The New York Rangers‘ season is a testament to how much impact a good goalie has on a team. Igor Shesterkin is singlehandedly stealing games for the Rangers night after night. The Hart candidacy is a very close race this year, and Igor is definitely a contender for league MVP. He has some competition, but here’s how his exceptional season has played out so far.
Igor’s Year in Context
So far, Igor has had one of the best statistical seasons of any goalie in a long time. His .941 save percentage ranks second all-time, the first being Jacques Plante with .944. If he continues this pace, he’ll have arguably the best season from a modern goaltender of all time. As of today, he’s also tied with Jeremy Swayman for first in the league in goals-against average (GAA). He also leads the league in GSAx, or goals saved above expected with 30.2. The next highest is Frederik Andersen with 28.63, and then Ville Husso with 17.55. He has far and away been the best goaltender in the NHL, and if he keeps pace he’s a Vezina lock. However, he also has a chance to win the Hart Trophy for league MVP, and here’s why.
Goalies and Defensemen have a harder time winning the Hart than forwards. In the modern history of the Hart trophy, only 3 goalies and 2 defensemen have won the award. The most recent goalie to win was Carey Price in 2015, and Igor’s currently on pace to do better. Price finished his Hart winning season with 44 wins in 66 games played, a .933 save percentage, and a 1.96 goals-against average. As previously mentioned, Igor currently has 25 wins in 33 games played, a .944 save percentage, and a 1.95 goals-against average. The only stat Price has on Shesterkin is 38.88 GSAx to 30.2 GSAx, both leading the league in each year. If Price’s Hart trophy season is the benchmark for a goalie to win MVP, then Igor deserves to win it. However, the competition has to be considered too.
There is some excellent competition for MVP this year. The first name that comes to mind is Auston Matthews, who currently the best scorer in the league and playing better than any forward. On top of having 37 goals in 50 games and possibly repeating as the Rocket Richard Trophy winner, he’s also a top contender for the Selke, or the best defensive forward in the league. It’s no surprise at the end of the season, it’s most likely going to come down to Matthews or Shesterkin for league MVP.
One other potential, but more unlikely, candidate is Jonathan Huberdeau. Huberdeau has always been, and still is, one of the most underrated players in the league. He’s constantly producing on the wing of Aleksander Barkov, and leads the league in assists with 57. He’s also fighting for the league lead in points too.
And it would be impossible to name Hart contenders without naming both Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. McDavid, who is known as the best player in hockey, currently leads the league in points. Like most years prior and most after, McDavid is still in the conversation for league MVP, and for good reason. Draisaitl, his Oilers teammate, is also worth mentioning, as he is challenging Matthews for the league lead in goals and is top 3 in points. However, team success combined with the fact that they’re on each others teams might hold them back from this years running.
50 games in, the Hart conversation seems to be focused on two players: Igor Shesterkin and Auston Matthews. Being a goal scoring forward, Matthews has a very large advantage in winning the Hart, as a flashy goal scorer is more likely to get votes than a goaltender. Potentially winning the Rocket Richard and the Selke also help Matthews odds of winning. However, I believe as of right now, Igor Shesterkin deserves the Hart trophy. His ability to singlehandedly carry the Rangers into a playoff spot is unseen on any other team. He is much more valuable for his position and his effect on the team’s standings than Matthews is for Toronto.