With the season coming to a close, it’s time to turn brief attention to the Hart Trophy race. Everything that I’ve seen has Sidney Crosby winning the Hart Trophy. If this award was for the best player in the league, I just might agree. However, don’t get ahead of yourselves Penguins fans. From NHL.com:
“The Hart Memorial Trophy is an annual award given to the player judged to be the most valuable to his team”
With that criteria, how can you overlook John Tavares of the Islanders as the runaway favorite to win the Hart?
Let’s compare Tavares’ season with Crosby’s:
First, Tavares has 28 goals and 47 points on an Islanders squad that was regarded at the beginning of the season as a patchwork squad of AHL players, some players with NHL experience, and Tavares. Crosby plays on the high octane Penguins, and he owned the race for the Art Ross Trophy up until this week, collecting 15 goals and 56 points. However, he has only played 36 games because of yet another injury. The Penguins kept chugging along without him, much like they always have since the oft injured Crosby has spent a tremendous amount of time on long term IR.
Let me be clear – Crosby does not deserve the Hart trophy because of his injuries. They’ve hurt the Pens and have forced them to make moves in order to compensate. Before I have a bunch of angry Penguins at my door, I am not taking anything away from Crosby’s ability. When he is playing he is clearly the greatest player in the world. There is no player more dominant on any hockey team on any continent. But, as we’ve learned, the Hart Trophy is not for the best player in the league.
Without Tavares, the Isles go nowhere. He is a tremendous player and has been dominant in almost every single game he has suited up for, which, by the way, has been every single game this season so far. This season he has 28 goals, which is only 4 behind Alex Ovechkin – who might also be in the Hart conversation before Crosby, for the league lead. Then Pens would have made the playoffs, and would have even dominated the Eastern Conference with or without Crosby, as they’ve proven time and time again.
Sure, he hasn’t done it alone. Without solid goaltending from Evgeni Nabakov, the Isles may not make the playoffs. One thing is certain, you win games by scoring more goals than the other guy. Tavares has 28 goals. He makes the players around him better. Matt Moulson isn’t nearly as productive without playing with Tavares. The Islanders, in general, absolutely do not make the playoffs if Tavares only plays 36 games – in fact, they’d suck.
The Tavares stat that amazes the most is those 28 goals. Prior to this season, his season high was 31, which came last season over 82 games. If this season were a full 82 games, Tavares would be on pace for around 50 goals. Again, let me emphasize, these 28 goals in 47 games have come on an Islanders team that has missed the playoffs in the three prior seasons since Tavares came into the league. They have failed to make moves to put quality players around him, have suffered terrible fan support, and had become a horror show financially. What changed?
My thought is that John Tavares decided to throw a coming out party, and invited the entire Islanders team. He has carried this team upon his 22 year old shoulders back into relevance, and back into the playoffs. Will the Isles make a deep run behind Tavares’ sparkling play? Maybe not, but as the Los Angeles Kings will tell you, anything can happen in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. And if they gave me a vote in the Hart race, Tavares would get mine.
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photo credit: Robert Kowal via photopin cc