hart trophy debate

I was thinking a little bit about the Hart Trophy last night, and I came to this conclusion: if you’re one of the people who actually uses the most literal definition of the award - “to the player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team” - then you’re rendering it a pretty pointless award.

Let’s go for a walk.

I was privileged enough to vote last year (you can see how I voted here, with explanations), and I used the following tweets from Tyler Dellow in that post to highlight why I was voting the way I was. I also specified that I think “lunatic” is a bit much, but anyway, here we go:

“Player adjudged most valuable to his team” can mean two things. The lunatic interpretation is “Player whose share of the total value of his team is greatest.” This is the one people are adopting. The sane people interpretation is “Player who provides the most value to his team” with “value” being simply a raw counting number, not factoring in how much total value his team has. I mean, on the criteria these people are explicitly adopting, Zack Stortini could win the Hart, if you put him on a team with 19 mes. “Well, that team was the worst team in NHL history, but Stortini is undeniably miles ahead of all those Dellows.”


I got to rehashing this while watching a debate on TSN over who should win the much-venerated award, and a couple respectable panelists made the case for John Tavares, who is amazing and extremely valuable and yada yada yada, but…are you serious? You wouldn’t vote for Sidney Crosby at this point in the NHL season? Someone get me a paper bag I’m freaking out.

If you actually want to go “Guy who is basically the best player on his team by the largest margin,” then hell, you can start getting really weird with your choice. Buffalo’s brutal, but without Ryan Miller they would be a la-ha-ha-haughingstock. Jiri Hudler has almost twice as many points as the next-best player on Calgary. Ben Bishop is dragging the Lightning to playoffs. There’s that bizarre idea of value everywhere.

So my point is, after that long walk, let’s say the Hart was for “value provided to team,” literally. What would be the point of that? What are we trying to identify? The worst team who had the most disproportionately great player? That’s just a luck award for one of the league’s best players. It would be pointless. And rookie of the year goes to rookie who most outperforms the team’s second best rookie.

So ANYWAY. If it wasn’t clear by now, my Hart Trophy to date would go to Sidney Crosby, because I believe him to be the player who gives his team the most, whether they need him to or not.


(Note: incidentally, Crosby has been in on more of his team’s goals this year than any player in the league, so he’s got everyone’s vote at this point. Nice and easy when that happens.)

Comments (18)

  1. Sorry, but it sounds like you’re describing the Ted Lindsay Award, not the Hart.

    I guess I’m a purist (like a lunatic, but with dignity), but the award is what it is. Maybe we shouldn’t attach as much value to the Hart if it’s strictly a “player who single-handedly drags a sucky team into mediocrity” award, but that’s what the description calls for. If you don’t like it, either change the conditions of the award or maybe don’t pay so much attention to an award that, yes, basically rewards a good player for continuing to be good despite being surrounded by anchors. It’s like a team MVP, but who’s the MOSTEST VP?

    We got the Ross, the Richard, and the Lindsay awards – let the Crosbys and Ovechkins have those.

    • Citing the Ross and Richard awards is just silly when they are pure counting trophies. It’s like citing the Jenning Trophy for goalies when everyone knows it’s the Vezina that matters.

      • Well yeah, that’s why I was talking about the Lindsay as a “best player in the league” award already existing. My point is that the best-best players win plenty of awards already, the “counting” ones and the “straight-up best” one.
        The most valuable To His Team award, though, is a different animal and, I think, should be respected as such.

        • That’s fine if you choose to believe that’s what the award is for (though check the historical voting, you’d be in the minority), but the point I’m trying to make is that IF you believe what you do, you must think it’s a stupid award then, no? I mean, what kind of trophy is it then?

          “Congrats on being the guy who was by the widest margin better than the rest of his team.” It’d just be a luck-based award.

          “You had a great year, but unfortunately your team had a second great player, therefore you’re ineligible.”

          • Well, being in the minority doesn’t make you wrong, does it? :))

            And yeah, maybe that makes the Hart a dumb award. But hey, I didn’t write the conditions for it, nor did I tell anyone that the Hart deserved the respect that it gets.
            I just think that if you want to change those conditions, that’s fine, but I don’t see any need to disregard them when we already have the Lindsay award. Maybe we should give more respect to the winner of THAT award instead of the Hart, and give the Hart to the “lucky” bastard who’s the only good player on a terrible team.

            Actually, when I think of it in those terms, maybe that makes the Hart more tolerable in terms of following the letter of its description: You’re 2012-13 Tavares or 2013-14 Miller or Hudler or someone like that, you’re probably having a fairly miserable time carrying your terrible team on your back but you still give it your all and you put up good numbers in spite of being surrounded by plugs. Why don’t you deserve an award for that?

            And hey, I’m just the guy who actually reads the instructions that come with the award. I’m not saying that luck doesn’t figure into it, or that it’s kind of dumb, or that it would make the award less venerable if we took those instructions more seriously. But hey, them’s the instructions. You want to change them, go right ahead. But until then, that’s what we got.

          • It kind of is silly to have two awards for the same thing, though. Do we have to work that hard to placate the PHWA and/or NHLPA?

            Since getting rid of an award is probably non-starter, what I’d kind of like to see is one of two things:
            a.) the Lindsay morphs kind of into “this player was the best even if something got in the way (e.g. Crosby in a year when he missed a big chunk of the season due to injury) while the Hart stays basically as it currently is…


            b.) the Lindsay stays basically as it currently is, the Hart morphs kind of into “guy who carried his team who wouldn’t be a total laugher as a contender for the Lindsay” (basically the Lindsay finalist who had the least to work with)

            Basically I want at least some reason for them to potentially be different once in a while beyond just “the two different groups of voters didn’t agree.”

    • Saying that the award HAS to be interpreted as “player whose share of his team’s total value is greatest” is very flawed and not backed by the history of who has won the award. While it is true that there are two ways to interpret it, the award is only logical if it is interpreted as “player who provides the most value to his team regardless of overall value of his team”. Otherwise, as Jason stated, you are rewarding a player for being the best on a mediocre team which is based on pure luck. How many years could Rick Nash and Marian Gaborik won the award if that were the case? By your logic, Sidney Crosby would have been more valuable in his 1st/2nd years when the Pens were still terrible than he is right now? Luckily those who vote on the awards at least get the concept right. Who is the most valuable to his team regardless of total team value may be contested but at least the voters haven’t historically given the award to a player just for being great on a bad team. I don’t think there should be any question that Sidney Crosby is the most valuable player in the NHL and has been this season.

  2. Oddly enough ExtraSkater recently looked at “Player’s Share of their Team’s Goals” and Crosby leads the league having been involved in 44.4% of the Penguins goals. Tavares is just behind him at 43.4%. So even by the literal definition of player most valuable to his team, the obvious choice is Crosby.

  3. I think this is a weird spot where the CFL (yep, the CFL) has things sorted out better than the big four by having the MOP (Most Outstanding Player) award… If things went purely off of “value” to the team there would be a lot more goalies in the Hart conversation.

    Also, the question you’re then asking is not “which player do I think is the most valuable if I had him on my team” but “which individual had the best season”.. because Sidney Crosby may be the one player in the league you’d pick to play on your roster, but the fact is that someone could have a crazy good year and deserve it more than Crosby for that year.

  4. I think the best way to think of the Hart trophy when considering ‘most valuable’ is the following hypothetical:

    “Which guy, if traded to one of the bottom 3 teams in the league, would improve them the most?”

    I say bottom 3 because it allows you to kinda offset the relative ‘strengths’ of the bad teams (in the sense that dropping an elite-level goalie on Buffalo isn’t gonna make as much difference above Miller as sending them to, for example, Edmonton or Calgary for example).

    • This is a pretty clever way to think about it.

      But I’d modify your description to permanently read, “Which player could help Edmonton actually make a playoff push?”

  5. Another way to look at it – with a monetary value perspective:

    Two teams of 10. On Team A 9 players bring $1 of value to the team and the 10th brings $10 of value.

    On Team B, 9 players bring $9 of value, and the 10th brings $15.

    Who has brought the most “value” to his team. From a relative standpoint, the player from Team A who has brought more than 50% of the value to his team. From an absolute standpoint, the player on Team B has brought 50% more value to his team than the player from Team A, who would have been only slightly better than average on Team B.

    I’m with Justin on this – the player from Team B deserves the award.

    • I guess we could use a GVT measurement like Hockey Prospectus. Assuming the numbers are good it gives you how many ‘extra’ goals a player is worth over an average AHL callup.

  6. For the most part I don’t pay much attention to NHL awards for this reason. Also, the awards ceremony is filled with awkward moments between every hockey cliche out there.

    I don’t mind the awards based on pure stats, but they also have their pitfalls (tell me Crawford wins the Jennings last year but with a Oilers jersey on).

    The voting awards have so many problems with them. I think most people would agree there’s some sort of east coast bias (see 2001-02 Hart Trophy). Also, PK Subban for Norris Trophy? The guy wasn’t even a lock for Team Canada. There seems to be quite a few writers who vote just to break the mold (someone thought Nabokov should be the starting all-star goalie last year). And then there’s guys who I’m not sure even watch hockey who seem to have a vote – again going back to last year’s all-star voting with Ovechkin starting on both the left and right side.

    Usually when Duthie and the panel starts debating who should win what, I find it’s time to change the channel.

    • And don’t even get me started how goalies are eligible for the Hart and Conn Smythe awards. They play the most important position, of course they’re going to be the most valuable.

      • And yet goalies rarely win the Hart (2 in last 15 years) and only occasionally win Smythe (5 in 15 years).

        All time it is 13 of 48 for Smythe (27%) and 7 of 89 for Hart (7.8%)

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