By Sarah Kwak, SI.com
As the playoffs continue, the fields for the NHL's top honors are whittled down as well. Yes, awards season is upon us, and throughout the next seven days, the NHL will be announcing the finalists for each of seven trophies (Vezina, Hart, Norris, Selke, Adams, Byng and Calder) that are handed out based on votes, not numbers.
Kicking things off is the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the league's best goaltender by vote of the league's 30 general managers. The nominees are (in alphabetical order):
Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils: Despite his first-round exit at the hands of the Rangers, Brodeur still proved that he's one of the best in the game, finishing the regular season in the top 10 in almost every category with 44 wins (2nd), 2.17 GAA (5th), .920 save percentage (T-6th) and four shutouts (T-9th). Though New York fans will probably say Brodeur deserves the Oscar for Best Flop in a Playoff Series, there is no question that the netminder who has won the Vezina in three of the last four seasons continues to be the standard bearer in the crease. But a slow start to the 2007-08 season could come back to haunt him in June; the 36-year-old Brodeur won just five of his first 16 games during the first six weeks as his GAA ballooned to 2.74 and his save percentage dipped to .892 at mid-November.
Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers: It's been "always a bridesmaid" for Lundqvist -- a finalist in each of his three seasons in the NHL. Could this be the year he finally beats out Brodeur? Well, he did it in the first round of the playoffs, avenging 2006 when the Devils swept the Rangers in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. A few years, though, have made him a much stronger contender for the trophy and his Rangers a contender for the Cup. He had career bests of 37 wins in 72 games and a 2.23 GAA. His 10 shutouts led the league. Like Brodeur, though, Lundqvist started the season with a bit of a whimper, winning just three of his first 10 games, and seemed to be marked by streaky play. Streaky, however, isn't always bad -- in his last 15 games of the season, the 26-year-old lost just three in regulation and boasted a 1.74 GAA and .929 save percentage.
Evgeni Nabokov, San Jose Sharks: This season was something of a coming out party for the 32-year-old Nabokov, who until now had never been a finalist for the Vezina. After San Jose traded Vesa Toskala to Toronto last June, Nabby assumed sole responsibility of the Sharks' net and got into the best shape on his career. It showed as he started every game in the first half of the season. With barely a moment to rest, the two-time All-Star led the league with 46 wins in 77 games. His 2.14 GAA ranked third in the league and was better than the one he posted when he won the Calder Trophy in 2001. As is customary with Nabokov, he tore through the end of the season with great success: 15-1-1 and a 1.90 GAA from Feb. 21 on out.
My pick: As solid as Brodeur was this season, it's time for another Metro-area goalie to shine the silverware. Lundqvist has already proven to be Vezina-worthy; now it's time he actually wins it. Given that the Rangers had missed the playoffs for seven straight years before his arrival and now look like one of the favorites for the Eastern Conference title, his contribution cannot go unrewarded much longer.
What do you think? Think I’m nuts because both Brodeur and Nabokov had better numbers this season? Surprised Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo and Calgary’s Miikka Kiprusoff were notably left off the short list? Add your $0.02 to the trophy talk in the comments below.