Lightning’s Vasilevskiy Not a Vezina Contender Despite Strong Play

Since Andrei Vasilevskiy took over as starting goaltender for the Tampa Bay Lightning back at the 2017 trade deadline, he has been one of if not the best goalies in the entire NHL. He has earned a nomination for the Vezina Award in four straight seasons, won the award in 2019, and has been on a truly remarkable postseason streak, as he started every playoff game for the Lightning in back-to-back Stanley Cup Championship runs en route to winning the 2021 Conn Smythe Award.

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After having so much success in recent years, Vasilevksiy and the Lightning started the 2021-22 NHL season experiencing a bit of a Stanley Cup hangover. The team went 2-3-1 in their first six games, giving up at least five goals five times in those games.

By all measures, this is not what was expected from a player like Vasilevskiy, whose typically pristine goaltending numbers were well below his career averages. While many assumed this stretch of weak play would pass and the Lightning would get better as their remodeled lineup gained chemistry, there was some concern that “The Big Cat,” as his teammates affectionately call him, could be experiencing his first down season as a starter.

Andrei Vasilevskiy Tampa Bay Lightning
Since taking over as the Tampa Bay Lightning’s starting goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy has been one of the most dominant players in the NHL. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Now with the NHL season reaching the All-Star Break, we can safely say that Vasilevskiy’s slow start was just a blip on his otherwise superb path. He has since put up a league-leading 25 wins, with an overall record of 25-7-4. His statistics are just as solid as ever, as he has a .922 save percentage (SV%) along with a 2.23 goals-against average (GAA), which are both in the top ten in the league and earned him a nod to represent Tampa Bay at the 2022 All-Star Game.

Vasilevskiy Finding Stiff Competition for 2022 Vezina

Despite regaining his form and having one of the best records in the NHL, there’s a real question to be asked about whether or not Vasilevskiy would be in the hunt for the 2022 Vezina Award at the midpoint of the season. This is in no way a mark against his play, however, but more of a sign of how elite the top goaltenders have been.

To start, there is Igor Shesterkin, who is a dominant force in net for the New York Rangers. With 22 wins, a .937 SV%, and a 2.10 GAA, there are few goaltenders in the league who can match the raw impact of his statistics and play. Shesterkin has gone from a top-ten goalie to potentially the best goalie in the league this season, and if he continues this strong play, it’s hard to imagine him not getting a nomination for the Vezina.

Related: 2021-22 Vezina Trophy Power Rankings: Campbell, Jarry Among the Best

Next in line are Frederik Andersen and Juuse Saros, who have 24 wins each. Despite having one less win, both players sport a better SV% and GAA than Vasilevskiy. Saros has started the most games this season out of any goaltender, which means he’s likely to take on a lot of ice time as he looks to lead the Nashville Predators back to the postseason.

Andersen, on the other hand, has only played in 30 games but has been nearly perfect with a 24-6-0 record. He’s another player that could continue to rack up wins with one of the top teams in the league and improve upon his already stellar play.

Frederik Andersen Carolina Hurricanes
While the Carolina Hurricanes are one of the best teams in the NHL, that shouldn’t discount the incredible season Frederik Andersen has put together coming off injury struggles throughout 2020-21. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Then, just to show how deep the elite goaltending pool is right now, there are three more goalies who have at least 30 games played, 21 wins, and an SV% above .920. Considering how many teams have games in hand to play due to rescheduling, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Sergei Bobrovsky, Jack Campbell, or Tristan Jarry continue their strong play into the second half of the season, and work their way into a Vezina nomination.

Should Vasilevskiy Earn a Vezina Nomination?

At roughly the mid-point of the NHL season, it’s hard to look at Vasilevskiy’s competition for the 2022 Vezina and confidently say that he will earn a nomination for the award for a fifth-straight season. Even if he ends with the most wins, ultimately that shouldn’t be the deciding factor for the award.

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This isn’t to say that he has had a sub-par season, as by all accounts he is still a top-five goaltender in the league. However, with some new and familiar faces putting together seasons that will simply be impossible to ignore by the voting committee, he might fall just outside the top-three in 2022.

Andrei Vasilevskiy Tampa Bay Lightning Jordan Eberle New York Islanders
After a less than perfect start to the 2021-22 season, Vasilevskiy might find himself outside of the Vezina race for the first time in nearly five years due to the strong play of many top goalies around the NHL. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

For Vasilevskiy, that is fine. He already has all of the hardware and accolades one could hope for, and he now measures success based on Stanley Cup Championships, not Vezina Awards.