by PuckStopsHere on 10/14/11 at 01:44 PM ET
I liked to track the leaders for the NHL awards as the season progresses. It is interesting to see the progression of award leaders as the season progresses. At what point does the eventual winner become the front runner? At what point do the surprise players who were not expected to be in the race fade away?
In order to do this I must pick award leaders as soon as they become clear. With that in mind today I am picking the first Hart Trophy leader for 2011/12. He is Kari Lehtonen of the Dallas Stars. Lehtonen has been the best player in the league so far this season. He leads the NHL with a .966 saves percentage and is second with a 1.30 GAA. This is despite the fact he has more saves than any other goalie in the league and he has three games played while a few other goalies have four.
The Dallas Stars are an easy whipping boy so far this season. The big story surrounding them has been their efforts to satisfy the salary floor. Little is expected of Dallas this season, but they are currently in the Pacific Division lead. This is despite the fact Dallas has allowed the second most shots per game so far this year. It is Lehtonen who has kept Dallas in their games and allowed them to win. This is an MVP. Despite facing high shot totals, Lehtonen lets Dallas win and even has one of the best goals against averages in the league.
Kari Lehtonen is not the kind of guy who might be expected to be an MVP. He was a high draft pick (second overall in 2002) who has struggled through injury in his NHL career. He has been a slightly below average starting goalie in his last few years. At age 27, he still has a chance to step forward to the level that was expected when he was drafted, but most likely this streak is not sustainable.
Kari Lehtonen is off to a very good start at this early point in the NHL season. He is the early season MVP. It is hard to expect that he might keep this up all season, however if he does it will be an incredible season. Dallas does not have a lot of talent. They have been badly outshot so far this season, but they lead their division. The reason for that is Lehtonen’s play.
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