Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Ben Bishop's case for NHL's Vezina Trophy

MONTREAL — Ben Bishop should win the Vezina Trophy as the league's top goalie.

That's if you ask one of the voters, albeit a biased one: Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman.

"Of course I'd vote for him," Yzerman said.

And Yzerman likely won't be the only one of his peers to pick the All-Star Lightning goaltender when the league's 30 general mangers receive their ballots Monday.

The question is, will enough of them vote for Bishop? The Capitals' Braden Holtby is widely considered the favorite because of his 48 wins, which ties the NHL season record set by future Hall of Famer Marty Brodeur. NBC analyst Pierre McGuire says it's a "lead-pipe cinch" that Holtby gets the hardware.

But if you ask other analysts, NHL coaches and even fellow candidates, Bishop has as strong a case as anybody. He entered Saturday with the third-best goals-against average (2.06), second in save percentage (.926) and tied for second in shutouts (six), and was the only goalie in the top five in wins, GAA, save percentage and shutouts.

The only category in which Bishop trailed Holtby was wins, and Bishop's 35 could have been better had he not lost 11 games when allowing two goals or fewer, second to the Devils' Cory Schneider (13) entering Saturday. Holtby had four.

"It's very impressive," said Schneider, a potential Vezina candidate, of Bishop. "When (the Lightning's) offense dried up, he kept them afloat. He's been a Vezina nominee before, two years ago, played in the Stanley Cup final last year. He's really developing into an elite goalie. I think his name is definitely on the short list for Vezina."

Bishop's case:

Wins aren't everything

Nobody will touch Holtby when it comes to victories. He has helped the Capitals win the President's Trophy with the league's best record.

It hasn't hurt Holtby, however, that he plays behind the league's second-highest-scoring team (3.04 goals per game) entering Saturday, Bishop on the 12th (2.74).

"Wins are a team stat, not an individual stat," Yzerman said. "Goals-against and save percentage are more indicative of a good goaltender."

Matt Cullen of Canada's TSN sports network compared the Vezina voting to Major League Baseball's Cy Young Award voting; a pitcher's victories were once a huge factor in the latter voting. But recently, the sportswriters who vote for the Cy Young have dug deeper into numbers, with Zack Greinke getting the award after winning just 16 games in 2009, Felix Hernandez 13 in 2010.

"It depends on where you stand on wins," Cullen said. "You go to baseball the way wins were valued for pitchers forever, and over time we've realized you can still be a really great pitcher and be a Cy Young winner with 15, 16 wins, not 22. That's the parallel with hockey. Giving Holtby credit for all these wins ignores the fact he plays for the second-highest-scoring team in the league."

The support

Bishop's 11 losses when allowing two or fewer goals included a five-start losing streak from Oct. 27-Nov. 7, in which he gave up a combined eight goals while Tampa Bay scored three. Holtby won 10 games when he allowed three goals or more, Bishop six.

In 26 of Holtby's 48 wins, the Capitals scored four or more goals; they scored five or more 11 times. Twenty of Bishop's wins had four or more goals of support.

"(Bishop's) starts, his save percentage, his goals-against average all are outstanding," Yzerman said. "And it's been pointed out many times, if it wasn't for at times our inability to score goals, his won-loss record would be a lot better than it is. And it's still very good."

Finishing strong

Cullen said a key reason Holtby is a favorite is because of his start to the season, racking up a .934 save percentage in the first half.

"People make up their mind early," Cullen said. "Midway through the season, Holtby was the clear guy. People were talking about (him) having a year like (Canadiens goalie Carey) Price had (in his 2014-15 MVP season). It wasn't quite as good, but close."

But Holtby faded down the stretch, allowing four goals or more in four of his last 12 starts. His .911 save percentage in the second half entering Saturday had taken his overall percentage to .921. Bishop, on the other hand, helped bring the Lightning back into playoff contention after an inconsistent first half. Four of his six shutouts came after Feb. 26.

Not only is Bishop the Lightning's MVP, Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman said Bishop should garner consideration for the Hart Trophy as league MVP, even if he likely won't win. Cullen said Chicago goalie Corey Crawford was, and still could be, a top Vezina candidate, though a late-season injury has hurt his candidacy, with Schneider and the Panthers' Roberto Luongo also in consideration.

"The second half (of the season), Holtby has been mediocre, and that opens the door," Cullen said. "This is why I state my case for Bishop as the best of the bunch in a year there really isn't a dominant goaltender."

Yzerman assumes Bishop will have some support among other GMs. Voting ends Wednesday. The winner is announced at the NHL awards show in June.

"Bish has played great," Yzerman said. "He's no secret in the league anymore."

Contact Joe Smith at [email protected]mpabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

 
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