Friday, August 21, 2009

What Is The Hart Trophy?

Judging by the past few recipients of the the award, it seems like a fair question to me. According to the NHL, the Hart Memorial Trophy is awarded to the player "adjudged to be most valuable to his team" during the NHL's Regular season. This is a fairly simple explanation, but is that explanation being followed today? I would argue that the award has become just an echo of the Lester B. Pearson Award, which is given to the player judged to be the most outstanding among his peers, by his peers. The Pearson is a very simple award to vote for, you just vote for who you think the best player in the league was during the applicable regular season, however the Hart requires a much more delicate decision. You're voting on who you think was the most valuable player to their own team, regardless of which team it is. This means that in many cases, the best player in the league will not win the award.

For the last six seasons the player who wins the Hart has been either the NHL's leading goal scorer, or leading point producer. On the surface you may think that this makes sense, as the player who plays the best is obviously very valuable to his team, but this doesn't make them the MOST valuable. For an example of when the trophy is awarded correctly we need to look back all the way to the 2001-02 season, when Jose Theodore took home the trophy. Many thought that Jarome Iginla was robbed of the award because Iginla had broken the 50 goal barrier and was the league's most dominant scorer, however the Calgary Flames didn't even make the playoffs. On his team he easily stood out in terms of talent, but his play failed in an attempt to bring the team over the playoff hurdle. Jose Theodore however was playing for a Montreal Canadiens team that was decimated by the diagnosis of captain Saku Koivu with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and on an incredibly weak team in terms of skill and scoring, losing a player of his calibre led most to predict the team would finish last in the eastern conference. On the shoulders of Theodore's outstanding play, the Canadiens scraped and clawed into the post season, and managed to upset the heavily favoured 1st place Boston Bruins. Without the play of Theodore, the Canadiens were a bottom dwelling team, whereas without Iginla, the Flames didn't have much further to drop. This is a great example of how the trophy SHOULD be awarded.


It's very clear that in the last two seasons Alexander Ovechkin has been the best player during the regular season. Seasons of 65 and 56 goals respectively, are something to be brag about and be proud of, and during these seasons he was easily the most valuable player on his team, but was he more valuable to his team than other players were to their teams? I don't think so. What needs to be observed when speaking of most valuable players, is what single player contributes most to the success of his team. Washington without Alex Ovechkin would definitely not have made the playoffs in 2007-08, but ask yourself who would finish higher in the standings that year, Washington without Ovechkin, or the New York Rangers without Henrik Lundqvist. Unlike JS Giguere in Anaheim and Martin Brodeur in New Jersey, Lundqvist was largely on his own defensively for most of the season. Washington still had veteran scorers and young stars to rely on to score, and although they wouldn't have made the playoffs I doubt they'd have missed by much. The Rangers however had an anemic offense, and a lackluster defense at best. Yet through his play the Rangers made it into the playoffs in a healthy 5th place, and promptly upset the favoured Devils.

In 2008-09 Ovechkin's production took a step down, and his supporting cast took a step up in a big way the Alex Semin and Mike Green emerging, yet he won once again. He was once again the most dominant offensive player in the league, although Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby were close behind, but again in terms of value he is clearly not the most deserving of recognition. When Roberto Luongo was injured in Vancouver, that team was entirely uncompetitive. His impact can be seen clearly in the wins column as Vancouver only mustered 12 wins in 28 games without his services (42.9% win percentage), versus 33 wins in 54 contests (61.1% win percentage) despite playing injured in many games. This would bring Vancouver from a top seeded team in their division to 13th or lower in the conference. The same platitudes can be attributed to the Canadiens' Andrei Markov, who can easily be considered the most valuable defenseman to his team in the NHL. Despite the various struggles the Canadiens had this past season, Markov remained consistent and even acheived a career high in points and assists. Running the Canadiens' power play and penalty kill, Markov is a calming force that I believe resembles Niklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings. When Markov succumbed to injury in the latter part of the season, despite the Canadiens playing their best hockey of the season, they suffered 7 straight losses to end the season and playoffs. The power play became completely ineffective, and the transition game of the Canadiens withered and died.

These two players are just examples off the top of my head of players who were more important to their team than Ovechkin was to the Capitals in the last two years. I could go back further and elaborate on how Crosby and Thornton were also not as valuable as others but I'd rather not be redundant. If by any chance those with votes when it comes to the Hart Memorial Trophy come by this blog, PLEASE take heed and vote properly. I for one, am sick of having a duplicate award of the Pearson just with different voting parties. There's a big difference between the two and you need to honour it.

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