On Monday, September 21, the National Hockey League announced its major individual award winners for the 2019-20 season. Voted upon prior to the league’s restart following the COVID-19 pause, the awards were presented with zero consideration given to playoff performance.
The Vezina Trophy is awarded annually “to the player adjudged to be the best at his position” throughout the course of the season. It is voted upon by the 31 league general managers, and out of a pool of three finalists, one winner is announced.
In mid-July, the league announced that Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck, Boston’s Tuukka Rask and Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy had been named finalists. On Monday, the numbers were released with Hellebuyck receiving 19 of a possible 30 first-place votes, and garnering up 123 total votes, finishing above Rask (99 points and 10 first-place votes) and Vasilevskiy (31 points and one first-place vote). The voting is weighted on a 5-3-1 points scale.
“It’s very rewarding,” Hellebuyck said post-announcement. “It’s almost a little bit of a sigh of relief because I was so close last time; I wanted it so badly. This year was such a mental grind, but also so fun. I would have liked for the playoffs to go a little better, but when I’m looking back on this year, I’m going to say that we did some great things.”
From runner-up in 2017-18 to Vezina Trophy winner in 2019-20, Hellebuyck is sticking to the same story: one of a long-time dream of winning both a Vezina Trophy and a Stanley Cup.
“It almost feels like I’m getting a little bit of a monkey off my back after saying that,” Hellebuyck laughed. “Now I’m really am looking forward to the next one and the next is going to be glorious. That’s winning a Cup. But it’s not going to be easy and it’s not going to be just me. There’s going to be a whole team in front of me that are all going to have to buy in, kind of like we did this year, and just battle and grind. We have the locker room for it, it’s only going to get better and I’m really excited for that grind.”
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Hellebuyck, 27, was actually eating dinner with his family and girlfriend while taking in the award show when the announcement of his award recognition was made.
“It was just one of those moments where I couldn’t believe that it actually happened,” he said. “Everyone had a big smile on their face and they were all clapping. It was just a proud moment, and a huge moment in my life.”
In collecting the major award, the fifth-year NHL backstop became the first Winnipeg Jet to ever earn that particular trophy, while also becoming the first Jets player to take home any major individual award since Teemu Selanne‘s Calder Trophy in 1993. More recently, Dany Heatley (2001-02) won the Calder Trophy as a member of the Atlanta Thrashers, while Ilya Kovalchuk won the Rocket Richard in 2003-04, also with the Thrashers.
Going 31-21-5, Hellebuyck put up a 2.57 goals against average, .922 save percentage, and a league-best six shutouts. He allowed two or fewer goals in 32 of his 58 games last season. Hellebuyck was first amongst all goaltenders in shots faced (1,796), saves (1,656) and games played (tied with Carey Price).
“I think my whole game has kind of sculptured itself,” Hellebuyck said on his collective strides to the Vezina Trophy. “I’ve tightened up a lot of things. I think the biggest and most important part is my mind and my mental game. It’s gotten a lot calmer. I only care about the things that I need to care about and I focus on the things I need to focus on, and I got some experience under the belt. I don’t let my mind and the roller coaster happen too big.”
On top of taking home the Vezina Trophy, the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Michigan product was also announced as a first-team all-star for the 2019-20 season, while he was revealed to have finished sixth overall in Hart Trophy voting with 283 total points, including three first-place choices.
Winnipeg’s 2012 fifth-round draft selection beat out Rask – who went 26-8-6 on the season while finishing first in GAA (2.12) and second in both save percentage (.929) and shutouts (five) – as well as Vasilevskiy – who led the league in wins for the third-straight season (35) while boasting a 2.56 GAA and a .917 save percentage and three shutouts.
2020 Vezina Trophy voting (1st-2nd-3rd)
1. Connor Hellebuyck, WPG 123 (19-9-1)
2. Tuukka Rask, BOS 99 (10-15-4)
3. Andrei Vasilevskiy, TBL 31 (1-3-17)
4. Jacob Markstrom, VAN 7 (0-1-4)
5. Elvis Merzlikins, CBJ 4 (0-1-1)