I already wrote that I don’t think Connor McDavid should win the Hart Memorial Trophy this season based on factors I considered important in the years I voted with the PHWA. That’s not to be mistaken for saying he can’t win it because the Edmonton Oilers aren’t going to be in the playoffs, just that he wouldn’t top my ballot (if I still had one) this season.
That aspect – whether an MVP candidate’s team makes the playoffs or not and how much weight that carries – is front and centre in the Hart Trophy debate right now. That’s understandable. What I don’t get is that some media people who have a vote don’t think McDavid even belongs in the top five on the PHWA ballot. Those holding votes are welcome to that opinion, of course, but not even on the ballot, not even in the running for a second straight Hart Trophy? Tough crowd.
E.J Hradek, an NHL.com writer based out of New York, got my attention on Tuesday night on Twitter when he said he had as many as nine candidates – Nathan MacKinnon, Aleksander Barkov, Anze Kopitar, Evgeni Malkin, Taylor Hall, Blake Wheeler, Alex Ovechkin, Nikita Kucherov and Claude Giroux — ahead of McDavid, last season’s Hart Trophy, Art Ross Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award winner.
“Love McDavid. Wonderfully gifted, but NOT in the Hart convo for me,” Tweeted Hradek. “In fact, I’d have 7-9 guys ahead of him this season. On a bad team, he’d have to lap the field. Hasn’t done that.” He added: “In no particular order: MacKinnon, Kopitar, Malkin, Hall, Barkov, Wheeler, Ovechkin, Kucherov & Giroux. Just my opinion. Winning matters.”
Yes, winning matters. As far as “lapping the field,” which is what Mario Lemieux did when he won the Hart Trophy in 1988 with the non-playoff Pittsburgh Penguins, that’s not going to happen with McDavid. With 102 points going into Vancouver, it looks like the red-hot McDavid will win his second straight scoring title unless he slips and falls down the stairs, but not by the kind of margin (19 points) Mario did.
I’m not going to tell Hradek that he’s wrong for weighing team success more heavily than I did. I just don’t see it the same way he does in this situation. As is the case every year, every PHWA voter will apply their own take on what constitutes the “player judged most valuable to his team” with the public (for the first time) able to see who voted for whom. Former player Ray Ferraro, for my money one of the best analysts in the business, had a discussion about the Hart Trophy race with Jason Gregor on TSN 1260 today.
“There’s so much debate about this now,” Ferraro said. “What does the award really mean? Does it matter if your team makes the playoffs or not? There’s so many more things to take into weight. Each voter has to take that, I think, and seriously look at what it means to them. Not just vote because you’re hoping that nobody bugs you after you vote.
“Does it matter to you if they make the playoffs or not? And if it does or doesn’t, then that’s going to be part of your criteria. If it does matter and so you’re going to weight McDavid poorly because his team’s not going to make the playoffs, then you can’t tell anybody that you’ve got Nathan MacKinnon first because they’re not in the playoffs yet.
“Like, if they lose on the last day of the year, that means you’ve got to throw your ballot away if you have Nathan MacKinnon first. If you think McDavid can’t win the Hart because he’s not in the playoffs, then you have to make sure MacKinnon is in too. I can almost guarantee you people will use that argument one way and not apply it to everybody.”
THE WAY I SEE IT
When it comes to the Hart Memorial Trophy, I think the voters get it right most years. For fans who put more weight in the Ted Lindsay Award (Most Outstanding Player), as voted on by the players, it’s worth noting that in seven of the last 10 years the Hart and Lindsay winners were the same. The three exceptions came in 2013 (Ovechkin-Hart/Sidney Crosby-Lindsay), 2011 (Corey Perry-Hart/Daniel Sedin-Lindsay) and 2010 (Henrik Sedin-Hart/Ovechkin-Lindsay).
My experience in the years I was the chairman for the Edmonton chapter of the PHWA is that voters take what they do seriously. Fans might not always agree (maybe seldom) with how the voting goes, but the process has always been a matter of much discussion and debate – it just wasn’t out there for all to see like it is now with social media. Hradek and others are up-front with their positions today as they were years ago. I can respect that without agreeing.