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Photo Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The Hart Debate: About Connor

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.”

THE DEBATE

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.

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  • TKB2677

    I think what happens is McDavid won’t win the hart because even though it does not say it in the description of the award, it’s apparent that many of the people that vote on it, view it as a team award. Even though hockey is a big time team sport, if your team underperforms you will be punished as a player for it even if it is not your fault. McDavid will be punished because a whole wack of his teammates had bad years. The Oilers goalie had a bad year and cost them many games by letting in crap goals but McDavid will be punished for it. Klefbom has apparently had a shoulder injury for years that didn’t affect him, well it did this year and he sucked. Benning took 2 steps back and was terrible. Larsson had a bad year, partly due to being banged up, partly due to family issues but regardless he wasn’t as good. Sekera got injured, came back and has been worse than anyone could have expected. All of that happened, McDavid doesn’t even play defense but he will be punished for it.
    At forward. Lucic is having the worst year of his career. Caggulia didn’t progress what so ever. Slep didn’t progress what so ever. Kassian has taken a step back. Letestu took a major step back. Maroon wasn’t even as good as he was the year before. Puljujarvi was slow to develop. Strome took longer than he should have to get comfortable, Nuge missed 1/4 of the season but McDavid will be punished for it.

    I think McDavid will win the Ted Lindsay which is the award for the best player. He is probably going to win the scoring title by 10+ pts that is WITH him being extremely sick for over a month.

    • RJ

      I agree with most of this but Sekera’s injury recovery is pretty common. It’s only going to be next season that you’ll see Sekera close to his pre-injury form.

      You can’t predict that Klefbom is going to have a bum shoulder, but you should expect injuries in the lineup.

      Did Chia use the cap space to deal with it? No, but this affects the Hart possibility.

  • Leaking5w-30

    Honestly I think that value to team can be mostly quantified.

    I’d like to suggest that one of the quants at ON write an article that compairs top heart candidates in terms of 1) the % of team goals they scored or assisted on. 2) % of team goals they were on the ice for 3) individual vs team plus minus, corsi and fenick. To me these comparisons would get at “value to team”

    • oilerjed

      I thought it was a typo but turns out I learned a new word today. Thanks!

      Quants – A quantitative analyst or, in financial jargon, a quant is a person who specializes in the application of mathematical and statistical methods – such as numerical or quantitative techniques – to financial and risk management problems.

  • TKB2677

    https://www.tsn.ca/nhl/statistics

    Link to the current scoring race on TSN.

    In the Hart race, I have heard the names of McDavid, Kucherov, Malkin, MacKinnon and maybe Hall or Kopitar the most often. Look at the PP points McDavid has – 18 – vs everyone else. The next closest is 29 from MacKinnon. I think the Oilers PP has been partly on the players but a TON on the coaches. I think their system sucks and for most of the season they weren’t playing the right guys. Their insistence of Letestu being on the #1 PP unit until basically he was traded when he didn’t have it was stupid. McDavid had 27 PP points last year. If he had similar numbers, he’d be winning the scoring title but 15 pts so face and it would be a no doubter and the Oilers would probably be in the playoff race. Look at the amount of PK time McDavid gets compared to all the others I listed. Other than Kopitar, it’s not even CLOSE.

    So to me who’s the most valuable to their team? The guy who scores all almost ALL of his points 5 on 5 when it is the toughest to score PLUS plays PK time or the guy who plays next to no PK time and scores a significant amount of his points on the PP when it’s easier to score?

  • Spaceman Spiff

    The ironic thing about all of this, of course, is that a certain-Oilers-great benefited from the “best-player-is-the-MVP” argument quite a few times. Gretz won the Hart Trophy nine times in the 1980s and there were least three occasions when there were reasonable arguments to be made that he wasn’t the nominee who was “most valuable to his team.”

    There were more than a few hockey wags back in the day who suggested that Mike Luit (1981), Pete Peeters (1983) and Dale Hawerchuk (1985) were probably more valuable to their respective teams than #99 was on his team, which had a galaxy of stars at the time.

    In a lot of ways, Gretzky created a conundrum for Hart Trophy every year. He redefined what the Hart was about because he was so darn … well … great. He was far-and-away the best player in the world, how could he not be the “most valuable” to his team?

    I was 15 years old in 1988 when Mario ended Gretzky’s eight-year Hart-winning streak and I can remember how “insulting” it was. The Penguins had missed the playoffs and Gretzky had gotten hurt partway through the 1987-88 season, which essentially handed the Art Ross to Lemieux. If Gretzky doesn’t get hurt, he wins the scoring race, and likely the Hart (although, it could also be noted that the Hart runner-up that year, Grant Fuhr, probably deserved it more than Mario or Gretzky did).

    Ironically, Gretzky’s last Hart win was probably the one in which he was a legit “MVP to his team.” He meant everything to the Kings in 1988-89 – so much that he was able to beat out Mario even though #66 put up, like, 199 points that year.

    Up until 1994, the Western Hockey League handed out the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy to its “most valuable player.” After that, the Dub tweaked it so it was awarded to the “player of the year,” presumably to give voters more flexibility on weighing “league MVP” versus “best player in the league.” Maybe the NHL needs to make that tweak, too.

    Either way – I don’t think we should expect McDavid to win the Hart, or be insulted if he doesn’t. The Hart’s always been open to interpretation.

  • McDavid's Comet

    A lot of the media people (whom are eligible to vote) also picked Edmonton to contend for the cup this year. They may be a little embarrassed that Edmonton didn’t even make playoffs after such predictions, so I wouldn’t be all that surprised if they are including that as apart of their voting considerations. I’m not saying they are spiteful, but (as we all are) quite disappointed in the Oilers results this year. That could be what is swaying them from picking McDavid this season.

    • Spaceman Spiff

      Agreed. It’s probably harder than we realize to make an argument that someone should be the league MVP on a team that’s massively-underachieved this season.

  • toprightcorner

    The NHL should at an MOP award (Most Outstanding Player) that is not voted by the players. This would finally put a line in the sand to show the difference of the MVP and MOP. This would also open the opportunity for goalies and defencemen to win the Hart.

    Based on Hradek’s long list, I would have Carlson, Rinne and Hellebuyck ahead of Wheeler, Ovechkin and Giroux based on most valuable to their team.

    He may think the playoffs are the line in the sand, but he also seems to only look at offensive points and that takes the validity of most valuable to the team and turns it into most points in the league. What about Bergeron? Marchand, how is leading the NHL in PPG? To me, he sounds like a McDavid hater and that is his excuse to put him down publicly, other than that, he is basically listing the leading scorers.

  • toprightcorner

    The way McDavid is going, he could end up leading the league by 10-12 points. 4 games ago he was 5 points behind and now he has a 6 point lead. Is a 10 point lead and the 19 point lead, that Mario had, much of a difference in the different scoring eras?

    I am not saying that McDavid should win, but it seems as those who are adamant he shouldn’t are more McDavid haters than unbiased hockey, educated hockey people.

    Leading the league in points should be an automatic top 5 on everyones ballot.

  • tkfisher

    This is why hockey writers should have zero say in the matter. It should be the coaches, GMs and players that play in the league that vote for league awards. Journalist aren’t any more reliable than fan All Star ballotting. There are some great journalist out there, but there are just as many who get assigned to the position (and be more of a football or baseball guy), have little experience with hockey and don’t see all the players play as much as they should.

  • oigled

    Being valuable is about more than winning. Why is McDavid the most valuable? Because he gives me hope. Each and every night I think, “He could get three points and give us a chance to win.” It doesn’t always go according to plan, but the hope is there. (And, more often than seems humanly possible, he does go out and bag three points.)

    Don’t get me wrong, winning is important. But there is a massive difference between losing a hopeless game without McDavid and losing while watching him fly around the ice and giving us a chance to win.

    With McDavid, the Oilers lose slightly more than they win. Without McDavid, the Oilers are flat-out hopeless. He’s the most valuable player to his team.

  • SailorD81

    I think the lapping the feild argument for Mario and against Connor is a bit ridiculous. Mario did it in an era where a dirty jock strap would get 35+ goals a year. Connor has put up great numbers all while playing on a team with a historically bad PP and having to tow around the human anchor that is Lucic for far too long. Connor is far and away the best player on his team. He has a f&$@ing 34 point lead on the next closest Oiler. I think the Hart is a little over rated in terms of awards anyways, sure I was happy he won it last year but I’d be happier with the Lindsay, Art Ross and hopefully the Richard.