When Jose Theodore won the Hart Trophy in 2002, the last time a goalie was the “player judged most valuable to his team,” there were two things that made it possible.
First, obviously, Theodore was really good. He had a .931 save percentage for the Montreal Canadiens and made a league-high 1,836 stops. Without their goalie, there’s very little chance the Habs, who were outshot by an average of 31.7 to 25.5, would’ve made the playoffs.
Second, scoring in the 2001-02 season had dipped to its lowest point in five decades. Calgary’s Jarome Iginla finished with the most points, just 96 of them.
Which brings us to the current season, where a similar story is unfolding. Two goalies, Nashville’s Pekka Rinne and Montreal’s Carey Price, are enjoying particularly excellent campaigns, while the league’s top scorer, Philadelphia’s Jakub Voracek, is on pace for fewer than 100 points. Since the 2004-05 lockout, not counting the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, no player has finished as the NHL’s leading scorer with fewer than 100 points.
Rinne’s case for winning the Hart is strong. Finally healthy, his .930 save percentage is tops among goalies who’ve started at least 20 games, and his Nashville Predators, after missing the playoffs the past two seasons, currently sit first overall with a record of 28-9-4.
But Price’s case shouldn’t be overlooked. While his save percentage is slightly lower (.928) than Rinne’s, one could argue he’s been even more valuable to the 26-12-3 Canadiens, who, unlike the Preds, don’t regularly outshoot their opponents. Thanks in large part to Price, Montreal is 13-7-2 when it’s been outshot. In comparison, Nashville has only been outshot 16 times, going 8-4-4.
Half a season still remains, so there’s no point arguing too vehemently for one candidate over the other. Florida’s Roberto Luongo could also be in the conversation by the end of things, if he can help his Panthers into the playoffs.
Only seven times since the Hart Trophy was first handed out in 1924 has a goalie won the award. So far, the conditions are right to make it eight in 2015.