and the fact that he still posted the numbers that he had, he should win the Vezina Trophy. Just imagine what his numbers would have been if he had the Bruins defense in front of him. On the other hand, imagine what Rask's numbers would have been with Colorado's defense instead. Varlamov's season was just about as good as Rask's, but the Avalanche goaltender did it practically by himself without the help of a legendary group of defenseman, and that is why the Vezina Trophy should rightfully be his.
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