Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller led the NHL in both goals-against average (2.22) and save percent (.929) among goals with 25 or more wins. (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)
It was predictable, but somehow that didn’t lessen my befuddlement when the NHL news release materialized in my inbox on Thursday. The subject line read:
“Crosby, Ovechkin and Sedin Named Hart Trophy Finalists”
Uh, guys, didn’t you miss someone? You know, that goalie in the Northeast Division whose team may have competed for Taylor or Tyler, not the Stanley Cup, if not for his disproportionate contributions?
It’s not that Sid, Alex and Henrik didn’t have terrific seasons. It’s just their value to their teams’ success, while hefty, still lagged behind what Ryan Miller did for the Buffalo Sabres in 2009-10.
First, chew on the hard evidence.
The Buffalo Sabres went 41-18-8 in games Miller played, meaning they got 67 percent of the points available when he was between the pipes. In games he wasn’t the goalie of record, they went 4-9-2, earning just 36 percent of the points possible. The difference is staggering.
No other successful team this season experienced a drop off from the No. 1 to No. 2 goalie anywhere near as dramatic as the Sabres did. In Buffalo, it was Miller or bust.
By comparison, the Washington Capitals did just fine without Ovie in the lineup, posting a .750 points percentage in the 10 games he was hurt or suspended compared to .736 when he was there. Additionally, he registered points on 35 percent of Washington’s goals, which is good, but not MVP calibre.
Crosby only missed one contest and Sedin none, so we can’t draw a direct parallel to Miller in terms of record with and without. They collected points on 44 percent (Crosby) and 42 percent (Sedin) of their teams’ goals, far eclipsing Ovechkin, but still not in league with what Miller meant to the Sabres.
Want more data? Miller earned a first, second or third star selection in 45 percent of the games in which he played. The comparative numbers:
We acknowledge game stars are subjective, but over the course of a season, they provide a decent barometer of how much a player means to his team’s success, night in, night out.
And this is the point that often gets lost on some Hart Trophy voters. The award is meant to go to the player adjudged most valuable to his team, not necessarily the guy who collected the most points. Some years that’s justifiably one in the same, but the trend to default to the Art Ross champ or runner-up is irksome.
Prior to this season, the past six Hart winners either finished first or second in league scoring. The runner-up either won the Art Ross or was second on four of those occasions. That pattern will continue this year as Sedin topped the tables with 112 points, while Crosby and Ovechkin tied at 109.
The voting pattern reeks of expedience. And this year it smells particularly ripe as a worthy candidate is not getting his due.
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Jason Kay is the editor in chief of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears regularly.
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