NHL Hart Trophy Odds: The Case for Igor Shesterkin

NHL handicapper Jason Yamaguchi provides his analysis for the Hart Trophy futures market. Can Igor Shesterkin take home the award?
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NHL Hart Trophy Odds: The Case for Igor Shesterkin

With less than two months remaining in the regular season, a couple of the NHL player awards are all but decided. Cale Makar is a near lock to win the Norris Trophy for best defenseman in the NHL; Igor Shesterkin has the Vezina all but wrapped up. However, three of the major awards remain up in the air: the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year, the Jack Adams Award for the top coach, and the Hart Memorial Trophy for the league's most valuable player. Here is my pick, based on the current odds via FanDuel, for the Hart.

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Hart Trophy Odds

NameOdds
Auston Matthews+150
Connor McDavid+350
Igor Shesterkin+500
Alex Ovechkin+1000
Leon Draisaitl+1000
Jonthan Huberdeau+1000
Johnny Gaudreau+3000
Krill Kaprizov+4000

Igor Shesterkin (+500) (Bet $100 to win $500)

Historically, this award tends to go to the 'best' forward in the league. Carey Price (2015) was the last goaltender to win the award, and the only one to do so since 2000. Of the last six Hart winners, five of them also led the league in points, suggesting a strong correlation between those two factors. However, no skater has blown the competition out of the water yet—the top five point scorers at the moment are all within five points of each other.

Given that Price was the last goaltender to win the Hart, let's compare his statistics from that season to Shesterkin's this year (so far). In 2014-15, Price led the NHL with a save percentage of .933. This year, Shesterkin has a save percentage of .942. To put that into perspective, Jacques Plante holds the all-time single season record for highest save percentage with a .944 in 1970-71. If Shesterkin finished the year with his current mark of .942, he would rank second on that list. He is having a historically great season.

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The most comprehensive statistic for evaluating goaltenders, at this point, is goals saved above expected. It is calculated by subtracting the number of goals that a goaltender has allowed from the number of goals they were expected to allow based on their workload. GSAx accurately accounts for the difficulty of shots that a goaltender faces, meaning that it levels the playing field for goaltenders on good and bad defensive teams.

In 2014-15, Price posted 33.2 GSAx in 66 games played, with a rate of .501 GSAx/60. This year, Igor Shesterkin has already surpassed that mark—he has saved 33.6 goals above expected in just 37 games, and has done so at a whopping rate of .926 GSAx/60. This means that if the season ended today, Shesterkin would have already provided more value to the Rangers than Price did to the Canadiens in his entire Hart-winning campaign. The Rangers have 25 games left.

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Another factor worth considering when discussing the Hart Trophy is the true value of a player to their team. The current favorite for the award, based on the odds, is Auston Matthews. A question worth asking is: if you took Matthews off of the Maple Leafs and Shesterkin off of the Rangers, which team would suffer more? As far as I'm concerned, the answer is Shesterkin by a significant margin. The Rangers rank 27th in the league with an expected goals share of 46.2% at even strength, yet they sit in second place in their division with a playoff spot all but locked up. Without Shesterkin, the Rangers would be a fringe wildcard team at best. Matthews has had a terrific year, but Toronto wouldn't suffer nearly as much in his absence as the Rangers would in Shesterkin's.

If you aren't convinced, consider this: the Rangers are 12-6-1 in games against playoff teams with Shesterkin starting. Their record against playoff teams when Shesterkin sits? 0-8-1. That statistic speaks to the fact that the Rangers have played like a mediocre team in front of their goaltenders, and that they've relied on a historically great season from Shesterkin to keep them afloat.

The only question that remains is whether or not the Hart voters will agree with this logic. It's far from a sure thing—this award tends to go to the best skater, and that might be the case this year. However, Shesterkin is on pace to have one of the best seasons by a goaltender ever. Let's say he starts in 17 of New York's remaining 25 games. If he continues producing at his current GSAx/60 rate, he would accumulate ~50 goals saved above expected. That would shatter the current record of 39.6 GSAx, held by Tim Thomas in 2010-11. In other words, Shesterkin is on pace for an all-time great season—Hart voters will have a hard time passing him up. I like our chances at +500, even though it is exceedingly rare for a goaltender to win the award.

Hart Trophy Pick

Pick: Igor Shesterkin to win MVP (+500) (Bet $100 to win $500)

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Jason Yamaguchi is an avid New York sports fan. He has a proven record of providing +EV bets by combining traditional handicapping tactics with advanced statistics. You can follow him on Twitter @TopMoneyPicks to view all of his bets, including NFL, NHL, and MLB picks.

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