Vezina Trophy Rankings: Sorokin the early favorite for hardware
Welcome to the first edition of theScore's 2023-24 Vezina Trophy Rankings, a look at the top netminders across the league set to be published each month throughout the season.
Boston Bruins star Linus Ullmark dominated last year's Vezina voting, but we project a much different race this time around.
Note: All stats from 2022-23 regular season
GSAA = Goals saved above average
GSAx = Goals saved above expected
5. Igor Shesterkin, Rangers
Shesterkin ran away with the Vezina in 2021-22 but took a step back a year later with a far less dominant season. Luckily for him and the Rangers, a down year still saw Shesterkin rank top-10 among all netminders in all the individual statistics listed above. We project a solid bounce-back campaign for Shesterkin, who's simply too talented to be forgotten in these rankings. In addition to Shesterkin's individual ability, he admitted recently that a poor attitude hindered his performance in the crease last season. A happy Shesterkin should make for plenty of happy Rangers fans, too.
4. Connor Hellebuyck, Jets
Hellebuyck is easily good enough to rank higher than fourth and is very likely to climb this list as the season progresses. However, we left him off the podium for now, largely due to circumstances out of his control. Trade rumors swirled around the star netminder throughout the offseason, and if the Jets aren't in a position to make the playoffs in a few months, they're sure to ramp up again. You never know how a contract year will affect a player's performance, and we'll have to wait and see how the 30-year-old manages the increased pressure of the upcoming campaign.
Reputation-wise, Hellebuyck's status among the league's elite goalies is second to none. He's a bona fide star coming off a dominant season in which he was a Vezina finalist for the third time in six years.
3. Juuse Saros, Predators
Saros was good enough to earn a pair of first-place Vezina votes last season despite the Predators missing the playoffs. Nashville ranked 27th in shots against per 60 and 28th in expected goals against per 60 while sitting on the wrong side of shot and goal shares at five-on-five. Saros was still able to post the Herculean statistics listed above, which could've made him a dark-horse Hart Trophy candidate if the Preds squeaked into the postseason.
It's a lot to ask Saros to take on that big of a job this season, but the 28-year-old hasn't faltered yet in his eight-year career, in which he owns a lifetime .919 save percentage. Playoffs are always a key factor in Vezina votes, but Saros' individual brilliance shouldn't be ignored if Nashville struggles in the standings.
2. Jake Oettinger, Stars
Oettinger is the top up-and-comer in the NHL's goalie landscape, and he slotted ahead of some more established veterans on our list based on the team surrounding him. The Stars have built a legitimate Cup contender, and there isn't much competition in the Central Division to slow Dallas from eclipsing 100 points or prevent Oettinger from having another strong season.
The 24-year-old finished fifth in Vezina voting last season despite tailing off throughout the second half of his campaign. Oettinger owned a .923 clip in his first 31 appearances, then dropped to .915 for his next 31. The dip can easily be chalked up to fatigue as he faced a more significant workload than ever before. That said, Oettinger's numbers have progressively gotten better in each of his three NHL seasons, and Year 4 could be the one he establishes himself as the league's best.
1. Ilya Sorokin, Islanders
If it weren't for Ullmark's historic efforts a season ago, Sorokin would've waltzed to the first Vezina of his career. The Islanders star instead earned runner-up for goalie of the year and a second-team All-Star selection. From a pure talent perspective, it's difficult to argue any netminder is better than Sorokin right now. Since arriving in the NHL three seasons ago, he ranks first in shutouts (16) and GSAx (76.28), second in save percentage (.924) and GSAA (70.8), and third in goals against average (2.34).
The Islanders project to be a bubble team in the standings in 2023-24, but with Sorokin in the crease, Lane Lambert's group has a chance to win every night.
Just missed the cut: Ullmark, Alexandar Georgiev (Avalanche), Filip Gustavsson (Wild)
(Stats source: Evolving-Hockey)
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