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
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.