For the Tampa Bay Lightning, Andrei Vasilevskiy has been everything they dreamed of since he was selected 19th overall in the 2012 NHL draft. In seven years, he has become the franchises’ best goaltender of all time, setting record after record while backstopping a Stanley Cup championship.
With uncertainty surrounding the 2020-21 season and an expensive new contract kicking in, however, there was some doubt about whether Vasilevskiy could live up to the monumental expectations he set for himself. It is hard to follow up what he did in the bubble, after all, so it would have been no surprise if his play slipped this season, even just a small amount.
Instead, he has been absolutely dominant, shutting down his opponents at every chance. This strong play early in the season has led to the question… is Vasilevskiy on pace to win his second Vezina Trophy in three years?
Vasilevskiy’s Case for the Vezina
To put it simply, the raw numbers Vasilevskiy is putting together throughout the 2020-21 season are absurd. In 17 starts, he holds a sterling record of 13-3-1, with a save percentage (SV%) of .942 and a goals against average (GAA) of 1.65. Also, he posted three straight shutouts and has given up one goal or less in nine of starts.
While these numbers are likely inflated due to the relatively small sample size of the season so far, you still can’t ignore statistics like those. When you compare them to his totals when he won the Vezina in 2018-19, they look more like a video game being played on easy difficulty than an NHL goalie 17 games into the season.
Now, it’s unlikely that Vasilevskiy will be able to keep his statistics this pristine, even throughout a shortened season. His SV% will likely dip back down to a more expected level, but it is reasonable to think that he could still end up somewhere around a .930, a feat few goalies are able to pull off at any point in their career.
Who Will Challenge Vasilevskiy?
When you’re discussing who ultimately wins an award like the Vezina, there are a number of factors to consider. For one, a goalie needs to be a primary starter in order to put together a resume deep enough to grab the attention of voters. They also need to be on a successful team, where their wins can be seen as a defining reason why they made a trip to the playoffs.
With this in mind, Vasilevskiy has a few strong opponents who will push him for the Vezina. First is none other than Marc- Andre Fleury, the Vegas Golden Knights veteran who revitalized his career after having a down season. He has taken back over the net in Vegas, starting 14 of their first 19 games while posting an 11-3-0 record with a .939 SV%, a GAA below two, and three shutouts.
Should Fluery continue putting together these incredible numbers, he could be the favorite to win the Vezina even if Vasilevsiy continues to dominate.
Other names worth remembering are Semyon Varlamov and Philipp Grubauer. Both goalies have started at least 17 games so far this season, posted a SV% above .920 and have three shutouts to their name already. They also play for franchises that will be making a postseason push, meaning that they will be leaned on heavily for quality starts as the season continues.
You also can’t count out Connor Hellebuyck, the reigning Vezina winner, either. He is the clear starter on a strong Winnipeg Jets team and has a SV% of .915, which puts him in range to move up the standings should he string together a solid winning streak in the coming weeks.
So, should Vasilevskiy’s play slip, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him get passed by these goalies, given how strong the start to their seasons have been.
Vasilevskiy’s Strong Start Puts Him in a Great Position
Whenever you have as strong of a start to the season as Vasilevskiy, it’s impossible to not think about how he could be a favorite to win the Vezina. However, due to the uncertain nature of the 2020-21 season, a good start doesn’t guarantee future success.
For the moment, though, Lightning fans should just be excited to watch Vasilevskiy play each night. He is providing the best goaltending in franchise history, after all, and just because he was expected to be good this season shouldn’t diminish just how special he has been so far.
Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He has written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. While he is happy to talk about just about anything from cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.