Vezina? Jennings? The Verdict’s Still Out

William M. Jennings. No, I have no idea who that is either. I mean, compared to Georges Vezina or Jacques Plante or Cyclone Taylor, the former two being names related to great goaltending and the latter whose name is, to cite “Keeper of the Cup” Phil Pritchard, the greatest nickname in the history of the game.

William M. Jennings. It’s a name that matters in LA, but not one that has had much resonance in hockey history until more recently than the men I mentioned above. Here’s the drill: the Vezina used to be awarded to the goaltender or team’s goaltenders who let in the least number of goals in a year. That was 1946-81. That changed, and in 1982 the Jennings was invented and awarded for stinginess in the way just described.

I know what you’re thinking. “So who gets the Vezina?” Good call. Well, that goes to the goalie who, in the judgment of the GMs of the league, is the best at his position.

Now, please tell me that neither Garth Snow nor Mike Gillis, when he was working, was able to vote on this. They were/are? OMG. So that’s a problem, but a bigger one is that the trophy just changed its purpose midway through its history. So when you talk about the great goalies in the league, the ones who won the Vezina, you’re talking about guys like Glenn Hall and Johnny Bower and Bill Durnan and Turk Broda. All of them won it for letting in the fewest goals of any netminder in a year. None were voted in. That’s the way to win a trophy. But wait.

On occasion the person who wins the Vezina shares the Jennings (no one will ever win that outright until robogoalie plays every minute of all 82 regular season games. That is, with one exception, as noted below.) That’s happened six times, according to the official history of the NHL available online.

On the other hand, the fact that the Vezina was shared in the past like the Jennings is now does create some absurdities. The trophy for 1977, 1978, and 1979 says “Ken Dryden and Bunny Larocque.” Actually, that’s a lie. It says Dryden and “Michel Larocque,” but everyone I knew called him “Bunny,” and I think he was OK with that.

What we, kids growing up in Montreal, weren’t OK with was him. He was the heir apparent to Dryden in the year that our favorite netminder, and “the best one in the history of the game to infinity” (speaking in the way that I thought as a little boy and worshipper of the Habs) took a year off, 1973-74. This was after he’d been drafted (Larocque, that is) in 1972 with the sixth overall pick.

Think about that. First round, sixth pick. In a year that by some reckoning might be light in talent, but that still saw names like Lorne Henning and Phil Russell, Stan Weir and Bob Nystrom. Larocque never ended up being Dryden, or his peer, even when they were sharing the netminding duties for Montreal. But he ended up sharing the Vezina, the real one, with Dryden, because it was based on fewest goals.

And shortly after that the league changed the “least goals allowed” trophy, honoring the former owner of the New York Rangers, a guy who never won a game and never brought his team to a Stanley Cup, though there were close in the 1970s. So to put it simply: starting in 1982, it was Jennings for fewest goals, and Vezina by acclamation.

With that in mind, perhaps it’s really the Vezina a goalie wants to win because of the fact that it’s the historic trophy, but if a guy’s going to snag an award, along with his teammates, for allowing very few goals, it’s the Jennings he’ll get. In other words, if the GMs were being especially perverse, they could honor an oddball choice with the Vezina, while the other trophy is won on pure numbers.

Whatevs. The point is that coming into Saturday night, the Kings were up by four goals on Boston for the Jennings. They Bruins had let in 174, the Kings 170. All Quick had to do was hold true to form, and the trophy would be in LA for the first time.

Didn’t happen. They let in three over the course of regulation, and the Ducks got three. That sent the game to OT and later, a shootout. The Ducks won that, 4-3, and in the way the rules are written, that final goal counts in the Goals Against for the team. That put the Kings in a tie with the Bruins, though Boston is not done. More in a moment on that.

This year, by the way, three players have stood in nets for the LA team. Those are Jonathan Quick, who has played 49 games, Martin Jones, who has gotten into 19, and Ben Scrivens, who played 19 in LA as well before his trade.

But if the Kings win this award, then only Quick would be the recipient, because the minimum games played to be in consideration is 25. Other names who have won it alone include Brodeur, Roy, and Kiprusoff, among a handful more, all of whom are noted as guys who played the majority of their team’s games.

Quick would have played more, as his previous numbers show—72, 61, and 69 games in the pre-lockout seasons. But this year, he went down with an injury in mid-November and was out until January, missing 24 games altogether while on IR.

The other contender for the trophy is Boston, as was said—they of Tuukka Rask, Chad Johnson, and Niklas Svedberg. Whaaaa? Well, Svedberg has played one game. But both Johnson and Rask are over the 25 game mark, and so would share the award.

The irony as we head to Sunday and Boston has one game left then, is this: they can lose the Jennings by letting in a single goal. They can win it, in a tie, with a shutout. That’s not impossible, given that they’ve had nine shutouts on the year, seven for Rask. And to put it from LA’s point of view: while they could have sealed it Saturday, they can do no worse than to tie for the award.

And a tie has happened before, as the Flyers and Devils shared the Jennings trophy in 2002-03.

So if there isn’t a lot to watch for on Sunday if your team’s already done playing and is either sitting or waiting for the playoffs, this is one matter of intrigue. The Bruins are playing New Jersey, and even a goal in a shootout would do them in.

Notes

The Kings presented Teemu Selanne, not in uniform for the night, with a paddle board (and the paddle) as a commemoration of his career.

The Ducks have a game Sunday at home, Selanne’s last regular season home game. Since they’re in the playoffs, that’s not likely to be the sad affair it might otherwise have become.

With their triumph on Saturday, the Ducks win the season series versus LA by a 4-1 margin. They had one tie, or OT game, and so they got nine of ten points versus their down-freeway rivals on the season.

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