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The case for Braden Holtby as NHL’s most valuable player

Goalie Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Chicago’s Patrick Kane has seemingly had a lock on the most valuable player award since before the all-star break. His 94 points puts him nine ahead of Jamie Benn, and only Alex Ovechkin has scored more goals than the Blackhawks star (44 to 39). But Chicago is the third best team in the Central division, leaving the door option for Washington Capitals netminder Braden Holtby to get serious consideration.

Holtby, like Kane, is in the midst of a phenomenal season. His 46 wins are eight more than the next best goalie (Jonathan Quick) and just two shy of Martin Brodeur’s single-season record established during the 2006-07 season. For comparison, Carey Price was awarded the Hart trophy last season after winning 44 games. Jose Theodore had 30 wins during his MVP campaign of 2001-02 and Dominik Hasek had 37 and 33 wins when he won the award two times in a row from 1996 to 1998.

Wins are a team stat and shouldn’t be the sole barometer of a netminder’s season, but also consider Holtby provided his team with quality starts — posting a save percentage at least as high as the league average —  in 40 of his 60 games played, tying him with Corey Crawford for the most among goaltenders this season.

In addition, Holtby’s overall save percentage (.924) ranks sixth in the league for a team that has already clinched the best record in hockey. And that includes the sixth highest save percentage against high-danger shots (.840), scoring chances originating in the slot or the crease, among goaltenders playing at least 3,000 minutes this season.

Not too shabby.

Here is who should win the other major end-of-season awards:

Vezina Trophy

Holtby should be considered the best goaltender in addition to the most valuable player, but Chicago’s Corey Crawford is also a worthy candidate.

Crawford edges Holtby in save percentage (.926) and has needed to since the Blackhawks don’t provide as much support as the Capitals. For example, based on shots against and goals scored, Crawford needs to post a .915 save percentage in order for Chicago to have a 50/50 chance at winning. Holtby has a win threshold of .895 to accomplish the same. In other words, Washington has made it easier on Holtby than Chiacgo has on Crawford or even some of the other goaltenders being mentioned for the Vezina, including Henrik Lundqvist (.915 win threshold) and Ben Bishop (.902).

Norris Trophy

Drew Doughty is on the short list for many voters as the league’s top “defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position,” as are Kris LeTang and Brent Burns. But there really should be no deabate that Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson is the best overall blue-liner this year.

Karlsson may not kill penalties, but he averages more than 29 minutes per night and the Senators put 50.1 percent of even-strength shot attempts in their favor when he is on the ice. Those same linemates generate just 43.7 percent without him.

Selke Trophy

Typically, this award is given to the best two-way forward, but the Selke is supposed to go to the forward who “demonstrates the most skill in the defensive component of the game.” In other words, offense really shouldn’t be considered. Instead, we are looking for a forward that is deployed in the defensive zone a majority of the time in addition to being called upon to kill penalties, all while suppressing shots at an above average rate.

And that’s what makes three-time Selke winner Patrice Bergeon a slam-dunk winner.

Boston puts 55.4 percent of even-strength shot attempts in their favor with Bergeron on the ice while allowing 10 fewer shot attempts against per 60 minutes. When short handed the Bruins surrender 8.5 more shot attempts per 60 minutes without their best penalty-killing forward.

Calder Memorial Trophy

The favorite for rookie of the year is Chicago’s Artemi Panarin, who has 64 points in 75 games. However, that production is in large part a by-product of skating with Kane. For example, when they share the ice the team scores 2.8 even-strength goals per 60 minutes. That drops to 1.1 when Panarin is away from Kane, yet Kane and his linemates manage 3.5 goals per 60 without Panarin.

Preseason favorite Connor McDavid missed too many games to be considered, although he is scoring over a point per game when he is on the ice.

Instead, Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere is the right choice. He has 16 goals with 26 assists over 58 games and skates nearly 20 minutes a night, with four of those minutes on the power play. Plus, Philadelphia puts 49.6 percent of even-strength shot attempts in their favor when he is skating.