We’re heading into the stretch run of the 2014-15 season and talk about individual awards is beginning to heat up.
The Vezina Trophy has seemingly been decided. Ditto for the Calder Trophy. But what about the most important individual award there is? Who will take home the Hart Trophy?
Right now, the favorite is likely John Tavares of the New York Islanders. And it certainly would be a worthy victory. He’s leading the NHL in scoring with 72 points and has done so without linemate Kyle Okposo for the last little while. Oh and he’s helped lead the perennially-lowly Islanders out of the basement and into the penthouse, tied for the most points in the Eastern Conference. Without Tavares, the Islanders would be in a ton of trouble and that is the mark of an MVP.
But is Tavares the most deserving candidate?
Among skaters, probably. The other possible contenders are pairs of teammates: Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals are right behind Tavares in the scoring race and Pittsburgh Penguins teammates Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby are right on their heels.
But Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price might be the most deserving candidate of all.
Goaltenders don’t always get the love they deserve when it comes to the Hart Trophy race. After all, they get breaks here and there, suiting up for 75 percent of their team’s games in a busy year.
Former Canadiens’ goalie Jose Theodore is the last to win the award back in 2002, Dominik Hasek famously won the award in back-to-back seasons in 1997 and 1998. Only a handful of goalies have ever won the award and it isn’t something that happens very often.
Price, however, is making a case that can’t be ignored. Like the Islanders, the Canadiens are atop their division and contending for the President’s Trophy. Like the Islanders, they are being buoyed by one exceptional performance.
Check it: Price is leading in the three major statistical categories with a 1.89 goals against average, .936 save percentage and 37 wins. Oh, he’s also second in shutouts with seven, just two back of leader Marc-Andre Fleury. That .936 save percentage? It’s made even more astounding when you consider just two goalies in NHL history – Hasek and Tim Thomas – have played more than 50 games and maintained a save percentage higher than .933. Price is positioned to become the third to do so. That’s not even mentioning that .936 is the percentage Haske had when he won the award for the second time. Era adjustment will give the nod to Hasek in the long run, but it’s impressive any way you slice it.
In a year with no clearcut winner among the skaters, this seems like a year where a goaltender playing on a historical level can claim the award. At this point, it certainly seems like Price’s to lose.