Carey Price has a stranglehold on the Hart Trophy as league MVP. The last goalie to win it had similar circumstances surrounding his season.
The Carey Price Hart Trophy whispers simply aren’t whispers anymore. They’re screams. They’re wall-rattling trumpets. No player in the NHL has been more dominant or valuable to his team this season.
Price leads the league’s goaltending class in wins (37), goals-against average (1.89) and save percentage (.936), the latter two triple crown categories by a wide margin. His seven shutouts trail only Marc-Andre Fleury’s nine. Price has been remarkably consistent, posting a GAA of 2.48 or better and an SP of .920 or better every month. He’s also somehow improved since the all-star break, going 13-3-1 with a 1.34 GAA and .953 SP. Those numbers don’t even look like they’re from the modern era. The GAA seems stolen from Alec Connell.
Better still, Price has done all this for a team with the 21st-best Corsi Close rating in the NHL, and for a team that scores less than any other in a playoff position right now. His backup Dustin Tokarski’s numbers pale in comparison. This is no Martin Jones or 2013-14 Chad Johnson looking all-world understudying a superstar goalie on a dominant defensive team. Every possible way you slice Price’s season, his success is his own. He’s the best player in the NHL.
And yet, while the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goalie is all but cemented, history suggests the odds remain against Price in the Hart Trophy race. Dominant goalie seasons like Tim Thomas’ 2011 haven’t been enough to earn MVP status. No stopper has done it since Jose Theodore in 2002. Before that it was Dominik Hasek in 1997 and 1998. Then you have to flash all the way back to Jacques Plante in 1961-62. John F. Kennedy was alive and well then. Humans hadn’t landed on the moon.
Still, 2015 looks like the year to end the drought. The league conditions mirror those of Theodore’s season in many ways:
1. No 100-point scorer
Jarome Iginla won the 2001-02 scoring title with 96 measly points. The Hart usually skews toward prolific scorers, and only two even broke 90 that season. Meanwhile, the 2014-15 points race, while close and packed with superstar players, will not yield a 100-point man. Heck, a 90-point guy looks like a stretch at this point.
2. Weak offensive team
Jose Theodore’s 2002 Habs scored fewer goals than all but one team among playoff qualifiers and, despite his sparking 2.11 GAA, Montreal had a negative goal differential that year. No other playoff team did.
Carey Price’s Habs: 22nd in the NHL in goals per game, easily the lowest among playoff teams.
3. Point shares
Hockeyreference.com, a delightful rabbit hole of a website, uses a stat called point shares to determine a player’s worth, inspired by Bill James’ work in baseball. The stat estimates the number of wins or, in this case, points “created by a player.” It skews heavily toward goalies – Semyon Varlamov led the league in it last year – but Theodore, Hasek (twice) and Plante all ranked first in it during their Hart seasons. It’s not a clincher but seems to be a prerequisite.
Price’s dominance and the setup of the league around him point to a Hart season the same way Theodore’s situation did. Another factor to remember: the idea that voters don’t want to give a goalie the Hart and Vezina is a myth. The two awards have different voter groups. The Professional Hockey Writers Association decides the Hart, but the Vezina is the lone award determined by the league’s GMs. The hockey writers have no idea who’s getting the Vezina when they pick the Hart.
And thus, given the groundswell of support in the hockey media community toward Price’s Hart case, it will take something unexpected or catastrophic or spectacular to steal the MVP from him this season.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin