The Vezina Trophy finalists were announced on Thursday, May 11, and on June 26, one of the three goaltenders nominated for the award will be declared the best goaltender of the 2022-23 season. The three finalists were Linus Ullmark of the Boston Bruins, Ilya Sorokin of the New York Islanders, and Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets.
Related: 2022-23 Vezina Trophy Tracker – End-of-Season Update
Among the three finalists, Sorokin is most deserving of the Vezina. It’s unlikely he’ll win it but he made a convincing case to take home the trophy. Ullmark and Hellebuyck put together exceptional seasons but Sorokin was the best goaltender and the most valuable in the NHL this season.
Sorokin Faced More Volume Than Ullmark
Among the three goaltenders, Ullmark has the best underlying numbers and it’s not particularly close. He had a .938 save percentage (SV%), a 1.89 goals-against average (GAA), and 48.51 goals-saved above average (GSAA). However, Hellbuyck and Sorokin faced a significantly greater workload throughout the season. Below is a chart listing the three goaltenders’ stats but also the workload they all took on.
|SV%||GAA||Shots Faced||Games Started|
Ullmark had better numbers but split starts throughout the season with backup Jeremy Swayman. Sorokin and Hellebuyck meanwhile were the primary starters for their respective teams. Sorokin had the second-best SV% and GAA of the finalists but he played a greater role on his team and with more volume, his numbers declined. Likewise, a knock on Hellebuyck for years has been his underlying numbers but he takes on a greater workload than any goaltender in the NHL and by default, his numbers don’t look as great.
Sorokin and Hellebuyck are the two finalists that were true number-one starters on their teams and played a number of games that reflect that as well. For an award that is meant to decide the best goaltender in the NHL, the volume they face is important to keep in mind. Hellebuyck played in the most games among the finalists and faced the most shots, which should make him the frontrunner for the award but Sorokin has a distinct advantage over the Jets’ starter.
Sorokin Never Had a Dropoff, Hellebuyck Did
Another important trait of a Vezina Trophy winner is consistency, specifically for a goaltender to be elite throughout the season and reliably give his team great performances. Sorokin was dominant all season and rarely experienced a dropoff. Granted, he allowed six goals in the Feb. 9 loss to the Vancouver Canucks and allowed five goals on only 26 shots against the St. Louis Blues on Dec. 6 but he never fell into a slump. His SV% never dipped below .912 for a month and January was his worst month in terms of GAA with 2.63, both of which are still elite stats for a goaltender.
Hellebuyck on the other hand was great for the majority of the season but had a big dropoff in the second half. He had a 2.99 GAA in February and a dreadful .899 SV% in March. The Jets overworked him and eventually, the surplus of starts caused him to struggle but Sorokin, who faced a similar workload, never wavered. While Hellebuyck bounced back to close out the season and secure a playoff spot for the Jets, his struggles following the All-Star Break left a stain on an otherwise Vezina-caliber year.
Sorokin meanwhile never had a stretch that diminished his remarkable season and as a result, it made him the most valuable goaltender in the league. The Islanders would turn to him after a bad start, knowing he could bounce back and will the team to a victory.
Sorokin Willed His Team to the Playoffs
The Islanders weren’t a great team this season. They went through plenty of slumps and the aging, veteran-heavy roster looked like it was going to be left out of the playoffs. However, they had Sorokin in the net, who made the team look better than it really was. He gave the Islanders a chance to win every night and his play kept the team competitive all season.
When the rest of the roster struggled, Sorokin was the one bright spot. The offense was below league average this year, scoring only 2.95 goals per game which was 22nd in the NHL. The defensive unit, while a strength was inconsistent and with a more aggressive style under first-year head coach Lane Lambert, they would often allow the opposition to find more scoring chances. However, the consistency and dominance in the net kept the Islanders afloat in a roller-coaster season.
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The Islanders secured the top wild card spot in the Eastern Conference and wouldn’t have done so without Sorokin. On the contrary, they might have been one of the worst teams in the league without him. There are only a handful of players in the NHL that have that type of impact on their teams, where they are the difference between them making the playoffs and looking like a lottery pick team. Sorokin is one of the players that has that impact on his team.
Hellebuyck helped lead the Jets to the playoffs but he didn’t carry his team. The Jets had a potent offense, averaging 3.00 goals per game, and a defensive unit led by Josh Morrissey who had a remarkable year in all facets of the game. Ullmark meanwhile was only a cog in a machine that was the Bruins. He played on the best team in the NHL and helped them win the Presidents’ Trophy but didn’t lead them with the team putting together the best season in league history. Sorokin did more with less and was far and beyond the most impactful goaltender in the NHL this season.
Sorokin had a league-leading six shutouts while Hellebuyck had four and Ullmark, interestingly enough, only had two. When the Islanders needed Sorokin to step up and shut the door, he would give them an easy victory with a shutout performance.
What stands out from Sorokin’s season is that there were so many dominant performances that it’s hard to pick out a few that were his best. He compiled multiple great games and along with the six shutouts, he blanked the opposing offense to allow the Islanders to win.
He saved 46 shots against the Colorado Avalanche on Dec. 19 and with the offense failing to score in the game, his performance gave the Islanders a much-needed point as they lost in a shootout. His 43-save performance against the Calgary Flames on Nov. 7 allowed the team to come from behind and win the game 4-3 in overtime. In the final four games of the season, with a playoff spot up for grabs, he saved 94 of the 100 shots he faced to secure a wild card spot for the Islanders.
At multiple points this season, Sorokin was the best player on the ice and his play would carry the Islanders. Moreover, the multiple dominant performances made it hard to ignore his brilliance, and the national audience took notice. This year, he finally received the recognition he deserved as one of the league’s elite goaltenders, and the Vezina nomination is a reflection of that.
Sorokin’s Vezina Moments
Along with the great games, there were iconic moments. Sorokin made multiple saves that would leave everyone in awe. His flexibility and precision allowed him to stop the puck and make gravity-defying saves even when it looked like the puck was poised to find the back of the net.
There was the save against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Feb. 20 which arguably saved the Islanders’ season. The Penguins held a 2-1 lead in the second period and off of a rebound, Kris Letang backhanded the puck on goal with the net wide open. Sorokin was out of position but managed to get his paddle on the puck and not only make the save but cover up to eliminate the scoring chance. The save kept the game 2-1 and ultimately allowed the Islanders to rally back and win 4-2 to earn the two points that helped them make the playoffs at the end of the year.
There was also the save against Erik Gustafsson on March 21 where he paddled the puck out of air to inject life into the Islanders. The save not only turned the game around as the team rallied from being down 1-0 to win 7-2 but it also kept a winning streak alive. The save helped secure the Islanders’ third win in a row and become paramount to them securing a playoff spot.
There was also the game against the Edmonton Oilers on Nov. 23 which was arguably the best goaltending performance all season. The Oilers had the best offense in the league, a unit that finished the season averaging 3.96 goals per game led by two of the best players in the game, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Sorokin made them look hapless as he saved all 49 shots he faced to will the Islanders to a 3-0 shutout victory. The 49 saves were the most he faced all season and he stepped up and put together a lights-out performance, carrying the team to an early season victory.
Sorokin not only had a remarkable season but had the moments that stood out as well. The signature saves, the dominant games in the net, and the ability to blank the league’s best offenses and outduel the best goaltenders made him a Vezina candidate. Hellebuyck and Ullmark had a few signature moments but Sorokin had the most in the season and it makes him the goaltender, along with the great stats, worthy of receiving the Vezina Trophy.
Why Sorokin Won’t Win the Vezina
At the end of the day, Ullmark will be considered the goaltender who had the best season. His stats were historic and it’s hard to deny a goaltender the Vezina when their GAA is under 2.00 for a full season while he also led the league in GSAA and quality starts. Moreover, he was the best goaltender on the best team in league history which carries a lot of weight. When fans look back at the 2022-23 season, they will remember the Bruins putting together a remarkable year and Ullmark being an integral part of that team, making him worthy of winning the Vezina.
While he might not win the award, this season still must be celebrated as a great one for Sorokin. It was the year that he was recognized nationally as one of the best in the game, something Islanders fans have known for a while but now the broader NHL audience does as well. He’s not only a good or great goaltender but an elite, world-class goaltender that makes the Islanders a competitive team even when the rest of the roster isn’t. Sorokin will eventually win the Vezina Trophy, it’s only a matter of time.