Continuing with the Knup Sports NHL Awards Series, here, I’ll be making a Vezina Trophy prediction for the upcoming season. In case you missed it, we’ve already posted the Hart Trophy Prediction and the Norris Trophy Prediction.
Vezina Trophy Prediction: A Look at the Favorites
The 2019 and 2020 Vezina Trophy winners, Andrei Vasilevskiy and Connor Hellebuyck, are the top two favorites to win the award in 2020 (Vasilevskiy is +650, Hellebuyck is +800). John Gibson and Carter Hart are tied with the next best odds at +1000.
Vasilevskiy led the Tampa Bay Lightning to a Stanley Cup win last season and finished third in Vezina voting after posting a 35-14-3 record with a 2.55 GAA and a .919 save percentage. Hellebuyck thrived behind a porous Winnipeg defense, leading the league in saves and shots against and marching the Jets into the playoff bubble.
Gibson is regularly hindered in Vezina voting by voters who only look at win/loss record; his 2018-19 goals saved above expected (GSAx) was 26.9, meaning he allowed nearly 27 fewer goals than models expected based on the shot speed, type, location, etc. While his numbers took a dip in 2019-20, the Ducks are, on paper, a better team this year than last year, which should limit the number of high danger scoring chances against him.
That leads us to the goalie I’m predicting to win the Vezina this year: Carter Hart.
Vezina Trophy Prediction: Carter Hart
In his second full season as a starter in Philadelphia, Hart posted a 24-13-3 record, with a 2.42 GAA and a .914 save percentage, with one shutout. Among goalies who had played at least 35 games, Hart had the second-best GAA behind only Boston’s Tuukka Rask.
Hart continued his strong season into the playoffs, where he finished with a 9-5-0 record, a 2.23 GAA and .926 save percentage. He also recorded two shutouts, becoming the youngest Flyers goalie to record a playoff shutout; beyond that, he set an NHL record as the youngest goalie to record back-to-back playoff shutouts.
Beyond what Hart brings to the table as a goaltender, the position the Flyers are in with division realignment lends themselves to a favorable opportunity. Philadelphia has the second-best odds (+300) to win the East Division behind the Boston Bruins. Without spoiling the upcoming Stanley Cup preview, I’ve also got Philadelphia winning the division this year. If Hart is a big factor in winning the division and keeping it out of the hands of Boston, Washington, Pittsburgh, and the New York teams, he’d likely have the inside track to the Vezina.
Vezina Trophy Prediction: What Could Keep Hart from Winning?
One big factor that could keep Hart from winning is his inexperience. While he’s played in big games in his career, especially making it to the playoffs in his second year, Hart played in 31 regular-season games in his first year (with no playoffs) and in 43 last year (followed by 14 playoff games). He’s yet to make it through a full season, as he spent 18 games with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms during the 2018-19 season, then COVID-19 forced the shutdown in 2020. With a 56-game schedule this year, Hart may not yet have the endurance for a year where the Flyers will lean on him heavily, given the abbreviated regular season.
Hart also turned 22 last August. If Hart were to win the Vezina, he’d be the youngest winner since Jim Carey of the Washington Capitals in 1995-96 (Carey was 21 at the time).
At the end of the day, age is only a number. Hart looked like he was ready to become the league’s best goalie during the playoff bubble. If he continues the momentum, Hart will take that crown in no time and carry the Flyers to the playoffs once more.