SAN JOSE — Evgeni Nabokov shakes his head from side-to-side when asked to talk about this year's competition for the Vezina Trophy given to the NHL's most valuable goalie. No thanks.

But that's OK. His coach has a thought or two on the topic.

"I think he's going to win the Vezina," Sharks coach Ron Wilson said after Nabokov picked up his franchise-record 46th victory Tuesday night. "I think they'd be crazy not to give it to him."

"They" refers to the league's 30 general managers who will cast their ballots before the playoffs begin. And this year it should be a classic one-on-one battle between Nabokov and Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils.

Not that there aren't other goalies, such as Vancouver's Roberto Luongo, with impressive statistics next to their name. But none match the workload that both Nabokov and Brodeur have taken on, or the wins they've racked up.

Wilson gives Nabokov the edge based on those wins, 46 for Nabokov and 42 for Brodeur, plus the Sharks loftier position in the standings.

Still, Brodeur, 35, has the bigger reputation — he has won the Vezina three of the past four seasons, while Nabokov, 32, is looking for his first — and the higher save percentage, seen by some as the key statistic.

Ask two former NHL goalies now working as TV analysts to which goalie they would give the Vezina, and you get two different answers.

"I think Marty Brodeur doesn't get enough credit a lot of times, and sometimes I think he gets too much credit," said Darren Pang, a commentator for both the Phoenix Coyotes and the Canadian sports network, TSN.


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"But this is a unique year. And I think Nabokov deserves it at this point. He'd be my front-runner."

Pang goes even farther in backing Nabokov.

"I don't even consider him just a Vezina Trophy candidate," Pang said. "I consider him a Hart Trophy candidate," a reference to the NHL award for overall MVP. "There have been few nights that he hasn't been the difference in the hockey game."

But another former goalie Darren Eliot, who covers the Atlanta Thrashers and offers his opinions on Versus — looks at it differently.

"I don't think either would be a wrong choice," Eliot said. "What makes it a little trickier now is East vs. West. Is it easier to play goal in the West because it's more defensive-minded overall? Or is it easier in the East because you only have one or two guys on each team to worry about."

Eliot suggested the styles of hockey were so different that maybe Brodeur and Nabokov should be co-winners.

"It's as even as you could get between those two guys," Eliot said.

But if forced to chose, he gives the edge to Brodeur because, unlike Pang, Eliot doesn't see Nabokov as a Hart candidate.

"I think Brodeur is a Hart candidate," Eliot said. "Can you win the Hart without winning the Vezina? I don't think so. If you follow that logic, I would go with Brodeur."

Defenseman Brian Campbell played against Brodeur for more than seven seasons as a member of the Buffalo Sabres and has gotten a close look at Nabokov since joining the Sharks at the trade deadline. He sees similarities between the two goalies.

"Nabokov plays different styles, whether it's standup or butterfly, a lot like Brodeur," said Campbell, saying both goalies keep shooters guessing and try to get inside their heads. "You never know what Nabokov is going to do. That's huge. If you had a butterfly goalie, you know you've got to get that shot up. With him, I don't know what you do."

Several NHL postseason awards are chosen by members of the media and in those cases, teams often send out packets on behalf of their candidates.

Does similar lobbying go on among general managers.

"I think people know how we feel about our goaltender," Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said. "And his record speaks for itself. Winning is what it's all about."