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Last Word on NHL Awards: Hart Memorial Trophy

Last Word On Sports is doing our annual awards nominations and predictions. We’ll be giving you our nominations and predictions for the Selke Trophy, Vezina Trophy, Calder Trophy, Norris Trophy, Jack Adams Trophy, and the Hart Trophy.

The Hart Memorial Trophy was introduced by the NHL in 1960, to replace the original Hart Trophy, which was donated to the league by Dr. David Hart- father of Montreal manager-coach Cecil Hart – in 1923. The trophy is awarded annually to the player adjudged to be most valuable to his team in the regular season.

The original Hart was won in 1924 by Ottawa player Frank Nighbor, and the modern trophy was first awarded in 1960 to Canadiens legend Bernie Geoffrion, who led the league with 95 points that year. Wayne Gretzky won the award nine times in his 21-year NHL career, which is a record for MVP awards among all the big four North American sports. Of the nine, Gretzky won eight consecutively, from 1979 to 1987, all with the Edmonton Oilers.

Last year, Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby won the award for the second time in his career, after effectively carrying his injury-plagued team to the playoffs, finishing the season with 36 goals and 68 assists for 104 points, leading the league and giving Crosby the Art Ross Memorial Trophy as well.

So, today we’ll look at three potential candidates for the Hart this year, as well as a few players worthy of an honourable mention.

Honourable Mentions

Devan Dubnyk – Minnesota Wild

The only reason Dubnyk is an honourable mention rather than an actual nominee here is his late start. When he was traded from Arizona to Minnesota mid-January, the Wild were last in the Central Division, and 8 points behind Vancouver for the last wildcard spot. Now, after 39 Dubnyk starts,  Minnesota are headed to the playoffs, with the top wildcard spot. After being the subject of much ridicule in his time with Edmonton, Dubnyk finished the 2014-15 season second in the NHL in both save percentage and goals-against average, with .929 (.936 with the Wild) and 2.07 (1.78 with the Wild) respectively. He is, without a doubt, the reason for Minnesota’s season turnaround.

Ryan Getzlaf – Anaheim Ducks

In 2014-15, Getzlaf was, once again, a key piece of another strong Anaheim Ducks season. He finished 19th in league scoring with 70 points, but his value was in much more than points. He played arguably the toughest minutes in the league, including a lot of time on the powerplay and penalty kill, against the notoriously difficult Western Conference. The Ducks are headed to the playoffs as a Division champion, and that’s largely due to Getzlaf.

Hart Memorial Trophy Candidates

Alex Ovechkin – Washington Capitals

With a coaching change in Washington came a noticeable improvement in Ovechkin’s defensive game. He posted a 53.7 Corsi For %, and silenced many critics with a plus/minus of 10 – as much a product of his team’s improvement as his own. Despite a change in his play, Ovi did not depart from the scoring talent he’s known for. He finished the season with a stunning 53 goals – 10 more than second-place Steven Stamkos – and 81 points. The Capitals are going back to the playoffs after missing last season and that’s certainly due in large part to their captain Ovechkin, who managed to improve his play in his own end while maintaining his reputation as the NHL’s best goal-scorer.

John Tavares – New York Islanders

Intriguingly, the first two candidates mentioned here will be going head-to-head in the first round of the playoffs. Tavares very nearly won the Art Ross trophy with his 86 points, until it was taken by Jamie Benn in the dying minutes of the last game of the season. Nevertheless, that doesn’t take away from the fact that the 24-year-old Tavares had a career year. After finishing fifth-last in the NHL last season, the Islanders challenged for the Metropolitan Division title – ultimately losing it to the Rangers surge in the last two months. When Tavares missed a significant chunk of time last season, it only became more obvious how valuable he is to the Isles. With their captain healthy for the full year, they rode him and his offensive fire-power to a comfortable playoff berth. Without Tavares, the Islanders might not even be a playoff team.

Carey Price – Montreal Canadiens

Despite respectable cases for all the other players mentioned in this article, there’s really only one way the Hart Trophy can go this season. Price has had an unbelievable year. His 44 wins surpasses the Habs single-season record of 42, set in 1956 by Jacques Plante (matched by Plante again in 1962, and by Ken Dryden in 1976. His .933 league-best save percentage is also a Montreal record, better than Jose Theodore’s .931 in 2002. Completing the goaltending triple crown, Price’s 1.96 goals-against average beats Devan Dubnyk’s 2.07 for tops in the NHL.

The Montreal Canadiens are a good team, not doubt about it, but there’s absolutely no chance they’d be in the position they are today without Price’s stunning performance. The Habs won the Atlantic Division, and are set as one of the favourites to represent the Eastern Conference in the Cup Final, thanks in large part to Price. It’s easy to see just how valuable he is to his team by imagining what would happen to the Canadiens if Price were to be injured during the playoffs. They finished 18th in the league in goals for, but still managed an incredibly successful season, tying Chicago for the fewest goals against. Price has already won the William M. Jennings Trophy for goals against, and is very likely to win his first Vezina as well. If the Hart is a true MVP award, and not just awarded to the best (or highest-profile) player, there is no one who deserves it more than Carey Price.

My Ballot Choices

First Place: Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens
Second Place: Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
Third Place: John Tavares, New York Islanders

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