Friday, March 25, 2011

Breaking Down the Hart Trophy Race

sedins canucks hart trophy
During the first half of the NHL season the Hart Trophy race for most valuable player was essentially locked up. Sidney Crosby was demoralizing the league on a nightly basis and was on pace for 64 goals and an obscene 132 points. This would have been the highest point total since 1995-1996 when Mario Lemieux scored 161 points and Jaromir Jagr scored 149. Crosby still leads all Penguins’ scorers in points by nearly 20 and has the 11th most goals in the league, despite last playing nearly three months ago.

Unfortunately, David Steckel robbed us of a truly historic season. Considering the current state of the NHL (read: goalies are actually willing to block shots, unlike the 80s) Crosby's scoring rate was truly remarkable. I’m not going to say it was more impressive than some of the crazy seasons Gretzky and Lemieux put up, but it was the best hockey from an individual in more than a decade.

Due to Crosby’s injury the title of league’s most valuable player is up for grabs. A strong case can be made for many players. It seems like there is a flavour of the week for the media who they begin hyping relentlessly, then it's on to the next player after team x wins a few in a row. With the tight playoff races in both conferences (especially the West), it may come down to which teams make the playoffs.

In Vancouver, home of the reigning league MVP Henrik Sedin, it is brother Daniel that leads the league in points, while ranking third in goals. Naming the best player on the best team in the league is certainly worthy criteria for MVP voting, but while Daniel has played tremendously, so has his twin brother Henrik, who is second in the league in points, and so has Ryan Kesler, who ranks fourth in goals. It’s possible that even though Daniel Sedin has registered the most outstanding season, he will fall short of the Hart Trophy because both Henrik, and to a lesser extent, Kesler, are both valuable components of the Canuck juggernaut. Voters may split their votes between these three players, weakening Daniel’s chances.

A trendy choice for MVP is Chicago’s Jonathan Toews, who has led the defending champs back into the playoff picture after falling outside the top-8 for stretches of the season. Since January 16th, Toews has scored 38 points in 27 games, while the Hawks amassed an 18-7-3 record over that span. Now due to a knee injury to the Hawks’ second leading scorer, Patrick Sharp, Toews will be under increased pressure to keep the Hawks rolling.

Another candidate making a late charge is Corey Perry who is second in the league in goals and tied for second with Daniel Sedin in game-winning goals. Perry has led the Ducks to a 9-3 record over their past 12 games to put them into a tenuous 8th place position in the Western Conference.

Steven Stamkos is another possibility. He leads the league in goals and is third in points. He's a major reason why the Lightning are in a playoff spot and have an outside shot at the Southwest Division title. His scoring has tailed off as the season progressed, which means the league might not have a player reach 50 goals for the first time since 2003-2004. That's depressing.

Finally, Carey Price is making a strong case for MVP consideration, even though he may fall short of the Vezina Trophy for league’s best goaltender (Tim Thomas is the frontrunner). Price is tied for first in the league in wins, second in shutouts and has a 2.41 GAA to go along with a stellar .921 SV%. Price has done this behind a depleted blueline that lost their two most important defenceman – Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges – to season ending injuries. A defence that has relied on aging veterans Hal Gill, Jaroslav Spacek, and Roman Hamerlik in addition to rookie P.K. Subban. Plus, the Canadiens have no players on pace to score 30 goals and as a team rank in the bottom third of the league in goals per game. Simply put, if Price doesn’t play exceptionally, on most nights the team doesn’t win.

This is even more impressive considering Price has rebounded from two years of being booed in Montreal and looking like he would never regain his game, especially under the pressures of Montreal.

I for one am most impressed with Carey Price’s season. He might not win the Hart Trophy, but considering how he’s rebounded from the last two seasons is truly remarkable. Very few people, including myself, thought the Canadiens made the right decision by keeping Price over Halak. I definitely thought Price could become a number one goalie again in the right situation, but I never thought he could do it in Montreal. He easily entered the year with more pressure on him than any other player and he responded in a way few predicted.

Any one of these players is a worthy candidate for the Hart Trophy. The final few weeks of the season may help determine just who the league’s most valuable player is. If both the Hawks and Ducks drop out of the Western Conference playoff race both Toews and Perry will fade away from Hart discussion as well. Similarly, if Daniel Sedin continues his assault on the league’s goaltenders, while helping the Canucks win the President’s Trophy, voters will have a hard time denying the ultra-talented Swedish winger, which would resurrect the debate over which twin is better.


Ted Rigby said...

Daniel's got it on lock. He's everyone's favourite twin, so people will vote for him just to get under Henrik's skin.

Though if people do decide to vote on the player who is literally the most valuable to his team, it would have to be Price, without a doubt. You could take Daniel away from Vancouver and they would still coast into the playoffs, but Montreal without Price this year? Not a chance.

Matt Horner said...

I agree, Price is certainly more valuable to the Habs than Daniel is to the Canucks, but it's hard to argue that the best player on the league's best team shouldn't win.

Bo Jackson said...

Tim Thomas has a 2.02 GAA and .938 SV%, both of which are better than Dominik Hasek's in the two seasons he won the Hart Trophy in the late 90s. He at least warrants some consideration.

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