Most Valuable Position: Should Goalies Be Eligible To Win The Hart Trophy?
Goalies should either be banned from winning the Hart Trophy or they should take it home every year.
The goaltender is always the most valuable player on the ice.
If the Hart Trophy is in fact awarded to, “the player judged most valuable to his team”, Montreal Canadiens netminder Carey Price will win the prize by a unanimous vote at the NHL awards in Las Vegas tonight. He carried a mediocre Canadiens squad to an Atlantic Division title, within three points of the New York Rangers for the President’s Trophy. Without him, the Habs wouldn’t have even made the playoffs.
No one played a more central role in his team’s success this year than Price.
But Price’s candidacy for the Hart is rekindling the old pitcher vs. position player debate: why should pitchers be eligible for MVP awards when hitters can’t win the Cy Young? Quick translation for puckheads: the Vezina Trophy is for goalies, the Hart goes to high-scoring forwards.
Considering how often goalies steal games, carry their teams through the playoffs and psychologically torture opponents, it’s surprising that they don’t have a complete monopoly on the Hart Trophy. At a bare minimum, conventional logic would suggest that goalies would capture the NHL’s top individual award at least a couple of times per decade.
Instead, the value of the league’s top netminders — the guys who patrol the blue paint facing a barrage of frozen rubber every night — is often overlooked. In the last 50 years, only two goalies have captured the Hart Trophy: Dominik Hasek in 1997-98 and 1998-99 and Jose Theodore in 2001-02.
While it isn’t etched in stone (or the cup), hockey tends to stick to the MVP-awards-are-for-hitters approach when it dishes out the Hart Trophy. The Vezina Trophy is awarded to goalies, the Norris Trophy is reserved for defensemen and the Hart Trophy goes to offensively-gifted forwards. Bobby Orr (1969-70, 1970-71, 1971-72) and Chris Pronger (1999-00) are the only blue liners who have captured the Hart Trophy since the 1943-44 season.
When goalies do win the Hart, it requires absolute stand-on-your-head performances.
In 1997-98, Hasek registered a .932 save percentage and a 2.09 goals-against average, carrying a middle-of-the-road Buffalo Sabres squad to the Eastern Conference finals. A year later, he took the Sabres to the Stanley Cup finals, posting a mind-boggling .937 save percentage and an equally-impressive 1.87 goals-against average during the regular season.
Theodore’s Hart Trophy run in 2001-02 followed a similar formula. He led a Canadiens team that had no business being in the playoffs to the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference with numbers (.931, 2.11) that look nearly identical to Hasek’s 1997-98 season
So when Price’s candidacy is debated, the question being asked is whether his remarkable campaign this year reached the Herculean standard set by Hasek and Theodore?
The answer is unequivocally yes.
The Habs ranked 23rd in Corsi For (48.5 percent) this year, 21st in shots against per game (30.1) and 20th in goals per game (2.61). Without Price’s Superman performance (.933 save percentage, 1.96 goals-against average), the Canadiens wouldn’t have contended for a President’s Trophy or a division title, let alone a playoff spot.
Add Price to almost any non-playoff team and he likely would have led that squad to the promised land this year. Throw him on any playoff team, he’d make that group an instant Stanley Cup contender.
This is the strongest argument in Price’s favor, but it also works against him. In reality, adding a five-star goalie to any team will always make that squad better, especially in the low-scoring modern NHL where the value of a top-level netminder is skyrocketing.
Last year, Tuuka Rask led the Bruins to a President’s Trophy behind a 2.04 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage. If he’d played for most non-playoff teams, they would have contended for a spot in the second season.
But he minded the net for a team that had won the Stanley Cup just two years earlier, so he didn’t receive as much praise as Price is getting right now.
In 2012-13, Sergei Bobrovsky came within a point of leading the Columbus Blue Jackets into the playoffs with a 2.00 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage. Did Hart Trophy voters view his performance in a different light than Theodore’s 2001-02 campaign because his squad missed the playoffs by a razor-thin margin?
What separates Theodore and Hasek’s Hart Trophy seasons from Henrik Lundqvist’s spectacular performance in 2011-12 (1.87, .930), Marty Turco’s exceptional run in 2002-03 (1.72, .932) and Martin Brodeur’s dazzling campaign in 1996-97 (1.88, .927)?
Does the team that surrounds the netminder need to be subpar for the player to get a whiff of Hart Trophy consideration? Does Price’s season stand out because he plays for the Canadiens and not the Arizona Coyotes? Is he getting extra points because his performance at the Sochi Olympics is still fresh in voters’ minds?
The problem with awarding the Hart Trophy to goalies is that we’re not comparing apples to apples or even apples to oranges. It’s more like cucumbers to cantaloupes.
At the end of the day, it’s impossible to measure a netminder’s value to his team against that of a forward because the goalie is always the most valuable player on the ice. Confirmation with a piece of metal isn’t needed.
This column was sponsored by Tilden Park Golf Course in Berkeley. Join the Players’ Club for $39.99 a month. Daily range access. Free green fees. Free golf clinics!