How the Hart Trophy Became the Hot Potato

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by Puck

Hockey Correspondent and Occasional Shakespeare Character, White Cover Magazine

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Shortened seasons highlight almost everything, and almost way too much. Have you scored 50 points in 41 games, so far? Well, gee, golly, that would be, like, 100 points in a normal season. Except, it’s not. Has your team rattled off a 20-game-plus undefeated streak to start the season? Boy, you better win the Stanley Cup. Impressive but, still, not really. Are you having a bad season so far? Well, it looks like it’s going to be a long year. No in almost every way. It’s actually a very short year, and you also still have enough time to turn it around because, well, your opponents don’t have enough time to run away with it.

Right, Columbus?

In the AHL, Justin Schultz won the defenceman of the year award, despite only playing in 34 games for the Oklahoma City Barons.

In the NHL, we’re already bandying back and forth about who deserves the Hart, about whether any goalies will feature in the mix, and about whether or not Shea Weber can exist without Ryan Suter.

The last of those topics is so insulting, it should be tossed away right now. Along with your Hart ballot box, probably.

“But how do you not look at Sergei Bobrovsky?” asks ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, who was talking about Bob for the Vezina Trophy but also included him in his short list for the Hart for league MVP. “His .931 save percentage says it all. He’s carried the Blue Jackets into playoff contention.”

He’s right, but there’s one goaltender every year who flirts with this kind of thing and then fades away by season’s end (right, Ilya Bryzgalov circa 2010?). That’s why an 82-game plug is so difficult, and that’s why awards aren’t often won by underdogs… it’s really damn hard to play 82 games at such a high level.

Last year, Claude Giroux fell away, although only slightly. Still, it was enough to see the much more talented Evgeni Malkin surge to and then through the finish line.

What about Jason Spezza or even the Sedin Twins?

What about Sidney Crosby?

Wasn’t he in the middle of the greatest season since sliced Mario? Isn’t this not the first time it’s happened?

But, injuries do factor in, and they should. It wasn’t Sidney’s fault he took a puck to the jaw, but it doesn’t increase his candidacy for anything that begins with “most valuable”, and it doesn’t hide the fact that Alex Ovechkin has gone on a tear in his absence, or that Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane could each hold equal weight on an NHL Award podium, or that Steven Stamkos is perhaps the most underrated complete player in the game today and has been for three or four years now.

LeBrun is a staple at ESPN for not only being one of only two writers who care about the NHL, but for also being the only one of them who can writer logically about it. His awards previews have also become an annual ritual in Bristol, even if he’s the only one who remembers that.

LeBrun also labels Ryan Getzlaf as an “under the radar” contender, a man who status would surely be helped if 1) he scored just a few more goals all the time, and 2) his Ducks were in first, not second, in the Western Conference.

“For me, though, it comes down to Tavares or Toews for my first-place vote. Tavares has carried the Islanders on his back this season. Ask yourself: Where would the Isles be without him?

Having said that, how can you not reward Captain Serious in Chicago? The Blackhawks have been the most consistent powerhouse in the NHL this season, a wire-to-wire dominance fueled by the consistent work ethic and performance of their leader.”

Well, I’ll disagree. I’ll say John Tavares.

Why not? It’s a shortened season. These things don’t count anyway.

Do any of you remember when Eric Lindros beat out Jaromir Jagr for the Hart in 1995, and can any of you seriously tell me Lindros had a better career?