Bruins’ Rask Has Strong Vezina Case

With the NHL regular season officially complete, there are a number of things to look forward to as hockey fans eagerly prepare for the return of the game. Obviously, there are the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which will take on an unprecedented 24-team format this year that, for all of its backlash, is sure to be very exciting despite the lack of fans in seats.

The end of the regular season also means the beginning of awards season, as the league crowned its statistical awards with the announcement of the regular season’s end this week.

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At least three awards will make their way to Boston. The Bruins’ 44-14-12 record earned them Presidents’ Trophy with the league’s top team. 24-year-old David Pastrnak split the Rocket Richard Trophy (most goals) with Washington Capitals’ captain Alex Ovechkin, tying the future Hall of Famer with 48 goals. On the back end, Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak took home the William M. Jennings Trophy as the goaltending tandem with the fewest goals against (with at least 25 games played).

Tuukka Rask Jaroslav Halak

There could be more in store for Rask, too, who has a good case to earn his second Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender. Here’s how he lines up:

Rask’s Case for the Vezina

The Vezina Trophy is voted on by the league’s general managers, and this year’s race should give some interesting insight into what NHL GM’s weigh heavily when it comes to goaltender value. As far as statistics go, Rask is the odds-on favorite to win the Vezina this season.

The 33-year-old netminder leads qualified contenders (at least 25 games played) with a 2.12 goals-against average (GAA), and sits second with a .930 save percentage (SV%). As CBS Boston’s Michael Hurley points out, if you bump that up to a minimum of 35 games played (half of the 70 the Bruins played), Rask takes over first place in both categories with a substantial lead.

Tuukka Rask Boston Bruins
Tuukka Rask’s stats this season should make him a leading contender for the Vezina Trophy. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Meanwhile, Rask tied for second place in shutouts this season, with five, trailing one behind fellow Vezina contender Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets. The Finnish netminder was seventh in wins this season, although the value of wins for goaltenders has some serious red flags since there are so many other factors beyond the goalie’s control that are involved.

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Rask makes a strong case in the advanced stats department as well. The Bruins’ starter leads the league in goals saved above average (22.51), a measurement that compares a goalie’s SV% and shots faced vs. the league average SV% on the same number of shots faced. Rask also sits third among qualified goaltenders in quality start percentage, and first among goalies with at least 35 games played. Lastly, his .939 even-strength SV% led the league by a significant margin.

There’s also something to be said for Rask leading the Bruins to the league’s best record, but like wins, there are a lot of factors there that are out of the starter’s control, so it shouldn’t be weighed too heavily.

The Cases Against Rask

Rask has a lot going for him in the Vezina race, but there are a few reasons he could be beaten depending on how the league’s GMs vote. One factor is games played, a stat that the Bruins have been smart (and fortunate enough) to limit Rask with, but which may hurt his chances at claiming individual hardware.

Rask finished the regular season with 41 games played, putting him at 18th in the category. One of his primary competitors for the trophy, Hellebuyck, led the league with 58 games played. That 17-game difference could be enough to swing the case in favor of the Jets’ goaltender.

Connor Hellebuyck Scott Laughton
Connor Hellebuyck is Rask’s biggest competitor for the Vezina. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Among qualified goaltenders, Hellebuyck sits fifth in SV% (.922) but is just one spot behind Rask when you bump the minimum games played to 35 games. However, his GAA is 12th in the league (and sixth among goalies with 35 games played), and he only has one more shutout than Rask in those 17 extra games.

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That being said, he put up those numbers while facing the largest workload in the league, not only in games played but also in shots (1.796) and saves (1,656). As a result, his teammate says he’s worthy of both the Vezina and the Hart (league MVP), but that’s a bit of a stretch if you’re asking me.

Hellebuyck (31 wins) sits four wins behind the league leader, Andrei Vasilevskiy (35 wins). The Tampa Bay goaltender’s certainly had an impressive season as well, but his other stats (.917 SV%, 2.56 GAA, 3 shutouts) don’t put him at the same level as Rask or Hellebuyck. It would be a surprise to see the award go anywhere besides Boston or Winnipeg.

It’s unclear exactly when Vezina Trophy voting will take place at this point, but when the time comes, expect Rask to get some serious attention. The Bruins goaltender has proven his spot among the league’s best puck-stoppers once again.