It's no secret that Jonas Hiller has been virtually unconscious since the second month of the season. He even got The Hockey News to notice his accomplishments and identify him as one to watch in the Vezina race. In fact, The Hockey news seems to be taking a liking to Hiller, naming him one of the outstanding players of Team Lidstrom. It would be a lie to say that his accomplishments continue to go unnoticed.
However, it would also be foolish to think that the media buzz surrounding a player also equates to a legitimate shot at attaining a prize like the Vezina. When I think about Pacific Division players contending for major awards, I am reminded of a phrase that frequently turned up during my various classes concerning racism, homophobia, sexism and other forms of oppression: "You have to be twice as good in order to get half as much credit."
I'm not saying choosing a Vezina winner is like practicing racism. Rather, when overcoming the East Coast media bias, it's imperative for players from other markets to jump over much higher hurdles in order to gain less appreciation. Please keep that in mind, as I list the reasons Hiller will, unfortunately, fall short of being awarded the Vezina.
Since the lockout, the Vezina winner has always been in the top 5 in GAA. Hiller currently sits 14th. The times that the GAA leader wasn't chosen, there was a secondary standout statistic. For example, Brodeur never finished as the GAA leader the two times he won, but did play over 70 games and posted 8 and 12 shutouts. Ryan Miller was second in GAA the year he won; Tuuka Rask was the GAA leader, but he hadn't played in enough games to warrant consideration.
New statistical measures are being developed to better gauge goalie effectiveness, but GAA still seems to be a stat that is relied upon to determine who is the best goalie. After that, it's shutouts. Hiller isn't tops in either category. Although, being tied for third in SO is better than his 14th place in GAA. In the end, Hiller will suffer for the poor defense in front of him. Hiller's GAA will have to drop by almost a quarter of a goal to be seriously considered anything other than a nice candidate.
The All Star Game
People will note that Hiller faced the most shots and gave up the least amount of goals during the game. It was a marvelous performance, and I don't think any goalie could have stopped the two he gave up. Still, most of the talk during Hiller's performance focused on Ron Francis in the booth and then Ryan Kesler on the ice. That's not to say that Emrick and Olczyk didn't notice that Hiller made several phenomenal saves, but that they simply grazed over them.
Nobody has been watching him and, as a result, nobody really understands the strengths of his game. To put it more simply, the announcers couldn't really say anything but "wow," and then move on to talk about the players they knew more about. It was a huge stage, and he performed fantastically, but Tim Thomas was credited with the win. The performance was there, but the hype was nonexistent. That's a crushing blow to a guy who plays for a team that gets absolutely no national media attention.
Hiller has faced 300 more shots than Thomas in ten more appearances and over 400 more minutes. But, Thomas' numbers aren't human. His GAA is below 2.00, his save percentage is .945, and he is tied for the league lead in shutouts. It really is an amazing season, and Thomas' statistics support the claim that he has been a better keeper than Hiller. At this point, Thomas is the favorite. There might not be enough room to convince the voters that Hiller is extraordinary enough to overcome the disparity in numbers.
East Coast Bias
It goes beyond not being awake for the games. One of my fears when they introduced the new All Star format was that Western Conference stars would be largely forgotten in favor of the more familiar Eastern Conference names. I think I was partially wrong, but the goaltending selections made me partially right.
Roberto Luongo, Pekka Rinne and Johnathan Quick all had better GAAs than Lundqvist and Price, and all of them have better save percentages than Price. Quick is the only goalie with a SV% lower than Lundqvist. It's clear that the East Coast media favors its own.
Another thing to consider, only one non-Original Six, non-Canadian, goalkeeper from the Western Conference has ever won the Vezina, Glen Hall of the St. Louis Blues. If you include the Canadian teams, the number grows to three. Not exactly impressive odds for a guy from a medium market team in a very nontraditional hockey market.
The Grandfather Clause
Finally, voters don't like to think outside the box. Remember when I said West Coast players have to work twice as hard to get half the credit? This is what I was talking about. The burden falls on West Coast players to prove that they are worthy of the prize, whereas a player from a more traditional market, like Detroit, simply needs to play to standards in order to be gift-wrapped his prize.
Datsyuk has one Selke that belongs to Kesler. Ok, that's my dig at the Red Wings; I digress. Brodeur won his 4 Vezinas in a span of 5 years. Hasek won 6 in 8 years. Patrick Roy won 3 in 4 years and his third was sandwiched between 2 by Ed Belfour. You can win one on merit, but sometimes you can win more simply because you've already won one. That's how Brind'Amour won Pahlsson's Selke in 2007. Crosby may the Hart this year because the league loves him, and he may finish with the lead in points.
The attitude surrounding these awards is rarely one of merit and more of proving that you deserve something that rightfully belongs to someone else. But that's only if you're from the West Coast. In 2007-08, Giguere was 7th in wins, 2nd in GAA, 3rd in SV%, tied for 9th, with that year's winner Brodeur, in shutouts, but wasn't even a finalist. Granted he only played 58 games, but his numbers were still phenomenal. Tim Thomas is having a great year, and he's won before. It's going to take something remarkable for Hiller to unseat him.
Just because Hiller won't win the Vezina doesn't mean he isn't the best goalie in the league. Personally, I'm not sure there's another goalie who gets post-to-post as well as he does [Allaire dime]. His glove is remarkable, and he's a fighter in the crease. I feel like Hiller just fights to make saves. He might give up the occasional soft goal, but a lot of great goalies do. It's the only position where a momentary lapse has a 100% chance of ending up in the back of the net.
For me, the real disappointment will be if Hiller isn't a Hart finalist. No player has meant more to his team's success than Jonas Hiller. The Ducks wouldn't be in the playoff talk without him standing on his head night in and night out. Whether or not Hiller deserves the Vezina is debatable; the numbers don't necessarily favor him. But, he should be the undisputed front runner for the Hart.
Stamkos is scoring, but so is St. Louis. The Penguins have continued to play well in the absence of Crosby. The Sedins are always remarkable, but are on a very talented Vancouver team. The Hart has been limited to statistical, instead of team, value. If the voters look to the true value of a player to a team, then they will undoubtedly see that Hiller should be the front runner for his body of work this year. Of course, anything can happen, and I make no guarantees; that's bad magumbo. My simple statement is this: Any discussion involving Hiller and a major reward should start with the Hart trophy.