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Is Andrei Vasilevskiy a Dark Horse Hart Trophy Candidate?

September 10, 2021, 12:05 AM ET [7 Comments]
Michael Stuart
Tampa Bay Lightning Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Arguably my biggest miss in my years commenting on the Tampa Bay Lightning – and there have been more than a few – was my lack of faith in Andrei Vasilevskiy being able to live up to his contract. Sure, $9.5-million per season is a lot of money to put into a position that is notoriously volatile; however, with back-to-back MVP-like performances on his way to back-to-back Stanley Cups, Vasilevskiy has effectively established himself as the undisputed number-one goaltender in the NHL.

As the Tampa Bay Lightning look to contend once again, they are going to need to count on Vasilevskiy to deliver on that promise again. That’s especially true this season, because the juggernaut Tampa Bay Lightning roster we’ve grown accustom to over the last two seasons is no more. Salary cap issues finally caught up to the group, resulting in the loss of many key pieces. The talent pool is shallower, which means that opposing teams will be able to focus more attention on shutting down the likes of Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov. That means more pressure on Vasilevskiy in goal.

With all that in mind, it’s worth wondering whether Vasilevskiy might be the best bet in the NHL right now. Consider that OddsShark has Vasilevskiy at +1800 to win the Hart Trophy as league MVP, compared to +400 for Connor McDavid and +750 for Kucherov. I’m not a gambler, but that seems like a fairly material delta.

Even though goaltenders winning the Hart is exceedingly rare, Vasilevskiy has the kind of track record, pedigree, and (perhaps most importantly) opportunity to buck the trend. For the 2021-22 Bolts to live up to the reputation they’ve built over the last two years, Vasilevskiy is going to have to rise to the occasion in a way most goaltenders just can’t even fathom. If his playoff performances have shown anything, it’s that he can deliver when the pressure is at its highest. With Tampa’s best defensive forward line *poof* gone, a shallower blue line, and less depth up front, Vasilevskiy is probably going to be counted upon like he’s never been before with this franchise. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for a workhorse / absurd talent like him, but it does mean that he’s in a position to make or break the campaign in a way he hasn’t been previously.

All that sets Vasilevskiy up nicely to mount a rare Hart Trophy campaign. So do certain external factors. If Connor McDavid is the favorite, it’s worth wondering whether some voters who swept him to victory last season will look elsewhere if the Oilers are on track to miss the playoffs once again (even if they shouldn’t). Are other favorites, like Auston Matthews or Leon Draisaitl, going to convince the “hockey men” crowd before they have playoff success on their respective resumes? Unlike the long list of forwards who are often considered to be in the running, Vasilevskiy’s case is unique and built on a resume that those aforementioned hockey men will love. As unconventional as it may be, there hasn’t been an opportunity or set of circumstances for a goaltender to win the Hart Trophy quite like this one in a long time.

As always, thanks for reading.
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