The outbreak of COVID-19 in March ended the NHL’s regular season. Many of the awards races didn’t get a chance to play out to a conclusion. However, one race that should be decided is goalie Connor Hellebuyck taking home the Vezina Trophy.
The Commerce, Mich. native helped the Jets reach the qualifying round of the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs as the No. 8 seed. Hellebuyck dealt with a defence that went through injuries and personnel changes. However, the Jets still found their way into post-season contention.
His sterling play has given life to Winnipeg and helped improved its odds for NHL betting lines for the shortened season.
Connor Hellebuyck Makes His Vezina Case
Hellebuyck has been the team’s unquestioned top goalie since the 2016-17 season. He’s taken the lion’s share of games since then. This era usually relies on goalie tandems like the Nashville Predators do with Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros. However, Hellebuyck has played at least 55 games since 2016-17. He played a career-high 67 games, including 64 starts that campaign.
The University of Massachusetts-Lowell product won 44 games that season, which was tied for tops with Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Hellebuyck has won at least 31 games in all four seasons he’s been the starter.
The Jets were 12th in the league in goals allowed with 203, but those numbers are deceiving. Winnipeg lost four key defencemen Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Chiarot, Tyler Myers, and Jacob Trouba in the off-season. Defensive forward Brandon Tanev also left the team and he was solid at checking.
That meant the Jets gave up plenty of shots and many were high-quality chances. Hellebuyck faced 9.34 high-danger chances against per hour this season according to Natural Stat Trick. The Jets were third-worst in expected goals with 2.73 per game. No other goalie should have allowed more goals than the 27-year-old. However, Hellebuyck managed to keep Winnipeg in many games.
He’s still managed a 2.57 goals-against-average, .922 save percentage, 31 wins and a career-best six shutouts this season. His wins are second only to Vasilevskiy for most in the NHL. The former fifth-round pick led the league in saves and shots faced for the second consecutive season.
Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask is the other definite candidate in the race for the Vezina. Rask led the league in save percentage with a .929 and a 2.12 goals-against-average. The Finn also leads the league in quality starts while Hellebuyck is second. A quality start is a start with a save percentage greater than or equal to the league average, or at least an 88.5% save percentage if a goalie sees less than 20 shots according to Hockey Reference.
Other goalies like Vasilevskiy, the Dallas Stars duo of Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin, St. Louis Blues goalie Jordan Binnington and Arizona Coyotes shot-stopper Darcy Kuemper are all duking it out for that final spot.
Kuemper was doing well early in the season, but an injury halted his challenge. He was 16-11-2, .928 save percentage, 2.22 goals-against average. However, he only played in 29 games, which may be too small a sample size.
Bishop went 21-16-4 record and a .920 save percentage and Binnington has stayed solid after a winning post-season run.
More Than a Vezina
Hellebuyck’s heroics have been so spectacular that there’s been some Hart Trophy talk. It’s very hard for a goalie to win the league’s MVP. Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens was the last to accomplish this in 2014-15.
He has to contend with the New York Rangers Artemi Panarin and the Bruins David Pastrnak. However, one can’t ignore the 4.8 wins above replacement 26.7 goals saved above average. Those numbers may not sway the voters, but they can’t be ignored.
Pete Peeters was the only unanimous Vezina winner in 1983, but Hellebuyck is making a strong push for one. However, the league’s general mangers decide this award and not the writers. The Jets goalie should make their decision an easy one.