Tonight's game between the Nashville Predators and Vancouver Canucks is more than just a possible preview of the upcoming Stanley Cup Playoff matchups, it also provides a chance to see two of the leading candidates for the Hart Memorial Trophy square off against one another. The Hart, which is voted upon by the members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, goes to "the player judged to be the most valuable to his team."
For the Canucks, who have led the overall NHL standings for most of the season, and appear destined for their first Presidents Trophy, their leading scorer Daniel Sedin makes an obvious case for MVP. But in goal for the Predators, Pekka Rinne has put together an outstanding season, and if anything, makes an even stronger case.
Follow after the jump as we consider their two candidacies, along with a few other major contenders...
|2010 - Pekka Rinne||58||3428||30||20||8||120||2.10||1698||1578||.929||6|
He's 2nd in Save Percentage, 2nd in GAA, and in particular, is 2nd in Save % against power play shots among goalies with at least 40 GP. All this, on a team which stands 25th in Goals Per Game, the worst among teams on track for the playoffs.
If that isn't "most valuable" material, I don't know what is. Without Rinne's presence in goal, the Preds would be out of the playoffs and ruing the fact that Ottawa will enjoy their 1st-round draft pick this summer. Tom Awad's Goals Vs Threshold statistic (numbers as of March 7) estimates that Rinne's impact on the Preds has been 2nd-greatest in the NHL this season, worth 29.3 goals as compared to a theoretical replacement-level player. Using the rough guide that every 6 goals translates to a marginal win over the course of a season, that gives Rinne credit for about 10 points in the standings.
For all the injury-related challenges that Nashville has faced, that performance has made the difference between dismal failure, and possible home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
|2010 - Daniel Sedin||76||40||56||96||27||30||18||0||10||245||16.3|
Leading the league in scoring is a sure-fire ticket to the MVP discussion, certainly. Take Adrian Dater, for example, writing for Versus:
But let's not get carried away here. Daniel Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks is your solid favorite for the Hart Trophy this year. If he wins it, he'll make history with two different brothers winning the trophy in back-to-back years. (And no, I don't believe Tim Thomas should win the Hart, because goalies get their own trophy).
Daniel's 96 points entering Tuesday continued to lead the league, 11 points higher than [Corey] Perry and 21 higher than [Jonathan] Toews. Daniel's plus-27 is far better than Perry's plus-4, though Toews isn't far back there at plus-25.
His argument against excluding goaltenders is absurd. Yes, the top goalie wins the Vezina, but the top scorer in the league gets the Art Ross, so the "their own trophy" notion just doesn't hold water, especially if the main part of your argument rests upon league-leading scoring totals. In 6 of the last 7 seasons, for example, the Art Ross winner has also captured the Hart (showing how lazy most of the hockey writers truly are when it comes to MVP voting).
The Plus/Minus numbers are impressive, but if anything, they undercut Sedin's MVP argument. 5 of the top 22 players in Plus/Minus are on the Canucks, which speaks to the overall level of team performance, not the notoriety of the individual. The bottom line here is that yes, Daniel Sedin is a dynamite player, but the Canucks also boast probably the deepest set of forwards in the NHL. They lead the league in Goals per Game, and have been cruising along atop an otherwise dismal Northwest Division. Again leveraging those GVT numbers, if Daniel's performance has contributed about 20 extra goals to the Canucks' cause, that translates to a difference between leading the Presidents Trophy race by 9 points... and leading it by 3.
Great? Surely, but hardly "Most Valuable".
|2010 - Tim Thomas||52||3060||32||10||8||102||2.00||1659||1557||.939||8|
Thomas has enjoyed another career revival this season, and has the potential of setting an NHL record for save percentage if he keeps it up. Two crucial factors to consider with Thomas, however, are that his workload is relatively low for an MVP candidate (and unlike Pekka, he won't be starting every game down the stretch), and secondly, his Bruins provide him with a lot of "run support". Boston stands 5th in the league offensively, so while tremendous, his contributions aren't quite as crucial for a Bruins squad which should clinch the Northeast Division any day now.
|2010 - Steven Stamkos||75||43||43||86||1||72||17||0||7||255||16.8|
He's right up there in goals and scoring, and I suspect Stamkos will be part of this conversation for years to come. Having Martin St. Louis as his running mate provides nice support, but his individual contribution to the Tampa Bay attack are huge. Without him, the Lightning would have much dicier prospects for making the post-season.
|2010 - Corey Perry||76||44||41||85||4||100||12||3||10||263||16.7|
His offensive totals are eerily similar to Stamkos', and also help lift a team that which is on the margin of playoff contention. As much as I can't stand him as a player (the guy runs goaltenders like nobody's business), he's been huge down the stretch (13 goals and 4 assists in his last 10 games), for those that place emphasis on "clutch" play.
The fact of the matter is, elite goaltenders drive team performance much more than elite skaters do. Will hockey writers actually take the "most valuable to his team" consideration to heart, or will they simply fill out their ballot by copying the list of scoring leaders?
I expect we'll be disappointed, but here in Nashville, we know who the real MVP is.