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No Borscht for You!
Nabokov snubbed in Vezina race
6/12/08 - By Mike Lee

In a move fitting of the Sharks season, San Jose's Evgeni Nabokov came up short on Thursday night. The NHL honored the best and brightest at its annual awards show, except they gave the Vezina trophy to the wrong guy. Awarded to the league's top goaltender, 2008 will go down as the year the second best goaltender in the NHL walked away with the hardware. Problem is, second best and a couple of rings trump a better overall record.

New Jersey's Martin Brodeur edged out Nabokov for the award with a 113-106 vote, conducted by the league's general managers. With on-ice numbers slightly favoring Nabokov, this one came down to reputation and Brodeur has the one trump card that Nabokov does not. Stanley Cup Champion.

So with statistics that mirrored each other, the award was decided by reputation. Forget the fact that Nabokov racked up a 46-win season while playing in a conference that is undoubtedly stronger than Brodeur's. This one came down to Brodeur's resume, which contains the sparkly goodness that tends to mesmerize the common general manager. "Stanley Cup Champion" has its privileges, but Nabokov has yet to join the club.

Had the Sharks gone further in the playoffs this season, the outcome may have been different. Nabokov's division championship certainly carried no weight, even though it came against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Anaheim Ducks. Tie doesn't go to the Russian apparently.

Nabokov's 2.14 goal against average was a smidge better than Brodeur's 2.17, but the Devils netminder countered with a .920 save percentage to the Russian's .910. Both played a staggering 77 games in the regular season, but in the end it was Brodeur who walked away with his 4th Vezina (all coming in the last 5 years).

I couldn't help but think that Nabokov was stewing and relieved at the same time. The thought of the Sharks netminder getting up in front of a room full of strangers to give an acceptance speech makes me cringe. Nabokov would probably prefer to square off against an Al Iafrate shot sans his goaltending gear, before having to step in front of a microphone.

Then again, perhaps Nabokov has grown accustomed to the disappointment of finishing second. Since winning the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie in 2001, Nabokov has been bounced from the playoffs in the 1st round once (2001 vs St Louis), the 2nd round four times (2002 vs Colorado, 2006 vs Edmonton, 2007 vs Detroit, and 2008 vs Dallas) and the 3rd round once (2004 vs Calgary).

Playoff exits do not imbue a sense of greatness in the legacy of any player, much less a goaltender. Leave a decision to a bunch of general managers who may have seen Nabokov play once or twice in a season at best, then it simply comes down to a popularity contest. Until Nabokov gets over the Stanley Cup hump, he'll have to settle for second best if his performance is marginally better than a guy like Brodeur.


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