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Lightning Round: Andrei Vasilevskiy is a favorite for the Vezina Trophy

Vegas thinks everyone’s favorite cat fanatic could be named the best goalie in the league for the second time in three seasons.

2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Six Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

As we continue to inch closer to an actual NHL season, oddsmakers are starting to release their pre-season betting lines on individual awards. It might be a shock to some that the defending Stanley Cup champions Tampa Bay Lightning are not the betting favorites a month away from the alleged start of the season, but that speaks to the difficulty of repeating title runs in this league. Bovada currently has the Colorado Avalanche leading the way with +600 odds. The Lightning are right behind them at +750.

Individually, Colorado also boasts the betting favorite for the Hart Trophy in Nathan MacKinnon (+550) while Nikita Kucherov is the Lightning’s leader at +1100 (honestly, those are pretty good odds for someone who is only a season away from winning the award). The Lightning do feature one player that the prognosticators think will win an individual award - Andrei Vasilevskiy.

According to oddsshark.com, the 26-year-old netminder begins the season at +500 to win the Vezina Trophy, tied with Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask. Last year’s winner, Connor Hellebuyck is right behind them at +550.

Will you be a fool soon parted with your money if you lay money down on Vasy? Some folks shy away from these bets since there are so many things (like injuries or a global pandemic) that can’t be predicted or controlled. Even if you narrow it down to the five or ten goalies that have a legitimate shot every year of winning the award it’s still a shot in the dark to pick the one that manages to avoid injury, team turmoil, ineffective defensemen, and general media bias to win the award.

What does Vasilevskiy have going for him in order to make a bet pay off? First and foremost - playing time. As the undisputed number one goaltender he will get the bulk of playing time for the Lightning, a team that is expected to be pretty good. That means he should be among the leaders in counting stats like wins and saves. Voters tend to like common stats such as save percentage and goals against as well.

It will also help him that he has Victor Hedman and friends playing in front of him. The Lightning did an excellent chance of cutting down their opponents high danger chances last season. While Vasilevskiy didn’t take advantage of that during the regular season, he shined in the playoffs with the team’s focus on better defense in front of him.

He also has the pedigree as a past winner which keeps his name in the conversation even if his underlying numbers don’t support it. Although that might not be as a big of factor as it was during the Martin Brodeur/Dominik Hasek days. In the last decade, Sergei Bobrovsky is the only player to win the Vezina twice, and his wins were four seasons apart.

Those are the things in his favor, what could cause you to rip up your betting slip in frustration? Believe it or not, the compressed season could be the biggest factor. A month of poor, or even average, play could doom a goaltender’s chance at being named the best at his position. It took Vasilevskiy a little while to get going last season, the same slow start this season would pretty much knock him out of the race.

Changes to the Lightning’s roster might have a negative effect on his performance as well. While there is a good chance that Kevin Shattenkirk’s departure is the only one that affects the blueline, replacing seasoned veterans Alex Killorn and Tyler Johnson with rookies will most likely lead to more mistakes. Mistakes tend to lead to more dangerous chances that goalies have to fend off. If Ryan McDonagh is traded to ease the salary cap woes, then things will get really interesting.

There are no clear frontrunners in the Vezina race this year so getting five-to-one odds on Vasilevskiy isn’t horrible. There isn’t any other goalie listed that I think is a better play. Personally I’m staying out of this due to the fact that we have no idea how this season is going to turn out. In fact, out of all of the future award bets the only one I’m really thinking about is Auston Matthews at +900 for the Hart Trophy. I have a feeling he’s going to have a monster season in the All-Canadian Division.

Hockey News

By all accounts Steven Stamkos is a good guy. So is Victor Hedman. So it’s not a surprise that they both donated $5,000 to Metropolitan Ministries to help purchase toys for struggling families. Stamkos took it a step forward and invited some of his new neighbors to pitch in as well. Kudos to Kyle Lowry for joining them (as well as continuing to support those in need in Toronto). [Twitter]

With backup Alex Stalock not available for the start of the season, the Minnesota Wild needed someone else to share the goaltending duties with newcomer Cam Talbot. On Wednesday they signed veteran Andrew Hammond to a two-way, one-year deal which gives them depth necessary to promote Kaapo Kahkonen to the role. [Hockey Wilderness]

Hammond isn’t a bad option to have either. He can carry some games during the early part of the AHL season while Kahkonen is making his big-league mark, and then serve as a reasonable minor-league backup when everything is back to relative normalcy.

Jaromir Jagr is 48-years-old and just started his 33rd professional hockey season when he took to the ice for Kladno in the Czech Republic (also the same team he made his professional debut with way back in the 1988-89 season). The ageless one had a pretty nifty assist in his season debut.

Commissioner (and Hall of Famer) Gary Bettman was speaking virtually about the upcoming NHL season during a panel session at the World Hockey Forum on Wednesday. Based on his comments, the league still has a lot of details to figure out as they still plan on starting there season in (checks calendar) less than a month. Most worrisome, they don’t know yet if teams will be playing in their own arenas or in temporary bubbles. The Commissioner did admit that they can’t expect the players to spend an entire regular season in a bubble so there could be some sort of hybrid solution. [NHL]

“So, for example, we have a couple of clubs that can’t hold training camp or conduct games even without fans in their current buildings and facilities, and we’re going to have to move them somewhere else to play.

“If enough teams can’t play, again, without fans, in their own facilities, then we may have to move more and more towards a hub. It may be that some teams are playing in other buildings. It may be that a whole group of teams have to play in other buildings.

Once the season does ramp up, don’t expect many in-season trades. Not only would a cross-border trade involve some sort of quarantine delay, the suppressed salary cap doesn’t leave a lot of room for contenders to pick up that missing piece they need. [Sports Illustrated/Hockey News]

Speaking to The Hockey News this week, another GM suggested trading would be slow in 2020-21 because so many teams are up against the salary cap already due to it staying flat at $81.5 million. He expects very few trades until the trade deadline arrives.

A nice, in-depth look into the design process for the NWHL’s new uniform designs. [The Ice Garden]

WHP decided to keep the season five designs for their four teams, in the interest of continuity, with a new jersey added in. Selemon set out on a researching journey, including social media interactions, geographical studies, and league history. Beyond brief consultations with individual teams, the only hurdles of approval to clear are Rylan and Selemon herself.

“What makes each team unique?” she muses as she develops the designs. “How do we represent that?”