The Hart Memorial Trophy is given to “the player judged to be the most valuable to his team.” The award has seen it’s fair share of offensive-defensemen and scoring leaders; snipers and goalies. But rarely does the Professional Hockey Writers Association vote on a second line center or a two-way forward to win the award. That is probably because there has already been an award designated to those players: The Selke Trophy or the “forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game.” The Selke tends to end up with players who score between 20 and 30 goals in a season, whose plus/minus ratings surpass almost everyone in the league, and players who successfully bring their teams to the top of the standings.
Patrice Bergeron’s offensive explosion over the past month has prompted the hockey world to look at their Hart Trophy candidates once more. Not only Boston Bruins analysts, but also analysts like Pierre McGuire: who consistently noted during the Bruins-Flyers game on Sunday that the Hart Trophy should be awarded to the best player on the best team. The Bruins are currently the top team in the standings, and will likely need a few more victories to clinch the Presidents’ Trophy. Likewise, Bergeron is the most valuable player to this Bruins team.
To judge if, in fact, Bergeron should be considered for the Hart Trophy, one must look at his competition.
Bergeron’s most identical opponent is Blackhawk’s forward Jonathan Toews. Toews is the reigning Selke champion, and has not taken a step back this year. Toews is in the top 25 in the entire league in goals, assists, points, plus/minus, and face-offs. The ‘Hawks’ captain is one of the leading Selke candidates for the 2013-14 season. But Bergeron should be given the ‘edge’ over Toews when it comes to head-to-head performances this year. In two games this season, Bergeron has held Toews to zero points while he has countered with 2 goals and an assist. Toews, though, is not considered a major candidate for the Hart.
Another possible destination for the Hart Trophy will be to Anaheim, where Ryan Getzlaf is currently second in points in the league. Getzlaf is seventh in the league in plus/minus, and also 3rd in the NHL in time on ice per game for forwards. Getzlaf is one more two-way forward in contention for the Hart Trophy, but also has the goals to add to his case the league’s best player. It does not hurt Getzlaf’s case that he captains the Pacific Division leading Ducks.
Veering away from the two-way players in the Hart discussion, Phil Kessel has been one of the goal scorers whose name has been mentioned often. After signing a maximum term contract worth $64 million over 8 years, Kessel has had one of the best years of his volatile scoring career. Phil Kessel is 5th in the league in points this season, and has managed to have his best year defensively since joining the Maple Leafs in 2009; Kessel is -1 on the season. While Getzlaf and Toews play for teams who have successfully clinched playoff spots, Kessel’s Maple Leafs have seen their eight game losing streak remove them from a Wild Card spot, which they may not be able to recover from. For a while, Kessel’s offense was propelling him towards a good chance at winning the Hart Trophy, but his recent team struggles will probably prevent him from winning for his first time.
One of the leading nominees will surely be the NHL’s most offensively-gifted player, Sidney Crosby. Crosby leads the league in points and assists; not to mention he plays on the Metropolitan Division-leading Pittsburgh Penguins. Despite Crosby’s talent on the offensive side of the puck, his defensive invisibility is the reason many criticize his game. The criticism is simply biased Boston and Philadelphia enthusiasts; Crosby is +16 this season, and is 52% on face-offs. The only argument against Crosby’s case is that he plays on one of the best teams for goal scoring in history. Crosby’s chances at the Hart Trophy are looking pretty favorable after he scored his 100th point for the 5th time in his career this week.
Bergeron’s adversaries will make the Hart Trophy nothing more than a thought for him. Bergeron’s focus on playing defense first prevents him from putting up the ostentatious numbers that Crosby and Kessel constantly achieve. Players like Toews and Bergeron will probably never have a legitimate chance at winning the Hart Trophy because of their conspicuous opponents who put up over 100 points year after year. The complaints about the NHL’s award winners come every year; notably last year when P.K. Subban won the Norris Trophy because of his 53 points when the voters seemingly overlooked his plus/minus rating of zero. Realistically, Bergeron is probably the best player on the best team, but a handful of guys are slightly better players than Bergeron who happen to additionally play on elite teams; therefore, they are far more appealing the the voters. It’s been 10 years since the two-way player Martin St. Louis won the Hart Trophy, but, since then, it’s mostly been awarded to the same player who wins the Rocket Richard Trophy for the NHL’s leading scorer. That trend may continue, but Getzlaf’s offense will make his case hard to argue. For the sake of the league and the Hart Trophy, if a well-rounded forward takes home the award, Bergeron’s future chances at the award will grow. This year is just too soon for Boston’s hardest worker to win more than the Selke Trophy.
Tyler Jones, Causeway Crowd