SUN Hockey Pool

Kipper showing Hart

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 11:58 AM ET

It's a simple game even the dimmest of NHL scribes can play at home.

Take Miikka Kiprusoff out of the Calgary Flames lineup and try to picture how far out of the west playoff race the league's fourth-lowest scoring team would be.

Now, play the same game with Jaromir Jagr.

Truth is, the New York Rangers would still be one of the top eight teams in the Country Club Conference thanks largely to goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.

If Lundqvist went down, the team would still thrive with Jagr -- they cancel one another out.

We throw out this little exercise to emphasize one simple point: Kiprusoff should win the Hart Trophy.

While the masses -- and most southern simpletons who cover the league -- have long believed the Hart goes to the league's best player, the truth is, by definition, it should go to the "player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team."

With that in mind, few can argue the legitimacy of a candidate like Joe Thornton, whose arrival in San Jose ended a 10-game losing skid and led to a 30-14-7 record. Jagr endorsed Thornton's bid for the coveted trophy voted on by NHL writers. Then again, he's only seen Kiprusoff once this year.

While obviously biased, there isn't a coach or player on the Flames who doesn't attribute the team's 43-24-9 record to the man proving his playoff run and modern day goals-against average record set in 2003-04 were not flukes.

"It's not just the saves he makes, it's the timing of them too," said Jarome Iginla, runner-up to the last goalie to win the Hart --Jose Theodore -- in 2002. "He is easily the No. 1 reason why we're fighting for the top of the division."

Tying the Flames' franchise record with his 39th win Wednesday, Kiprusoff has shouldered one of the league's heaviest loads admirably, going 32-straight games now without allowing more than three goals. It's a crucial ingredient for a team that has none of the league's top 60 scorers yet is 19 games above .500.

Kiprusoff single-handedly steals games and gives his team a chance to win every time out. No other NHLer can say that.

"He's like a big vacuum -- he smothers everything," said Phoenix defenceman Derek Morris.

The only thing preventing Kiprusoff from winning the Vezina in 2004 was his limited play -- 38 games -- which left him a runner-up to Brodeur. This time there's little doubt he's the class of NHL netminders.

"We don't get to see a lot of guys out east but without question (Kiprusoff's) been as strong as anybody in the west and deserves the accolades he gets," said Wayne Gretzky, aware three men have won the Vezina and Hart in the same season -- Theodore, Dominik Hasek and Jacques Plante. "He is dominating."

While stats show Kiprusoff is tied with Marty Turco in wins and third in GAA (2.15, behind Huet and Hasek who combine to play as much Kiprusoff), the man who has missed just seven games is the No. 1 reason the Flames are contenders.

Without Kiprusoff in net, the Flames have averaged 3.77 goals-against -- more than a goal-and-a-half more. With all due respect to Eric Staal, Marty Turco, Daniel Alfredsson and the two aforementioned Rangers, outside of Thornton no player comes remotely close to meaning as much to a team's success as Kiprusoff.

By any test.

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GOALIES WHO HAVE HART

2001-02: Jose Theodore, Montreal Canadiens

1996-98: Dominik Hasek, Buffalo Sabres

1961-62: Jacques Plante, Montreal Canadiens

1953-54: Al Rollins, Chicago Blackhawks

1949-50: Chuck Rayner, New York Rangers

1928-29: Roy Worters, New York Americans


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