As the season winds down, focus turns towards the playoffs and also towards the year-end NHL awards.  While some would argue that the role of the big money goaltender has been significantly diminished in recent years, there are still a number of very strong candidates for the Veznia Trophy.

Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins has been at or near the top of the pack for virtually the entire season and most of the time it’s looked like the Vezina is his award to lose.  However, he’s struggled a bit recently and a number of other goaltenders have put up some impressive performances, so we may actually have a bit of a race now!

Nashville doesn’t get a lot of love from the hockey world, but Rinne is now attracting some serious attention.  He’s currently second in goals against average and save percentage behind Tim Thomas and he’s played six more games than Thomas has.  He has two fewer wins however.  Both Puck Daddy and On The Forecheck have speculated as to whether or not Rinne actually stands a chance against Thomas and both decided that it will be pretty tough for him to usurp the Bruins goaltender.  He does, however, stand the best chance at catching Thomas out of anyone else in the league.

Another goaltender who could garner some attention from Vezina voters is Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens.  Price is currently tied for first in wins, seventh in save percentage, ninth in goals against average and second in the league in shutouts.  Could Thomas’ rival/occasional fight partner actually snatch the award away from him?  Or is Price simply in a race for second place with everyone else?

Staying in Canada, Roberto Luongo is having an excellent season as well.  He sits third in save percentage, fourth in goals against average and he’s tied for first in wins with Price and Detroit’s Jimmy Howard.  The fact that Luongo plays for the league-leading Vancouver Canucks could hurt his chances, though he’s certainly a big part of the team’s success.

Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers has more shutouts than anyone in the NHL.  He also sits eighth in save percentage and seventh in goals against average.  Those are impressive numbers, but unfortunately they probably won’t be enough to warrant consideration.

The 2010 Stanley Cup Final got people thinking that teams may not want to sign “big money” goaltenders any longer in favour of “one off” goalies and strong team defense.  However, a number of established goaltenders have certainly proven their worth this year.  In addition to the players already mentioned, goaltenders like Marc-Andre Fleury, Jonas Hiller, Tomas Vokoun, Ilya Bryzgalov, Jonathan Quick and many others have made strong arguments that building from the net out is still a strong strategy.

Thomas is still on pace to record the best save percentage in NHL history, which would almost certainly guarantee him the Vezina.  He’s put together one of the finest seasons in years and he should be rewarded for doing so.

This season has shown us that if the NHL does have a problem in regards to goaltending, it’s that there are too many incredibly talented goalies to go around.  The days of the “big money goalie” are not dead.