Quick quiz: how many goaltenders have won the NHL’s Hart Trophy?
It doesn’t happen often. Similar to pitchers winning the MVP in baseball, a goalie will seem to have more of an opening to win the Hart if there's no overwhelming favourite in the "normal" pool of players. Over the past decade it has happened a few times, which may mean newer NHL fans may not realize just how infrequently it happens. A likely reason that we’ve seen more goalies as Hart finalists of late is the dearth of scoring over the past ten-plus years. The most recent –
This isn’t meant to take anything away from those seasons by Hasek and Theodore – they were worthy winners – but it’s hard not to think that had the NHL had an era of scoring like the early 80s, where getting 112 points might get you no higher than eighth in the league (Bobby Smith, Minnesota – 1982), that an offensive player wouldn’t have won in at least one of those seasons.
So even if we all remember the last decade, the gap before Hasek to the previous goalie to win the Hart goes way back - 35 years, to be exact - to Montreal's legendary Jacques Plante in 1962. The 1950s saw two goalies win the Hart, with the Chicago Blackhawks’ Al Rollins taking it in 1954 and the New York Rangers’ Chuck Rayner winning in 1950. Before that you have to go back to 1929 and the old New York Americans when
And that's it. Only seven times in 82 years has the award been given to a goaltender. Overall the award winners are highly skewed to forwards, especially centers: 63 times the winner has been a forward, with 42 of them being centers. Only 12 defencemen have brought home the trophy.
With only a few weeks left in the season, we can start to compile a short-list of Hart candidates. I've mentioned it before that I don't put much - if any - stock in who wins end-of-season awards, however it's still fascinating to talk about (that seeming dichotomy can make sense if you believe, as I do, that winning an award obviously doesn't automatically make the player the best). So having said that...who's your MVP?
I’ve created two lists of who I think are worthy candidates, dividing into A and B levels. My A-level candidates have the best chance of walking away with the Hart Trophy in June; in other words I think these will be the finalists. This doesn't necessarily correlate to "best" - as any voted-upon award, it's all subjective, but given the press generated by these players and/or the markets they play in, I'm confident this year's MVP will come from this group:
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins. Any and all accolades thrown Crosby's way are in every way deserved. Age shouldn’t be a factor in winning the Hart, but the fact that he's only 19 still has to in some way play into it. He has led the league in scoring for virtually the entire season and catapulted a young and hopeful Penguins team into the upper echelon of the East while still in his teen years. Comparisons to the one and only Wayne Gretzky are apt.
My B-level candidates are players that won't win the award for a host of reasons, but take a backseat to none of the players listed above:
Daniel Briere, Buffalo Sabres. Leading the best team in the East all year, he gets the bulk of his scoring at even-strength off the powerful
Martin St. Louis,