In a season in which five goaltenders posted 40 or more wins -- the second time in NHL history this has happened -- six had at least 7 shutouts, and nine posted a goals-against average of 2.40 or lower, narrowing down that list to three finalists for the Vezina was one tough job. But each of the 30 NHL team general managers were up to the task and came up with three very worthy candidates.
The Vezina Trophy is presented annually to "the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at his position" as voted by the general managers of each of the 30 clubs. It was first awarded in 1926-27 to honor Georges Vezina, goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens who collapsed during an NHL game on Nov. 28, 1925, and died of tuberculosis a few months later.
The winner of the trophy will be announced at the 2010 NHL Awards, to be held in Las Vegas on June 23. The ceremony will be broadcast live from the Pearl Concert Theater inside the Palms Hotel Las Vegas on VERSUS in the United States and CBC in Canada.
Here is a closer look at the finalists.
Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils
G - New Jersey Devils
SV%: .916 | GAA: 2.24 | SO: 9
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"In my mind, he's the best to ever play the game," Atlanta goaltender Johan Hedberg said. "He's a proven winner. It's always a fun challenge to play against him. It's so impressive. Being that consistent for so many years playing that many games a season it's just extremely impressive. He has all the ingredients of just being the best. He's always in there; he very seldom misses a game and is just night in and night out consistent."
Brodeur led all NHL goalies in games played (77), starts (76), wins (45) and shutouts (9), was third in goals-against average (2.24), and seventh in shots against (2,004) and saves (1,836). Brodeur's win total was three behind his NHL record of 48 (2006-07).
He has already captured the 2009-10 William Jennings Trophy for fewest team goals allowed. Memorable highlights of the past season include Brodeur becoming the first goalie in League history to reach 600 career wins, passing Terry Sawchuk as the all-time leader in shutouts (110), and passing Patrick Roy for most career games played by a goaltender (1,076).
"He's one of the best players ever in goal and, for me, personally, to play against him and Jersey is always tough. They are one of the more difficult team's in the League to play because of him," Montreal defenseman Andrei Markov said. "He's a legend and future Hall of Famer. There's nothing I can say more."
Brodeur previously won the Vezina in 2007-08, 2006-07, 2003-04 and 2002-03. He has also placed second three times, third once, and fourth twice.
Ilya Bryzgalov, Phoenix Coyotes
G - Phoenix Coyotes
SV%: .920 | GAA: 2.29 | SO: 8
"You've got to improve yourself every day," Bryzgalov said on the eve of Phoenix's first playoff game since 2002. "...You've got to develop yourself to be the best. Only this ... can bring you postseason trophies like the Stanley Cup."
The native of Togliatti, Russia was second in the League in shutouts (8), third in wins (42), sixth in goals-against average (2.29), seventh in starts (69), eighth in shots faced (1,961) and saves (1,805), and tied for ninth in save percentage (.920). Several of those figures are career-bests, including a shutout streak of 137:46, which included parts of three games from Oct. 12-15.
In 2009-10, Bryzgalov etched his name in the Winnipeg-Phoenix franchise record book, setting a new single-season record for wins, and tying Nikolai Khabibulin's franchise record for most shutouts in a season.
"He's been so good and so consistent," captain Shane Doan said. "And when Bryzy is really, really good, it looks so easy. I think sometimes he doesn't get the credit he deserves because he makes it look so easy. He's so square, and he's so solid with his technical game. He just continues to be our best player."
The only other goaltender in Coyotes team history to place in the top three in Vezina voting is Sean Burke, who placed third in 2002 behind Jose Theodore (Montreal) and Patrick Roy (Colorado).
Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres
G - Buffalo Sabres
SV%: .929 | GAA: 2.22 | SO: 5
"I want to compete and challenge every night. I've worked hard to identify parts of my game that I had to work on the past 3-4 years to challenge to be an elite goalie in this League," Miller said after the first month of the season, when he was the last goaltender to remain unbeaten in regulation.
Among all NHL goaltenders, Miller was second in goals-against average (2.22) and save percentage (.929) -- both career bests -- third in saves (1,948), fourth in wins and shots faced (2,098), tied for seventh in games (69) and shutouts (5), and eighth in starts (68).
"He's a pretty in-control goalie," said New Jersey's Martin Brodeur, himself a four-time Vezina winner. "I've known him for a long time and have played against him for a long time. He's a guy that, technique-wise, is pretty together. He doesn't take himself out of the play. He's pretty solid and he's really competitive."
Miller would become the fifth goaltender in franchise history to win the Vezina. Dominik Hasek captured the honor in 2000-01, 1998-99, 1997-98, 1996-97, 1994-95 and 1993-94, and Tom Barrasso placed first in voting in his rookie season of 1983-84. Bob Sauve and Don Edwards shared the Vezina in 1979-80, when the honor was given to the goalkeeper(s) of the team allowing the fewest number of goals during the regular season (the current criteria for the William Jennings Trophy).
Contact Rocky Bonanno at firstname.lastname@example.org