|The William Jennings Memorial Trophy, presented for goaltending awesomeness.|
I wrote yesterday about the Blues' brain trust of head coach Ken Hitchcock
and General Manager Doug Armstrong
both winning awards for themselves at the NHL Awards
this week. And certainly, having those two names out there as the tops in their respective jobs brings plenty of prestige to the Blues organization.
But there was another pair of individuals associated with the Blues who took home hardware in Las Vegas; a pair who had just as much to do in their way with the team's brilliant 2011-12 season as either Armstrong or Hitchcock did in theirs. Where Hitchcock and Armstrong work in tandem, though, building and then leading a team, with distinct, separate responsibilities, this other pair are even more of a tandem in name, if perhaps less so in fact.
Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott were presented with the Jennings Trophy as the top goalie tandem in the National Hockey League. And, let's face it, there was no other duo in hockey this year that even came close.
It's an interesting situation, to be sure, seeing Halak and Elliott take home the Jennings. The trophy goes to the goalies (minimum of 25 games played), who allowed the fewest number of goals in the regular season. And in the NHL this year there wasn't another team that really even challenged the Blues and their terrible twosome for the title of stingiest goalie tandem.
The Blues allowed just 165 goals on the year, 14 better than the next-best team, the Los Angeles Kings. After the Kings (and the accursed Jonathan Quick), was the New York Rangers, with 187 goals allowed. Fourteen goals better than the next team on the list is a remarkable spread. It may not sound like a huge number, but when you're talking about 8.5% of a team's total for the season, well, that's what is commonly referred to as lapping the field.
And this is why I say it's interesting to see Halak and Elliott win the Jennings, and by interesting I might really mean frustrating. The Vezina Trophy is the other big goalie-related piece of hardware; it goes to the top goalie in the league, as determined by a committee vote. This year it went to Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers. You know, the Rangers that allowed the third-fewest goals in the NHL this season?
You could have certainly made a case for Quick over Lundqvist, and that's been the majority of the reaction since the Vezina was announced. Both men had outstanding seasons. Here's the thing, though: both Jaro Halak and Brian Elliott had just as good a numbers as either. And both Jaro and Elliott had exactly the same chance of winning the award: zero.
The reason, of course, is that whole tandem thing. Where most teams have a number one goalie, a stud who carries them on his back like god in that Footsteps homily and receives adoration accordingly, the Blues have a true tandem. Elliott led the NHL in goals against average with a 1.56; Halak was ranked fifth in GAA with a 1.97. Lundqvist had the same 1.97 as Jaro (though technically was one spot better due to being better a couple more decimal places out), while Quick placed second in the league with a 1.95 GAA. So, really, all three of Jaro, Quick, and Lundqvist were nearly identical in terms of quality. And Elliott was even better. Significantly so.
Here's the rub, though: Halak played in 46 games. Elliott played in 38 games. Lundqvist and Quick? Well, they played in 62 and 69 games, respectively. That large a disparity is just far too great to overcome. Ergo, my statement that neither Jaro or Elliott had any chance at all of winning the Vezina.
It's a tough conundrum. The Blues' goaltenders probably benefited from their time share situation this season; it certainly looks as if they did parsing the team goals-allowed statistics. But the nature of that time share, that true tandem-ness, also eliminated any chance either of them had of being recognized as the best in their field. If you were to adjust either of Halak's or Elliott's numbers this season upward to reflect a similar games played total as Quick or Lundqvist, you could easily make a case they would have deserved to win the Vezina. At the same time, though, one also has to wonder if bumping those games up to the 60s in reality, rather than mathematical hypotheticality, would have changed the quality of play we saw this year.
In the end, though, it doesn't much matter. The Blues' tandem was the best in the NHL this season, and it wasn't all that close. The fact neither member of that tandem had any chance at individual glory doesn't change that fact one bit.