The Hart Trophy is awarded to the NHL’s MVP of the regular season. Since the trophy’s inception in 1924, there have been only seven goalies who have won the award. Many of the greatest goaltenders in NHL history have never won the trophy, and only one has won it twice.
Yet the last two goalies who have won the trophy have come from the Montreal Canadiens, neither of which are considered to be the greatest of all time. What made these Hart Trophy-worthy performances so dominating? In this article, we’ll explore the Hart Trophy seasons by Jose Theodore in 2001-02, and Carey Price in 2014-15.
Jose Theodore, 2001-02
There were very low expectations for the Canadiens going into the 2001-02 season. They finished last in the Northeast Division in the 2000-01 season with a dismal 28-40-6 record. This was coupled with a minus-26 goal differential and it didn’t feel like anything was going to improve the following season.
Theodore’s 2000-01 season wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination. He played 59 games and posted a 20-29-5 record with a .909 save percentage (SV%) a 2.57 goals-against average (GAA) and two shutouts. The problem is that he had no goal support as Saku Koivu got hurt and still led the team in points with 47, and nobody else could put the puck in the net.
Fast forward to 2001-02, the season Theodore would put himself on the map. Things didn’t start great as Koivu was diagnosed with lymphoma prior to the season. New additions Yanic Perreault and Doug Gilmour helped with the offence in Koivu’s absence, but the Canadiens could only generate one more goal than in the prior season.
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This is where Theodore’s importance became heavily emphasized. The only way this Habs squad was going to make the playoffs was to cut down their goals against, which they were successful in doing – Montreal managed to reduce their goals against from 232 to 209. The numbers speak for themselves as Theodore played in 67 games, and posted a 30-24-10 record with a staggering .931 SV%, a 2.11 GAA, and seven shutouts.
This absolute surge by the Montreal netminder took a last-place team and sent them to the playoffs. Not only that, but they beat the Boston Bruins in Round 1 in six games. They lost in six games in the next round to the Carolina Hurricanes, but making the playoffs at all was far beyond team expectations. This run was only made possible because of the outstanding performance of Theodore.
In a rather stunning awards ceremony, Theodore won two tiebreakers. The first one was with Flames winger Jarome Iginla for the Hart, which Theodore won with three more first-place votes. He also won the Vezina by the same margin, beating out his idol Patrick Roy by three first-place votes.
Carey Price 2014-15
Over 10 years after Theodore’s Hart Trophy season, the Canadiens were about to be wowed by another. Unlike Theodore’s season, however, Price’s Hart season didn’t come off a disaster the previous season. In fact, the Habs made the third round the previous season, and Price was great, with a great .927 SV%, a 2.32 GAA, and six shutouts.
With numbers like that, it didn’t seem possible for Price to have an even better season, but that’s exactly what he did. He may not have had the daunting task of turning a bottom-feeding team into a playoff contender, but this doesn’t detract from the season he had. In 2013-14, the Habs gave up 206 goals, and in 2014-15 they only conceded 186, which was the best in the league.
Price was a very heavy factor in this success. In 66 games played, he had a 44-16-6 record with a .933 SV%, a staggering 1.96 GAA, and nine shutouts. Off a season like that, the Canadiens won the division and had a 50-win campaign. They knocked out the Senators in six games in Round 1, but were defeated in the second round by the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games. Though this could be viewed as a disappointment, these expectations wouldn’t have been there at all if it weren’t for the play of their goaltender.
At the awards ceremony, Price did something never done before. He ended up winning the Hart, Vezina, and William M. Jennings Trophies, plus the Ted Lindsay Award, this being the first time ever that a goaltender had won all four of those awards. The magical season may not have ended the way Price or the Habs wanted, but the season as a whole was one for the record books.
What’s funny is that the true importance of Price was really felt in the following season. If anyone doubted his importance to the team before, those whispers were quickly quashed when 2015-16 rolled around. Price had a stellar start, going undefeated in the Habs first 10 games. That’s when everything fell apart as, after a couple of losses, Price was injured for the rest of the season.
In 12 games, Price went 10-2-0 with a .934 SV%, a 2.06 GAA, and two shutouts. With the backup goalie carousel, the Habs only managed a 28-36-6 record and gave up 236 goals against, 50 more than the season prior. As such, the Habs missed the playoffs and the importance of Price to the team was once again solidified.
What are your thoughts? Which of the two Hart Trophy performances was more impressive? Did you have any great memories from those seasons? Let us know in the comments below.