With Martin Brodeur out of the running, the chase for the Vezina Trophy is wide open for a change.
Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins, Niklas Backstrom of the Minnesota Wild and rookie Steve Mason of the Columbus Blue Jackets were named finalists for the NHL’s top goaltender award on Monday.
But Miikka Kiprusoff of the Calgary Flames and perhaps Cam Ward of the Carolina Hurricanes, Evgeni Nabokov of the first-place overall San Jose Sharks or even Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks could also have been considered in voting by the league’s 30 general managers.
The winner is to be announced June 18.
Brodeur, who has won the last two Vezinas, and four of the last five, didn’t have a chance this season because he missed four months with a torn biceps, although he returned in time to beat Patrick Roy’s all-time wins record.
The year he missed the Vezina in 2006 was a standout season by Kiprusoff. Luongo missed 28 games with a groin injury, which hurt his chances.
The general managers went for the three goalies with the best goal-against averages — Thomas at 2.10 goals per game, Mason at 2.29 and Backstrom at 2.33.
Former NHL goalie John Garrett said he agrees with Backtrom and Thomas but not Mason.
“I think Kiprusoff is the only one missing,” said Garrett, a commentator for Rogers Sportsnet who picks Thomas to win. “He won every game his team won, except one.
“I would have had him instead of Mason. He’s rookie of the year, not Vezina.”
Kiprusoff (45-24-5) led the league with 45 victories, four more than Nabokov (41-12-8) and six more than Ward (39-23-5).
Calgary backup Curtis McElhinney was 1-6-1. But the Flames’ overall goaltending ranked 23rd in the league, and Kiprusoff’s 2.84 goals-against average and .903 save percentage were well off his career numbers
The most wins by one of the finalists was Backstrom with 37, fifth best in the league.
Kiprusoff also led the league with 76 games played, two more than Marty Turco of the Dallas Stars.
Thomas went 36-11-7 and helped the Bruins finished first in the Eastern Conference. He also had a league-best .933 save percentage. Luongo had a club record nine shutouts, one fewer than the league leader Mason.
Backstrom played 17 games more than Thomas and had numbers almost as good. Mason played 61 games for the Blue Jackets and was also spectacular.
Neither Ward nor Nabokov, despite their wins, had the consistency or the stats of the three finalists.