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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Hart Trophy Will Become Annual Debate in Edmonton

For the fourth consecutive season, an Edmonton Oilers player will finish in the top-five of voting for the Hart Memorial Trophy. It is very likely Leon Draisaitl will be one of the three finalists for the “player judged most valuable to his team” trophy. And with Draisaitl under contract to the Oilers for at least another five seasons, and Connor McDavid signed for six more, Oilers fans should get used to having someone from the Orange and Blue in the Hart discussion every year.

And with that comes certain guidelines.

As a member of the Professional Hockey Writer’s Association, I think it is important to point out a few things to fans who get emotionally invested in the voting.

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I wouldn’t expect anything less from fans. You want the player you cheer for to win. It is understandable. Feel free to discuss with a voter who they voted for. It is why the PHWA decided to make the votes public a few years ago. The one time I think  Oilers fans had a legit beef about a player losing an award was the 2011/2012 Calder vote. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins finished second in voting, but he didn’t lose to an Eastern Conference player. He lost to Gabriel Landeskog of the Colorado Avalanche. They both finished with 52 points, but RNH played 20 fewer games. He only played 62 games (75%) of the season, which is the only reason I can think of why Landeskog had 116 first place votes to RNH’s 16.

So please stop with the “Eastern Bias” line. It is incorrect, and if you use it you are only diminishing your argument.

Over the past five seasons the PHWA has voted on 25 trophies. Each year they vote on The Hart, Lady Byng, Norris, Selke and Calder (5×5=25). And a player from the Western Conference has won 14 times while an Easteen player has won 11. Over the past decade each conference has had 25 winners. Please stop with the Eastern bias refrain. It isn’t part of the discussion today. If you say it was there during previous decades at times, that is fair, but it doesn’t exist now.

The PHWA has over 320 members, but now only 155 vote on the awards. This is done so each region has equal representation. Some markets have more members, but not every member gets a vote.

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This season, 175 people were issued ballots — the 155 members of the PHWA as well as 20 International Broadcasters. 172 filled out their ballots. The three who didn’t fill their out likely won’t get a ballot in the future.

In 2018, the PHWA wisely decided to make votes public. The awards are important. It is a huge honour and making the votes public held voters more accountable. You should be proud of your vote and be able to defend why you made that choice. And just because a fan, agent, player, coach or other media member disagrees with who a voter voted for, it doesn’t make them right. There will always be some aspect of personal opinion involved. We can discuss it and debate it.

HOW VOTING WORKS…

Each member is asked to submit their top-five choices for the Hart, Lady Byng, Calder, Selke and Norris trophy. Votes are calculated based on a value of 10-7-5-3-1.

The PHWA also votes on the First and Second All-star teams by submitting their top-three centres, right and left wingers, goalies and top-six D-men. The PHWA also votes on the all-rookie team by submitting top-three forwards (any position), two defence and one goalie.

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Some years the winners were obvious to me, while other years I agonized over who to rank #1 or #2 or even #3, #4 or #5. Ultimately you have to make a decision and many times there is an iota of difference between which player I ranked higher. But you have to make a choice and you can really like both players, but only one can be #1 or #2 etc. It is a fun challenge, because some people will value one stat more than the next voter. There isn’t one stat that automatically trumps the others.

We can always find one stat to back up our decision, but it is never that simple. If it was it would be boring.

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HART RACE…

Connor McDavid won the Hart in 2017, finished fifth in 2018 and third last year. I don’t expect him to be a finalist this year, because Draisaitl is the top candidate for the Oilers. He had a stellar season, but so too did Nathan MacKinnon and Artemi Panarin.

The challenge with Panarin is that the Rangers weren’t in a playoff spot when the season was postponed on March 11th.

The Rangers had a 24.2% chance of making the post-season. But that is only a number. None of us know for sure what would have happened in the final three weeks. Connor McDavid didn’t win in 2018, because the Oilers weren’t a playoff team. I think that is a valid argument. He had a very strong season, no debate, but so too did Taylor Hall and MacKinnon, and their teams made the playoffs. That was the difference for many people, including myself, and that is why I had Hall and MacKinnon ranked #1 and #2 that year.

Ranking Panarin was difficult, because you can’t downplay his season. It was remarkable.

He led the NHL in even strength points with 71, as well as 5×5 points with 59 and when he was on the ice he outscored opponents 75-38. He also heavily outperformed his teammates when you look at “Relative to competition” courtesy of PuckIQ. 

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He had a great season, but the challenge is voting when there was no playoffs. The Rangers made the qualifying round, which isn’t officially the playoffs from a 16-team standpoint. They might have had we completed the regular season, but we will never know, and that makes his evaluation difficult.

If a voter didn’t have McDavid on their ballot last year for missing the playoffs, despite having a pretty solid season, how much higher can Panarin be this year? If you compare Panarin’s season this year to McDavid’s last season, it was just as good, and arguably better. But was it that much better to have him go from off the ballot to winning if you assumed the Rangers weren’t making the playoffs? I think those are fair questions. And I’m sure some will point out how missing the playoffs by one, two or three points is different than missing by 17. Different yes, but same result: golfing while 16 teams battle for the Cup.

And this is where it is a blessing that votes are public. We can see who people voted for this year and in the previous two. If there is someone you disagree with, I recommend asking them a question about it. (Here’s a tip: if you reach out asking a question, rather than attacking them, your probability of getting a response will be much higher.)

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You can see the 2018 votes here.

You can read the 2019 voting results here.

I also don’t believe in punishing a player on a good team. Nikita Kucherov was the runaway winner last year. He produced the most points we’ve seen since 1996, and he was 30 points ahead of his closest teammate. He was dominant and deserving.

Some Oilers fans complained because McDavid didn’t win, but if you felt Kucherov wasn’t deserving because he was on a good team, do you feel the same about Draisaitl this season? He was on pace to tie Kucherov’s totals last season. He had an outstanding season offensively, but his month of December wasn’t pretty. It was a massive outlier as he was outscored 23-3 at 5×5, and his overall defensive numbers took a major blow. The rest of the season Draisaitl outscored teams 66-39 when he was on the ice at 5×5. However, we can’t simply ignore December. It is part of the season, and if he was just average that month I think he would have been a runaway winner. But I suspect the vote will be very close, and you can make a solid argument for Draisaitl, MacKinnon and Panarin.

WHY ONLY NOTICE NEGATIVE?

Mar 3, 2020; Dallas, Texas, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Leon Draisaitl (29) during the game between the Stars and the Oilers at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

I’m curious why we get more upset about something we disagree with than something we agree with. I think we are all guilty of it at times, even though it isn’t rational.

I received many texts and tweets the past week about the Hart. Some included “Eastern Bias,” others mentioned “voters are moving the goalposts, because Panarin is in the discussion.”

We don’t even know who won, but already some Oilers fans were fired up because a voter was in favour of Panarin. I can see why. Panarin had a great season. So did MacKinnon. And Draisaitl.

But when PHWA voter Greg Wyshynski points out strengths for both Panarin and MacKinnon, why freak about it? Make no mistake, Greg knows how to push some fan base’s buttons, and I’m sure he does it for fun some times. Kudos to you Greg — I know you are reading this — but also eff you, because I get bombarded with questions about it (haha)!

Read this tweet from another voter, Eric Engels. If Wyshynski’s points frustrate you, shouldn’t this tweet excite you?

Engels and Wyshynski each get one ballot. One doesn’t count more than the other, but based on my feed many of you focused more on the anti-Draisaitl talk than on those promoting Draisaitl.

I love the passion, but before you get upset about who won, or make claims that the goalposts are moving, let’s see who wins.

Panarin, MacKinnon and Draisaitl have strong cases.

RECENTLY BY JASON GREGOR