Linus Ullmark came out of nowhere to win the Vezina Trophy as the National Hockey League’s best goaltender last season, helping the Boston Bruins put together one of the greatest regular seasons in the history of the sport. In just his second year with the team after coming through the Buffalo Sabres system, Ullmark recorded a minuscule 1.89 goals-against average and .938 save percentage over 49 starts, winning an absolutely absurd 40 of them. Video game numbers.
But a new season dawns, and the Bruins figure to be much worse than last year without the services of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, along with a slew of free agent departures. For that reason, it’s expected that Ullmark will take a step back next season, especially as he approaches age 31.
No goaltender has won back-to-back Vezina Trophies since superstar Martin Brodeur did it with the New Jersey Devils between 2006-08. So, let’s assume there will be a new victor crowned at the conclusion of the 2023-24 season. Like usual, the frontrunning pool is led by a trio of three superstar Russian goalies. All but two of the netminders on this list have won the Vezina before, but our favorite is one who has never won the award. Here are the contenders.
Honorable mentions: Jake Oettinger, Linus Ullmark, Filip Gustavsson, Alexander Georgiev
5) Juuse Saros, Nashville Predators
Juuse Saros has been about a good a replacement for Pekka Rinne as the Nashville Predators could ever ask for. Although the team has struggled since advancing to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, Saros has been a wall for the team since securing the starting job in 2021-22. Last season, the Finnish star was excellent, winning 33 games for a relatively weak Preds team that failed to qualify for the postseason.
Saros’ 2.69 goals against and .919 save percentage are very respectable numbers for a goalie who was on a non-playoff team, and the 28-year-old is showing no signs of slowing down. With a revamped defensive core that now includes Luke Schenn, Tyson Barrie and Ryan McDonagh, look for Saros to again shine in Tennessee next year. Whether it will be enough to win him his first Vezina Trophy is up in the air, but with his talent, he’s got a shot.
4) Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets
Connor Hellebuyck has been making headlines throughout the offseason after reportedly telling the Winnipeg Jets he wouldn’t be re-signing when his contract expires next summer. That doesn’t change the fact that the Michigan native is a superstar goaltender, even at age 30. Hellebuyck won the Vezina Trophy in 2019-20, although it was overshadowed but another disappointing first-round loss for the franchise.
It’s becoming clear that Hellebuyck is done with the Jets, and it will be intriguing to see whether he gets moved this season or potentially leaves for nothing next summer. But after being named a finalist last season, the former fifth-round pick is a threat to win the award every season.
3) Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
It’s hard to argue that Andrei Vasilevskiy isn’t the best goalie in the National Hockey League. His regular-season results have been spectacular, but he has really upped his game and excelled in the playoffs. He led the Lightning to back-to-back Stanley Cups, and came within two games of being the first team to three-peat since the early 1980s New York Islanders dynasty.
He won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the 2021 playoffs, and also holds the NHL record for most wins in single postseason (18 in 2020). At 29-years-old, Vasi is still a beast, and like Hellebuyck, a perennial Vezina Trophy contender. He won over 30 games for an astounding six straight seasons, including 34 last year. Vasilevskiy will go down as one of the greatest goaltenders of all time, and on a Tampa Bay team that seems to be on the verge of coming back down to earth, he’s still otherworldly.
2) Igor Shesterkin, New York Rangers
Igor Shesterkin burst onto the scene with the New York Rangers after coming over from the KHL’s SKA Saint Petersburg in 2019. As a starter, he’s put together two unbelievable campaigns, winning his maiden Vezina Trophy in 2021-22 after a phenomenal 36-win campaign, coupled with a 2.07 GAA and .935 SV%.
Although he wasn’t as potent last season, Shesterkin was a brick wall in the playoffs, putting together a 1.96 GAA and .931 SV% as the Rangers were upset by the New Jersey Devils in Round 1. That upset is not on him. Still, the 27-year-old is a superstar in every sense of the word, and will help keep the Rangers competitive for a Stanley Cup, just like Henrik Lundqvist did before him.
1) Ilya Sorokin, New York Islanders
Ilya Sorokin has quietly been one of the most solid goalies in the NHL over the last few seasons, and he’s been drastically underrated since joining the New York Islanders from CSKA Moscow in 2020. Sorokin is the odds-on favorite to win the Vezina Trophy in 2023-24, and for good reason. He’s got a great defense in front of him, plays in a defense-first system, and simply, is an incredible goaltender.
Sorokin put up 31 wins last year, along with a 2.34 GAA and .924 SV%. He gets better every season, and could be the first goaltender off the board in fantasy hockey drafts later this September. Any of the goalies mentioned have a legitimate shot to win the Vezina next year, but if Sorokin can stay healthy and the team continues to play well in front of him, he probably has the best chance to win his first trophy.