Can Igor Shesterkin do what Henrik Lundqvist could not and bring home the Hart Memorial Trophy? The short answer, which most New York Rangers fans will agree with, is yes. Carey Price won the award for his great run in 2014-15, thus a goaltender has taken home the hardware in the salary cap era. However, will Shesterkin’s amazing season be enough to also bring home the Hart Trophy? That answer is longer and far more complicated.
Since returning to play in 2005-06, the NHL has been majorly focused towards an increase in offense. This can be seen by the rule changes that have been enacted throughout the cap era. There has been a reduction in the size of goaltender equipment, two line passes are now legal and line change and timeout restrictions enforced after icing a puck. Additionally obstruction rules have been more stringently called and three-on-three overtime has been introduced, all with the expressed intention to add more scoring into the game.
It should not be seen as any surprise then, for a league that covets scoring, that eleven of the past sixteen Hart Trophy winners have also won the Art Ross Trophy by having led the league in points. In three other seasons, the Hart Trophy winner also shared the Maurice Richard Trophy for leading the league in goals. Only two times in the past sixteen years has the Hart Trophy gone to a player that did not lead the league in either points or goals.
In 2017-18 Taylor Hall won the award with the fifth highest points total in the league. However, Hall scored 41 points more than his most productive teammate while dragging a sub par New Jersey Devils team to an unexpected playoff appearance. The other was Price’s victory, which also coincided with the only full season since 2003-04 that did not see a player reach the 100pt plateau. As great a season as Price had in 2014-15, had it not been for a lack of overall offense in the league, he more than likely would not have won.
The proof behind that observation can be seen by the voting patterns when other goaltenders have had historically good seasons.
Through these seasons, only Price, Henrik Lundqvist and Sergei Bobrovsky (2017) have finished as Finalists for the award, with only Price taking it home. Tim Thomas finished fifth and seventh in Hart Trophy voting, Bobrovsky fifth (2013), Pekka Rinne fourth, with Tukka Rask and Mike Smith both finishing eleventh.
Can he win it?
Shesterkin, with a current .938% save percentage and 2.07 Goals Against Average is on pace to finish with one of the top, if not the best statistical year of any of these goalies. However, he is doing so in a season that also projects to have at least one sixty goal scorer in Austin Matthews, who is currently on a 65 goal pace. The season also projects to have as many as nine players reach the 100 point plateau. The league has consistently shown that it is biased towards scoring and awards those that produce offense. Seldom though, does it reward those that stifle it.