Igor Shesterkin is having an historic season between the pipes for the New York Rangers. His play has been a treat to witness, and Ranger fans are lucky the number one job transitioned to him straight after Henrik Lundqvist’s remarkable career.
It is an incredible feat whenever a goaltender earns the Hart Memorial Trophy at the season’s end. Shesterkin’s incredible season so far has inserted him into the discussion. Only eight times in NHL history has a goalie won the Hart trophy. Roy Worters, Chuck Rayner, Al Rollins, Jacques Plante, Dominick Hasek (twice in back-to-back seasons), Jose Theodore, and Carey Price have been the recipients in the past.
Through 34 starts, Shesterkin has a record of 26-6-3, posting a save percentage (Sv %) of .940 and a Goals Against Average (GAA) of 1.98. Obviously, there is a lot of season left. You could expect Shesterkin, barring injury, to start at least 20 more games. If he could continue this level of play and keep a save percentage north of .940, he could be putting together the best goaltending season of all time. The only others to post a save percentage of at least .940, never played more than 40 games. Shesterkin could do it while playing more than 50 games.
If this ends up being the case, it would be hard to deny that he deserves the Hart. However, when discussing the Hart trophy, there are several circumstances to assess as it is to be awarded to the player most valuable to their team. Despite this, skater point production often influences voting anyway.
So, let’s examine the seasons of those to win in the past, and compare them to Shesterkin’s so far. This will help determine what his chances are, and what it will take for him to accomplish this.
Worters, Rayner, Rollins and Plante played in much different eras, so it isn’t worth comparing to the present. Specifically, we will evaluate Hasek, Theodore and Price.
In Hasek’s back-to-back winning seasons (1997 and 1998) he had 37 and 33 wins, save percentages of .930 and .932 and GAA’s of 2.27 and 2.09. Theodore was 30-24-10 with a .931 Sv% and a 2.11 GAA. Price was 44-16-6 with a .933 Sv % and a GAA of 1.96.
Let’s see how their defenses were. Over the course of Hasek’s two winning seasons, the Sabres were allowing 32.2 shots per game. During Theodore’s winning season, the Canadiens allowed 31.6 shots per game. During Price’s winning season, his defense was allowing 30 shots per game. As it currently stands, this year’s Rangers are allowing 32 shots per game. While shot quantity doesn’t tell the entire story, these stats are still interesting to compare.
With these statistics considered, it is likely that Shesterkin needs to win at least 35 games, and have a Sv% north of .930. This seems extremely likely. He will have good enough statistics. But there are other factors that could affect his voting placement.
All of these goalies played at minimum of 64 games in their winning seasons. Unfortunately, due to his lower body injury, Shesterkin won’t reach this number. He most likely won’t hit 60. This could hurt him. If a goalie is to win the Hart, voters would likely want to see them playing at least 75-80 percent of the team’s games.
On the other hand, this could make his season even more impressive. Shesterkin is on pace for approximately 42 wins, which would be more than Hasek and Theodore won in their respective seasons. This would give him a much higher win percentage in his starts than two of the three had. It will be interesting to see if his games played affects him positively or negatively.
Competition in the Race
This may be the most important factor. While Shesterkin may deserve the Hart, and is likely the most valuable to his team, a skater with a superb season could get the benefit of the doubt if it is a close race.
Hasek had tough competition in his winning seasons. In 1996-97, Mario Lemieux had 122 points, but his Penguins were a mediocre team that season. Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne recorded point totals of 99 and 109, but were teammates on an average Mighty Ducks team. Hasek’s Sabres performed better than the team’s of skaters at the top of the voting, catapulting him to a victory. In the following season, it was between him and Jaromir Jagr (the only player with over 100 points). Jagr had 102 points, and the Penguins were a playoff team. But this was a weak year for skaters statistically, and Hasek was once again superb.
Theodore won in another weak year for skaters. Funny enough, three goalies finished top five in voting. Jerome Iginla and Markus Naslund were in the race, but neither posted over 100 points. Interestingly, Iginla and Theodore actually tied in votes. Theodore won the tiebreaker with more first place tallies.
Price’s winning season also came in a statistically weak year for skaters. Alex Ovechkin came in second in a season with 81 points (53 goals, though) and John Tavares was third with 86 points. Price was outstanding, so he won by a landslide.
Shesterkin’s situation is different. He is in a race with skaters such as Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Alexander Ovechkin, Jonathan Huberdeau, Johnny Gaudreau, Mikko Rantanen and Auston Mattthews. It is an extremely deep race. All of those listed, aside from Ovechkin, are on pace to tally over 100 points. This was not the case in the season’s of past winners.
Observing the continuation of the Hart race the rest of the way out will be intriguing. If Shesterkin keeps his play at this level, and posts a Sv% over .940, it will be hard for him not to win. However, will his volume hurt him when being compared to a player on a playoff team with 115+ points?
At the end of the day, the Hart Memorial Trophy is awarded annually “to the player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team.” Maybe we are biased, but as of right now, that has been Igor Shesterkin. If the season ended today, he should win. However, there are more games to be played.
Will the voters give it to him?