Folks have a hard time agreeing on what defines the word value, as in the case of a Most Valuable Player. It could be the most productive player in the league – last year’s scoring leader Henrik Sedin won the Hart and Art Ross trophies as MVP and scoring leader, respectively.
Value might mean the player whose presence is most indispensable to their team’s success, whether in the numbers they provide or in bringing intangibles like leadership.
Though goalies can sneak their way into Hart trophy discussions with exceptional play, the Vezina trophy exists to recognize the best players at hockey’s most demanding position. As with Hart winners, Vezina recipients are often judged by statistics like wins, save percentage and goals against average.
NHL Numbers aren’t the only barometer of value, however. Value should be most clearly defined as the player who is absolutely indispensable to the success of his team.
That perceived value could be why Roberto Luongo doesn’t appear in the top five of any Vezina discussion. Luongo leads the NHL with 36 victories, and his 2.16 goals against average and .927 saver percentage both rank third in the league behind Tim Thomas and Pekka Rinne.
In spite of stats success, Luongo can be replaced. Vancouver’s offense is the hockey version of Patton’s Army, leading the league in goals scored (3.19 per game). Luongo’s backup, Cory Schneider, is 15-3-2 on the season. His 2.16 goals against average and .930 save percentage would rank among the top five in the NHL, should he keep up that pace in a starter’s role. Not the kind of numbers to suggest the absence of Luongo would send the Canucks flying off the rails.
For others, the play of their goaltender can be the difference between a spot in the playoffs and a spot in the draft lottery. These goaltenders have been instrumental in the success of their teams, and some of them haven’t even entered the Vezina discussion.
Does any team lean on their goaltender the way the Rangers have leaned on Lundqvist in every season since the lockout? Besides his rookie season in 2005-06, Lundqvist has never played fewer than 70 games for the Rangers. Lundqvist is a career 2.31 – .918 with New York.
Since Martin Biron went down with an injury in February, Lundqvist has started twenty straight games for the Rangers. His nhl numbers are always amongst the tops, like his 11 shutouts (most among all goalies this season).
Lundqvist has already appeared in 62 games this year. While it will be the first year since his rookie campaign that he won’t appear in 70 games, Lundqvist could finish the season having started 27 consecutive games.
New York’s offense is good, ranking 12th in goals scored and power play success, but it isn’t dynamic. With no one but rookie Chad Johnson to back him up, the Rangers’ success is permanently dependent upon the health and good play of Lundqvist.
If Lundqvist’s Season Ended Today
A five point lead on 9th-place Carolina sneaks the Rangers into playoffs as 8th-seed, where current 1st-seed Flyers score at will. Swept in first round.
Named Team MVP in a pregame ceremony Sunday, Fleury has been the Penguins’ best and most pivotal player in the absence of almost everyone else on the team.
The Penguins have seen 10 regulars miss at least 10 games this season, including each of their top-five centers (Crosby, Malkin, Staal, Letestu and Jeffrey). Backup Brent Johnson has been good, but at 34 years old isn’t a viable candidate to be an everyday starter.
Fleury has 34 wins on the season, 7 of them in the shootout. His .829 shootout save percentage ranks third among goalies who have faced at least 40 attempts, good for 7 extra points that currently puts the Penguins on the right side of home-ice advantage in the playoffs.
The power play has been anemic, and the Penguins are in the bottom third of the league in goals scored since January. The defense was shaken up with the Goligoski trade and Brooks Orpik’s injury, but Fleury has been excellent throughout.
If Fleury’s Season Ended Today
Brent Johnson is good, and top-four defensemen are best in the league. In the absence of offense and power play, not good enough. First round loss to Tampa.
At the risk of becoming too verbose, a quick word on five goaltenders who are equally important as Fleury and Lundqvist.
Boston allows more shots per game than everyone but Carolina, but Thomas leads NHL in goals against average (1.96) and save percentage (.940!). Tuuka Rask got them to second round last season, but Thomas is having historic year, numbers-wise. Playoffs without him, but not very far.
35 victories are tied for second-most in the NHL, and Price ranks in top ten in goals against and save percentage as well. Canadiens rank 24th in goals scored, and backup Alex Auld is no starter. Without Price, the Canadiens are on the outside looking in.
Never mentioned in Vezina discussion, but former Conn Smythe winner is all that’s keeping Carolina in the playoff hunt. Hurricanes allowing more shots than anyone (33.3 per game), while team defense is paper-thin and pillow-soft. Backup Justin Peters not a viable look to be a starter at any point. Ward is the difference between the playoffs and a lottery pick.
Phoenix is better only than Boston and Carolina in keeping shots away from their goaltender (3rd-most at 32.8 per game). Bryzgalov is tied with Price at 35 wins, and is a major player in keeping Phoenix in the playoffs. Backup Jason LaBarbara has been good at times and awful at others. In West, Bryzgalov has been instrumental to Coyotes’ success.
Consistently excellent in Nashville, where goals are as common as snow (25th in goals scored, 27th-ranked power play). Team ranks third in goals allowed and sixth on penalty kill. Coach Barry Trotz’ systems play and defense featuring Shea Weber and Ryan Suter help keep Rinne well-insulated. This team can’t stay alive in Central Division or Western Conference without Rinne’s superb play.