Pekka Rinne, Marc-Andre Fleury stand out a lot in terms of boosting their NHL clubs
EDMONTON — Is this the season a goalie is named the National Hockey League’s most valuable player?Is Pekka Rinne the ‘Hart’ of the Nashville Predators? Where would the injury- and mumps-riddled Pittsburgh Penguins be if they didn’t have Marc-Andre Fleury in net?
You can certainly make a case for two captains — defenceman Mark Giordano in Calgary, who is out in every situation for the Flames, or centre Ryan Getzlaf in Anaheim, who has continued to rack up points for the Ducks minus sidekick winger Corey Perry.
But I’m leaning towards the goalies as the best candidates for the NHL’s Hart Trophy, even if they have their own award, the Vezina Trophy, as Major League Baseball pitchers do with the Cy Young Award, because, well, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ incandescent lefty Clayton Kershaw won the National League MVP in baseball this past season.
So maybe that’s a sign in the stars the ’tenders of hockey’s cord cottage will get their due, too. Kershaw is only the 11th pitcher to take the Cy Young and MVP in the same season since 1956.
“He’s been our rock,” Predators general manager David Poile said of Rinne, who has given up just 61 goals in 920 shots and has posted three shutouts for a .934 save percentage and a 1.88 average. “Yes, we’re playing a different style (forcing the issue offensively) and yes we have a different coach (Peter Laviolette), but Pekka missed 51 games last year and while Carter Hutton came in and won 20 for us, we couldn’t win the one-goal games. With Pekka we’re winning lots of them. With Pekka in net, we play differently. It allows our offence and our defence to take more chances.”
Rinne, 32, has played the most minutes (1,946) of any goalie, and the Predators sit third overall in the league with Rinne winning all 24 games for them.
In the 90 years of the NHL, only six goalies have been named league MVP — which is a joke, really, with Dominik Hasek the only one to do it more than once.
The Dominator was the back-to-back winner in ’97 and ’98. Jose Theodore beating Jarome Iginla in 2002 was the only other NHL goalie to get his hands on the Hart in the last 50 years. Jacques Plante (1962), Al Rollins (1954), Chuck Rayner (1950) and Roy Worters (1929) were the others in the very select group.
Roy, Parent, Roberto Luongo, Grant Fuhr, Pete Peeters, Mike Liut, Rogie Vachon, Ken Dryden, Tony Esposito, Eddie Giacomin, Johnny Bower, Harry (Apple Cheeks) Lumley, Bill Durnan, Frankie Brimsek have all been runners-up.
Contrast that with the playoff cauldron, where the goalies have taken the Conn Smythe Trophy as post-season MVP 16 times since it was first awarded to centre Jean Beliveau in 1965 — Patrick Roy has won it three times, Bernie Parent twice.
Last season, the Predators only had Rinne for 43 games because he had hip surgery prior to the campaign then developed a nasty infection in the hip, finishing the 2013-14 campaign a pedestrian .500 goalie as Nashville placed 10th in the Western Conference and out of the playoff picture.
“It was a possible career-ending thing, but when he came back, he was in no condition (his play was very spotty)…that’s why he wanted to go and play in the world championship last spring and he won the MVP,” Poile said. “That gave him a really good feeling, and he went after his off-ice workouts. He’s back to the shape he was two years ago.”