Predicting This Year’s Hart Trophy

Nick Cohen

By Jake Aferiat

Every year, the NHL, like every sport issues awards to certain players, coaches, and executives around the league. This year’s race for many of the awards is as tight as ever and there are a lot of deserving candidates. I’ll be focusing on 4 awards, the Hart Trophy, the Calder Trophy, the Norris Trophy, and the Vezina Trophy over the next 4 weeks. This week deals with the Hart Trophy

Hart Trophy

The NHL’s version of an MVP Award, the recipient should be the “player most valuable to his team.” Based on that definition there are a few likely candidates. The first is New York Islanders C John Tavares. Tavares currently leads the NHL in points with 72 recording 33 goals and 39 assists. The next closest player on the Isles, RW Kyle Okposo with 44. Tavares has played in 68 games and has recorded 1.06 points per game, good for 4th best in the NHL. If people want to look at value, game-winning-goals can be a good, albeit a bit flawed, measure and it’s an area where Taveras excels. He’s tied for 5th in the league with 7, including 4 game winners when it really counts, overtime. There’s no doubt that without Tavares, the Islanders would not be doing as well as they are.

The next likely candidate is Washington Capitals LW Alex Ovechkin. If you’ve read my previous articles, you know that I’m a huge Alex Ovechkin fan. There is no player more explosive than Ovechkin right now. Every time he touches the puck it has the potential to be a goal. But I digress. Ovechkin’s candidacy for the Hart is undeniable. He currently leads the league in goals (44) for the third season in a row, but that alone is not the reason he is a legitimate Hart contender. To start, he is the only active three time winner, and having won in the past means he has a pretty good chance at winning. If teams can’t score on the powerplay, they won’t find success. It’s plain and simple. There’s a reason Toronto, Edmonton, and Buffalo are doing poorly, and it’s due to their ineffectiveness on the powerplay. On the flipside, Washington has been able to find success this season because of their powerplay, which ranks second in the NHL and is led by Ovechkin who has recorded 20 of his 44 goals on the powerplay. Ovechkin’s 20 PPG goal mark is quite the feat as it marks the fourth time he’s hit that mark, and is just one of five players to record four seasons with 20 powerplay goals. Nobody questions Ovechkin’s value to the Caps, and his knack for scoring is the reason Nick Backstrom has so many assists.

Finally, there is Montreal Canadiens G Carey Price. Price has been absolutely masterful this season. He’s got a GAA (goals-against-average) of 1.87, good for first in the NHL. He’s also recorded 37 wins, good for first in the NHL also. Of those 37 wins, seven have been shutouts, which brings him up to 13 over the last two seasons, which is the most since HOFer Ken Dryden recorded 15 over a two season span. Price also has a .937 save percentage, good for first in the NHL. Price’s being atop the leaderboard in most of the major categories isn’t the only reason for him to be considered a worthy candidate. In the 90 years it has been awarded, 54 players have been lucky enough to be recipients of it. Of those 54 players, seven winners have been goalies, with Dominik Hasek winning twice. The most recent goalie to win the Hart was Jose Theodore of the Canadiens during the 2001-02 season. Honestly, Theodore’s numbers were not all that impressive. He appeared in 67 games that season, won 30 games, posted a GAA of 2.11, recorded 7 shutouts, and a .931 save percentage. Price’s monster season has seen him post a higher win total, save percentage, and better GAA than Theodore while only playing in 54 games. Price’s value is undeniable. The Habs rank 23rd in goals per game scoring just a mere 2.55 but that’s enough when your team, thanks to Carey Price, ranks first in fewest goals allowed per game at 2.15.

Taking everything into consideration, don’t be surprised to see Carey Price take home the Hart Trophy this year and for good reason.

14 responses to “Predicting This Year’s Hart Trophy

  1. I completely agree about Carey Price being the frontrunner. His season isn’t just been good, it’s been historic. His save percentage of 93.5% is the third-best season all time among goalies who played at least 50 games, and he’s only eight games away from being the first goalie ever to stop shots at least a 93.5% rate and play is 63+ games in a season.
    Also, just as a side note, I don’t agree 100% about Jose Theodore’s season not being all that impressive (although the point is mute since I also believe he was on steroids that season). At the time, Theodore was only the second goalie ever to have at least 93.1% and 60+ games played in a season, and his Montreal Canadiens could not have come close to the playoffs without him (they were the last team in the playoffs, even with his excellence).

    1. I think ovechkin should win the hart this year whether or not he wins the art Ross trophy and whether or not Price keeps playing well (as long as Ovi keeps playing at his current level that is). In the modern era of Hockey (the past 10 years or so) thanks to more athletic defenders, more athletic goaltenders with bigger pads, and shorter shifts for offensive lines, shooting percentages and goal scoring have plummeted. No one scores 70 goals shooting 25 percent like they used to do in the 80’s and 90’s. Is this because goal scorers like Ovi and Stamkos are worse than Gretsky,Kurri, Hull, Lemieux etc.? I am not saying Ovi is as good as Gretsky or Lemieux but he has a better, harder shot than either of them ever had and his goal scoring numbers don’t match up, and that’s not because of skill difference, but because of the differences in the game. That said, goals are more valuable than they used to be, and are certainly more valuable than assists. A point system that accurately gives the art Ross to the best scorer in the league would weight goals over assists (and more than just giving a tiebreak to the guy with more goals). Personally I like Hockeyreference’s adjusted point share system. Looking at adjusted point shares, Ovi is tops in offensive point share and tops in skaters in total adjusted point shares (offensive point shares plus defensive point shares). The only players above him in total adjusted point shares are goalies and the system, while very good for judging a skaters value to his team and value relative to the numbers others in the league are putting up, it is not good for comparing goalies and skaters as the system skews heavily in favor of goalies. If Crosby, Tavares, Malkin, or Backstrom win the art Ross trophy it will be because of assists, and if I haven’t made it clear yet, I believe they are overvalued, especially given the NHL’s 2 assist per goal system. Ovi is still the most dynamic player in hockey, and should win his 4th Hart this year. We saw what the capitals looked like without Ovechkin with a piddling offensive performance against Minnesota. He is not only the best player in Hockey, but also the most valuable player to his team. The argument that Nick Backstrom is fueling Ovis great system is garbage in my opinion; I think it’s the other way around. Backstroms points seem to be directly related to Ovi”s points (I.E if ovechkin scores two goals Backstrom gets two assists). Also Backstrom, while near the league lead in points, is there due to assists, and he has more secondary assists than primary assists. A great playmaker, but not on Ovi’s level. In my mind Tavares is the only other skater who should receive Hart consideration (Patrick Kane, who was having a great season, would have made the top 3 had an injury not sidelined him). Price of course rounds out the top 3, and despite the fact that everyone seems to be banging the hart drum for him, I believe it would be a travesty if Price got the hart over Ovechkin. Other things to consider in Ovi’s favor: 1. he’s back to being a plus player, and tho not many have noticed it, he’s playing good D this year in addition to being in the top 10 in hits 2. He leads the league in power play goals. He would also likely have a number of short handed goals as defensively he has been sound enough to play on the PK, but he is already playing 20+ mins a game and I’m sure Trotz would prefer having him on the power play. 3. He leads the league in game winning goals despite the fact that 13 teams have more wins than the caps and 1 (as of today, Boston) has the same number…..Hart #4 should be in Ovechkins trophy case at seasons end. Period.

      1. Ovechkin has been stellar, but his season has not been as historic as Price’s; in my opinion, Ovechkin hasn’t been the forward in the league this year, let alone best player. Almost all of Rick Nash’s numbers indicate that he’s been better than Ovi this year. Despite having over 224 minutes less of Even Strength ice time, a 2.8% lower Even Strength Zone Offensive Start Percentage, a higher Relative Corsi Quality of Competition at Even Strength, and a significantly lower Relative Corsi Quality of Teammates at Even Strength, Nash has put up more Even Strength Shots On Goal, 9 more Even Strength Goals, and more Even Strength Assists. Ovechkin’s totals are better because of the Power Play, and I where we disagree is on how indicative his Power Play production is. You argue that Ovechkin has a significantly greater impact on Backstrom’s numbers than Backstrom has on Ovechkin, and while I agree with that, I don’t think that it necessarily means that Backstrom’s impact on Ovechkin’s production isn’t substantial, especially on the Power Play. Given that Ovechkin has received significantly more Power Play time than Backstrom, that Backstrom is still the teammate that Ovechkin has spent the most Power Play time with, and that Backstrom’s Power Play On-Ice G/60 is noticeably better than Ovechkin’s, it’s not unreasonable to gather that the Great 8 scores the majority of his Power Play points with Backstrom on the ice, and that this change is no coincidence. Also, possibly the biggest reason that Ovechkin’s Power Play totals are so much better than Nash is that he plays so much in that situation (leading all forwards this year in Power Play time). You noted how Ovechkin, despite his improved defense has not had his Even Strength and Power Play time lowered in order to put him on the penalty kill; well, that’s exactly what’s happened with Nash.

        Of course, then the question becomes “Then why shouldn’t Nash be MVP?”, but Carey Price’s value cannot be understated. Most seem to think that even if Price wasn’t this good, the Canadiens would surely still be a playoff team, but I’m not convinced. Team Plus/Minus isn’t a great indicator of ability, but it gives you an idea of what area of the standings a team is in; using the amount of shots that Price has faced, I calculated how many goals he would’ve allowed to this season if he had a respectable 92% Sv% rather than his historic 93.59%, and I ended up with the total 134 goals. Adding to the totals of backup Dustin Tokarski, that comes out to 171 goals against and a +/- of +5, which puts the Canadiens (who are tied for the league-lead in points because of Price’s excellence) squarely in the playoff bubble, with no guarantee of a playoff appearance.

        1. I agree Carey Price has been the best player this year, I guess I’m just a Hart goes to the best skater kind of guy. And yes, Ovi has better production w/ Backstrom than without him, but that’s because without Backstrom on the ice the capitals have no other significant threat than Ovechkin, so defenses can key in on him. If you look at the other Caps goal scorers, it’s mostly guys banging to the net knocking in rebounds. It’s been years since Ovechkin has had a significant scoring threat on that first line (just look at Ovi,s numbers when he had Semin playing across from him, he had some of the highest adjusted point shares of all time and some of the best seasons of the last 10 years). Everything you have to say about Nash is valid, I just have to agree to disagree about the value of their contributions (despite very similar numbers, they have scored in different ways). I think a team without a good power play goes nowhere (usually), and because of Ovechkins ability to finish, the capitals have the leagues 2nd best PP. I think his even strength goals would be higher if he had another consistent and viable scoring option on his line…one of he reasons he scores so on the power play relative to his overall scoring is because with 4 men on the ice it’s much easier for him to find shooting lanes, whereas 5v5 you see the defense all go entirely in Ovechkins direction and have usually 2 people ready to block any shot on goal. Backstrom’s a great playmaker, but an average (at best) goal scorer, and the capitals have found no one consistent to play RW on that first line. If Ovechkin had better scoring threats on his line, the defense wouldn’t be able to stack the deck against him. Even so, under the tutelage of Barry Trotz he has found ways to score on even strength, whether by a great move followed by his laser of a shot or by going to the net for rebounds. Nash has a far better group of players around him (and as a Caps fan, it hurts to say that…but the Rangers are a much better team) and thus finds himself open far more often than Ovi. I’ve watched quite a few Rangers games this year (until recently the caps and Rangers were neck and neck in the standings) and Nash has been superb, but in general his team does not rely on him the way the capitals do on Ovechkin. Many of Nash’s goals have come on easy put backs or on shots with a relatively low degree of difficulty (in addition to a number of empty netters). Even with those, he stands 6 goals behind Ovechkin. I believe they have been the two best forwards this year (tho no one comes close to Ovi since January…had he played like that all season he’d be looking at a mid 60 to possibly even 70 goal season), but I think Ovi is more valuable to his team (and that is who the hart is supposed to go to, it never says anything about best in the league but the player most valuable to his team). That said, since my last post I’ve gone back on NHL Gamecenter and watched a number of Price’s games. Despite my love for Ovechkin, Price is having a season for the ages and with a middling offense and a defense that while good, allows several excellent scoring chances a game. Without Ovechkin the Caps aren’t in the playoffs, but that’s the difference between not making the playoffs and being a wild card team. Without Price the Habs go from 1st to possibly making the playoffs. You (plus a look at just how fantastic he’s been-the numbers are one thing, but seeing him in action is what really made me a believer, for one I reviewed the highlights of his recent 1-0 victory over the caps where he robbed Ovechkin several times on shots he usually scores on) have me convinced. Price for Hart. But if they feel the need to give it too skater, it should be Ovechkin, with Tavares and Nash hot on his heels.

  2. As far as Ovi as best skater for Hart I would like to go back to adjusted point shares. Ovi leads all skaters this season in offensive point shares and total adjusted point shares (11.0) Rick Nash is second at 9.5, Tavares third at 9.4. Sidney Crosby (who I’m sure for God knows what reason will still receive some 1st place Hart votes) is at 7.6 (not a bad number but if you look at most of the Hockey greats they don’t get point shares that low until their last season or two..In comparison.Ovechkin in his worst season has never been below 9). This will be the 5th season Ovechkin led Skaters in GC, GC per game and total adjusted point shares. In the previous 4, he won the Hart 3 times. The only time he led in those stats and didn’t win was 09-10 when Henrik Sedim led the league with 112 points and Crosby won his only Rocket Richards trophy with 51 goals. Ovi was 2nd in Hart voting that year, finishing with 50 goals and 109 points. He played 10 fewer games than Crosby and Sedin, however, and had he played the full 82 he would have won the Hart. These stats make the odds of Ovi winning the Hart seem pretty good, unless they give it to a goalie, which they should. No goalie has been this good since Dominik Hasek won the Hart.

    1. A few things. First, I like how both of you subtly said I don’t know what I’m talking about. Second, after reading your comments about Backstrom, I agree with both of you. And now onto the subject of metrics. In baseball, I think metrics are a great tool. To me there are only a few good hockey metrics worth discussing like Point Shares, adjusted point shares, etc. with that in mind and even with that aside, you bring up good points about the powerplay. But, having said that, you make great points about Ovi. To me though, there’s no reason that Price shouldn’t win the Hart, not because he’s having a historic season, but like you said, their offense is fucking abysmal, and so without him, their scoring 2 goals a game wouldn’t keep them close. So that’s one of the reasons I gave it to Price

  3. First off, I apologize if any of my posts offended you. If I did not respect your article and the points you made in it, I would not have posted to begin with. In the end I agreed with you about Price being both both the most outstanding player (so he should win the Lindsay award too) as well as the most valuable player to his team. I was using the adjusted point share stats to make the case for Ovi being the best skater this year, and since the bias is usually tilted towards skaters, making the case that if it goes to a skater it should go to Ovechkin. Your original story was great; well written and well argued.

  4. JR, your post didn’t offend me. I may have just been a bit sensitive. And metrically, yes Ovi is far and away the best skater in the NHL. You and Jacob both bring up great points though. I’ll be interested to see what you have to say about my Calder, Vezina, and Norris picks

  5. JR, your post didn’t offend me. I may have just been a bit sensitive. And metrically, yes Ovi is far and away the best skater in the NHL. You and Jacob both bring up great points though. I’ll be interested to see what you have to say about my Calder, Vezina, and Norris picks.

  6. As far as the Norris trophy, voters have had a tendency to lean towards points scoring as the main factor in the award. Karlson leads in points, but I think the award is far more likely to go to Letang or Subban. That said, I think the award should go to Shea Weber, even if he is unlikely to win it. He is the best blue liner in the NHL in my opinion, even if the stats don’t back it up. He is a force defensively, and offensively he is often the key to the Predators even strength attack. He does a great job of keeping it in the zone and is constantly sending pucks to the net, creating opportunities for an otherwise sub-par offensive unit. Without him and Rinne the Predators are probably not even a playoff team.
    I think the Calder trophy is one of the most interesting trophy races. I think it is mainly a two horse race between Forsberg and Ekblad, with Gaudreau coming in third. It is hard to say who has had the more impressive season between Forsberg and Ekblad, partially because it’s hard to compare forwards and defenders. Most people will probably argue Forsberg has had the better season, but Ekblads is arguably more impressive Forsberg is 20 and is only technically a rookie as he has had NHL and other high level hockey experience, while Ekblad is only 18. I’ll be interested to see what happens in this race, though if I had a vote I think I’d give it to Ekblad.
    Vezina is Carey Price with Pekka Rinne in 2nd and no one else even on the same level. Dubnyk has been spectacular since joining the Wild, Fleury has been consistently good all season, Schneider has put up good numbers for a below average team, and Braden Holtby has hot streaks where he’s looked as good as anyone not named Price, but in my mind this are still only two choices, and with the Predators having gone cold as of late, unless Price loses every game for the rest of the season while giving up 4-5 goals a game, the trophy is his.

    Would be interested in hearing the opinions of you guys on those races as well!

  7. I didn’t see your picks for Calder, Norris or Vezina by the way, the initial post says it will give your picks for all four awards but I only saw the Hart post.

  8. More evidence in the case for Ovi to at least bring home a Lindsay if not the Hart: Ovechkin missed one game earlier this season, against Dubnyk and the red hot Wild. Holtby was great but Washington’s anemic offensive performance led to. 2-1 Wild victory. Last night they played again, with Ovechkin in the lineup. Minnesota’s defense was still good, holding washington to under 30 shots again (27, 6 of which were Ovechkin’s). Again Holtby was good and stopped 28 of 30 shots. But this time Ovi was on the ice, and he scored twice, including the game winner, in an important game for both teams. It was his league leading 11th GW goal (he set a record this year as the only player to record 5 seasons with at least 10 GWG in each). It’s been a while since Dubnyk has given up more than two, and his .889 save percentage was one of the lowest he’s put up since joining the Wild. He wasn’t bad, he just ran into an Ovechkin. Ovi is going to reach 50 goals again this year, and again (unless either Stamkos or Nash has an incredible run), be the only player to do it; a testament to the difficulty of reaching 50 these days. Nonetheless it will be his second straight 50 goal year (likely would be 3 straight had there been a full season in 12-13). He may also win the Art Ross trophy..a difficult accomplishment for a sniper. It is generally centers who have more assists (often WAY more assists than goals cough Crosby cough) who win the trophy. If he does win the art Ross it will be only the second time since the Gretsky/Lemieux days of 20+ shooting percentages that someone led the league in goals and points. The other time this feat accomplished was in 07-08 by a young sniper named Ovechkin ( he would have done it again in 09-10 had he not missed 10 games, but I’m a firm believer in durability being a valuable hockey trait and therefore end season awards shouldn’t factor in missed games, as in they shouldn’t say Malkin or Crosby would have been the art Ross winner had he not missed X number of games. In a collision sport that takes place over a long grueling season, even the toughest players are bound to get injured, but Pittsburgh’s two stars are notoriously injury prone. Anyways, Ovi stepped up in a big game, willing the capitals over a team that has probably been the toughest team to beat this side of the Rangers since they got Dubnyk. Another penguins loss brings the capitals to an 88 point tie with Pittsburgh, only two points behind the Islanders. The caps seemed a sure fire wild card team only a week ago, and now they’re back to making noise within a tight metro race. Barry Trotz and Braden Holtby deserve a lot of credit, but Ovi is the driving force behind a team that went from not making the playoffs last year to becoming a team that I don’t think anyone wants to play in the first round, home ice or no. Anyways my bias for Ovi is clear, but i think the numbers nonetheless speak for themselves. Don’t get me wrong, Price should still win the Hart, but Ovi should be a close second. Also, a random what if that doesn’t actually matter…had Ovi played the first two months the way he played the last two and a half, we might have been looking at him breaking his personal goal record of 65. He also would have had a solid shot at 100 points. Had that happened, who gets the Hart? Still Price? Or does Ovechkin? 60 goal seasons seem like a thing of the past when there over 16 goalies above .920 save percentage at the time of this writing. If you look at the top 30 goalies, none of them are below 910 (Bernier, at 912, is 30th). Goalie save percentages are at a historic level, and not just with Price. Theodore won the Hart because at the time a 930 for a full seasons worth of work was considered historically good. Prices season is historically good also, but so is the season all NHL goalies have had. Get used to 100 points and 50 goals being rare things, and treasure them when you see them.

  9. Update on what I had to say about the Calder trophy…Johnny Hockey has been on fire as of late and in my mind is now neck and neck with Forsberg and Ekblad as we enter the stretch. May the best man (kid? God they’re so young) win.

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