- Darren Pang, NHL analyst
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The Vezina Trophy is awarded to "the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at this position," according to the NHL.
But how is that player determined?
To me, it's not just the goalie with the best statistics. It is the goalie who has been the best at his position game in and game out. Sometimes those two things go hand in hand. Sometimes they don't.
There are situations where a team has such a solid defense and system that the goalie often gets overlooked, as Martin Brodeur was until he got his due last season.
Some goalies are in pressure-cooker cities where fans not only know the game but expect greatness every night, places such as Toronto, Montreal, Detroit and Colorado.
Does the goalie play well when he has a four-goal cushion to work with but often allow that one bad goal when the game is on the line? How good is his record in one-goal games and overtime? Is his team shorthanded all the time? Stopping shots on the power play is more difficult than at even strength in any league, let alone the NHL.
For better or worse, there isn't a magic formula. I've spoken with many great goalies about how a goalie is judged, and they all have their own theories. Hall of Famer Grant Fuhr won games -- lots of them. He made the key saves, as did Billy Smith. Neither goalie was concerned about the other stats. Wins and Cups were all that mattered. It's tough to argue with that.
The problem now is we have so many goalies who win and have great stats. There are several who could be nominated for the Hart Trophy, let alone the Vezina.
Take Miikka Kiprusoff. He's arguably the MVP of the Calgary Flames. After all, where would they be without his 1.69 goals-against average and .933 save percentage? The issue I have with Miikka is he hasn't played enough games (34) to merit consideration for top-three status for the Vezina or Hart.
The Nashville Predators wouldn't be on the cusp of their first playoff berth if it weren't for All-Star goalie Tomas Vokoun and his 31 wins. This league is so strong with goalies, though, that his save percentage of just over .900 pales in comparison with the .930 held by three others.
Jose Theodore doesn't get nearly enough credit south of the border, but I can assure you he has been a difference maker for the Montreal Canadiens, especially down the stretch. Jose has won 10 of his last 11 games by stopping 92 percent of the shots that come his way and has solidified the Canadiens' hold on a playoff position.
Where would the Stars be without Marty Turco? Think about it. He struggles out of the gate after missing camp and signing a multiyear contract, much like Jean-Sebastien Giguere. But instead of allowing the tent to fold, he turns it right around and now has 35 wins for a team that appeared to be going nowhere and fast. Now they are the hottest team going into the playoffs thanks to Marty and his 1.97 GAA and nine shutouts. I could go on forever.
Here's my list of the five finalists. There are too many really good ones out there, so the league's GMs will have plenty to consider.
1. Roberto Luongo
Luongo is the only one among my top five who isn't in the playoffs, but that shouldn't prevent him from winning the award.
Justin Copertino of the Florida Panthers passed along some statistical nuggets concerning the exceptional season Luongo has had. He is clearly a player fans go to watch, and he has been a difference maker all season long.
• He has been named the first star in 15 games, seven times on the road. His record in those games is 12-0-2-1.
• He has made over 50 saves twice, winning both games. He made 51 saves in a 2-1 win over Tampa Bay on Jan. 17 and made 54 saves in a 6-4 win over the Islanders on March 17.
• He is 6-1-4-1 when he makes over 40 saves.
• He is 19-9-10-3 when making over 30 saves.
Roberto is first in the NHL in saves (2,131) and tied for first in save percentage (.933). He currently ranks fourth on the NHL's all-time single season saves list, and there are still seven games left in the Panthers' season. If he averages around 30 saves per game and plays all seven, he will end up first all time, passing Felix Potvin's mark of 2,214 set in 1996-97 when he was with the Maple Leafs.
• As of today, the Edmonton Oilers are in the playoffs. Yes, Edmonton. With 82 points and only six games remaining, Jussi Markkanen, who was reacquired from the New York Rangers, has put them in the eighth spot in the West. Ty Conklin got the nod Monday night in L.A. against a very desperate Kings team and won 2-1 with 25 solid saves in a pressure-packed environment before a sell-out crowd. The Kings are now three points out with seven games left -- all against teams currently above .500 in the standings. They will face the Oilers again March 26 in Edmonton.
• Chris Osgood hasn't put together back-to-back wins since mid-January, which is one of the reasons the Blues are on the outside looking in right now with 81 points. They have seven games left, but only three are against teams above .500 and four of the seven are on home ice.
• Jocelyn Thibault will start Thursday against Minnesota for the first time since injuring his hip in November. He told me he needs to get into the routine of game day preparation before he plays, which is why he accompanied the team to Colorado. The Hawks went 14-33-6 without last year's All-Star in the lineup. Last Sunday, Jocelyn exemplified the true character of hockey players by assisting the Sabres Youth Hockey Association in Naperville, Ill., in the end-of-the-year awards banquet. He was gracious with his time and patiently stood to take countless pictures and signed autographs for the more than 600 players who play for the Sabres.
Let's get to this week's top five playoff-bound goalies:
Darren Pang, a former goaltender with the Chicago Blackhawks, is a hockey analyst for ESPN. His goalie rankings appear every other week in Net Effect.
Roberto Luongo may be worthy of the Vezina, but Jose Theodore tops this week's rankings.