In the lead-up to the 2023 NHL Awards in Nashville on June 26, we here at The Oil Rig have put together our own version of the program. We voted on each of the awards, the Jack Adams Award, Lady Byng Trophy, Selke Trophy, Norris Trophy, Calder Trophy, Vezina Trophy, and Hart Trophy, to give out our own accolades.
The Vezina Trophy is awarded to the goaltender voted to be the best at his position in the league. There were many goalies deserving of this award this season, all of whom contributed greatly to their team’s success and could be seen as the best in the league. But which one will take the crown?
The winner of the The Oil Rig’s 2023 Vezina Trophy is…
Linus Ullmark, Boston Bruins
Backstopping the record setting Boston Bruins for just over half of the season was Linus Ullmark. Yes, the team in front of him was incredible, but his numbers on their own are head and shoulders above almost everyone else in the entire league.
Amongst goalies with more than 41 games played this season, Ullmark’s .938 SV% was 14 percentage points above second place, his 1.89 GAA was just under half a goal less per game than second place, and his 40–6–1 record looks like stats from NHL23 on an easy difficulty with the sliders in your favour. To top it all off, he scored a goal this season.
Ullmark finished with 42.4 goals saved above expected in all situations, according to Moneypuck, good for second in the league. He did, however, have the highest GSAE/60 amongst goalies with more than 30 games played.
Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman have already won the William Jennings Trophy for giving up the least amount of goals this season, so a Vezina on top of that would be icing on the cake—a trophy that would be very deserved for an incredible performance from Ullmark.
Ilya Sorokin, New York Islanders
His team made a late season playoff push to just sneak in in the final days, but his performance was a key reason why the New York Islanders were even in the mix in the first place. Ilya Sorokin had yet another stellar season deserving of Vezina consideration.
Since he joined the league, he has been one of the best and most consistent goalies around. This season, his .924 SV% was second in the league and 2.34 GAA third amongst goalies with a minimum of 41 games played. Sorokin had six shutouts this season, leading the league in that category. And his 38.7 GSAE placed him third in the league.
Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets
Connor Hellebuyck has often been one of the key contributors to success for the Winnipeg Jets. When he is on his game, the team excels. That was the case for the most part this season.
Hellebuyck had one of the best seasons of his career as he looked to win his second Vezina Trophy. But on our ballots, he fell short of the victory.
With a .920 SV% and 2.40 GAA, he had a significantly above average performance this season. Hellebuyck’s 30.8 GSAE was fourth in the league. Even though his team faltered in front of him, he was able to help them hold onto a playoff spot despite some late pushes from the teams below them in the standings.
Vote scoring: 1st Place = 5, 2nd place = 3, 3rd place = 1
The Oil Rig’s writer takes
Sean Laycock: The amazing performance from Ullmark this season cannot go unrewarded. Yes, his team was good. But Ullmark’s individual numbers, specifically his goals saved above expected, show that he was a major contributor to that success in his own right. Sorokin is the perfect goalie for the type of game the Islanders play as his performance leads him to even receive MVP consideration. And Juuse Saros absolutely carried his team in the latter stages of the season to almost get them into the playoffs, while also leading the league in GSAE with 46.7.
Ray Boulette: Ullmark’s .938 SV% is difficult to ignore as well as being the number one goalie on a historic Boston team, however Hellebuyck played 15 more games while still posting a .920 SV% on a significantly worse Jets team. I believe the argument could be made that the Jets would have been a favourite for the Bedard sweepstakes without Hellebuyck and the Bruins would have been just fine without Ullmark.
Gregory Babinski: Saros is an easy pick for my top slot. Under duress on a middling Nashville Predators roster, Saros was clearly the Preds MVP on the season. Similarly to Hellebuyck, Saros willed an overextended roster to relevance. The theme with all three of my choices, including Hellebuyck and Sorokin, is usage. All three goalies played in over 60 games this season, posting results far beyond their backups.
Sorokin’s Islanders are the best defensive team of the group, but all three teams relied heavily on their goalies to stay above water. By this measure I did not include likely Vezina winner Ullmark, as the Bruins were, perhaps, the greatest regular season team in NHL history. Ullmark led all NHL goalies in many key stats, including goals, and does deserve credit for his strong season.
That being said, it’s hard to imagine that the likes of Saros, Hellebuyck, or Sorokin would not be excelling behind the Bruins defence.