In a world where participation gets you a trophy, it’s probably not surprising to read someone making a case for more than the standard three candidates for a regular season award. If any award is worthy of more candidates, though, it’s the Hart Trophy.
For those that side with James Harrison (myself included), hear me out.
To understand which player is worthy of this prestigious honor, the NHL defines the Hart Memorial Trophy as being awarded “to the player judged to be the most valuable to his team.” It is voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association (PHWA) in all NHL cities.
The key for voters to remember is the last part of the statement (“to his team”). This is simply not awarded to the best player, per se, nor is it awarded to the leading point scorer at the end of the regular season. Although, the most valuable to his team and leading point scorer do often go hand-in-hand. However, it’s simply not cut and dry in most years.
Currently, the system for determining candidates mirrors that of any major award in sports or film: three candidates are selected based on the total number of votes and a winner is crowned at the NHL’s annual awards show in June. It’s a standard practice that most people don’t question because it’s time-tested in every industry.
But, again, that wording.
If the trophy is truly awarded to the most valuable to his team, should every team not nominate a candidate?
This practice is applied to the Bill Masterton Trophy, which is awarded to the player “who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey.” Every team nominates a player and the winner is announced at the awards show. The Hart Trophy, arguably the league’s top regular season honor, could receive the same treatment.
3 Reasons to Change the Hart Trophy Voting Process
Every team has a candidate. For every team that has seen success, there is usually one or two players who stand out from the rest and helped their team reach the Stanley Cup playoffs or come close to it. For the Colorado Avalanche, Nathan MacKinnon has seemingly reached superstar status, scoring 92 points in 68 games, the fewest games played by any player in the top-15 scorers. For the New Jersey Devils, it’s Taylor Hall, who recorded an impressive 26-game point streak earlier this season and leads the Devils with 85 points, which is 36 points ahead of the team’s second leading scorer. Then there’s Nikita Kucherov, whose 96 points is second to only Connor McDavid, but also led the scoring race for 9/10ths of the season. Don’t forget about Evgeni Malkin, Claude Giroux, Anze Kopitar and William Karlsson, all of whom are having monster seasons and are leading their teams to either playoff berths or keeping their teams in the playoff hunt.
Granted, the opposite side of this are the teams who were eliminated from playoff contention weeks ago (or have been out of the playoff race for some time). The Buffalo Sabres, Chicago Blackhawks and Ottawa Senators would all have to name a candidate, even though this was a lost season for them. However, each team likely had someone who played well all season long, despite the lack of team success, and would still be mentioned as a positive influence to his club.
Unlikely candidates may be chosen. Especially for the teams who aren’t contributing to the NHL playoff race, this is an opportune time for unlikely MVPs to shine. Depending on the process (which we will get to in a moment), players or hockey writers could potentially select a not-so-known player to be their team’s candidate, allowing for more publicity to an otherwise everyday player. For example, the Minnesota Wild’s obvious candidate is Eric Staal, who has returned to the NHL spotlight with 40 goals and 73 points in 76 games this season. However, defenseman Jared Spurgeon, who is unfortunately sidelined for the rest of the season, may have received some consideration for his commendable play. The sound defenseman is one point shy of his career best 38 points (2016-17), and was a shot-blocking and scoring chance-ending phenom until his injury, helping secure victories since October.
Another example would be Alexander Edler of the Vancouver Canucks. Although the Canadian team’s playoff hopes flamed out months ago, the 12-season veteran has been a stalwart on the defensive side of the ice, leading his team in almost every defensive category. Allowing the 31-year-old the opportunity to participate in his first NHL Awards Show would be a nice gesture in what was otherwise a forgettable season in the Rain City.
The presentation at the NHL Awards Show. Just like we saw this past season with the Vegas Golden Knights roster announcement, this new element to the awards show can add some much-needed flavor to the NHL’s offseason showcase. After an award is handed out, the host can cut to a special section of the stage, where known NHL analysts list a few of the 31 candidates at a time. Although we live in an age where social media will leak these names well before the show, it will still add intrigue throughout the program.
The New Process
If there is a downside to this proposed change, it’s how the process would work. Would players be voting on an award that is selected by the PHWA? If not, how can a rather small list of writers determine 31 candidates for the Hart Trophy?
If players voted, it could be a sticky situation. You want this to be determined by a selection committee who has the opportunity to watch all 31 teams. This could be rectified by all 31 teams providing a ballot to its players, then the list of 31 candidates is sent to the PHWA voters, who then make the selection based on their vote totals.
In this scenario, though, it may be a wiser option to make this new process for the Ted Lindsay Award, which is the same as the Hart Trophy except that it is voted by the players. That way the players select a candidate from their team, then pick from the 31 candidates across the league.
If writers voted, maybe the league expands the committee to all media members within that organization. In layman’s terms, if you have a press pass, you get a vote on the Hart Trophy candidate from the team you cover. The NHL then reveals the 31 candidates to the PHWA and votes are tabulated as they are now.
Showcasing more NHL talent can only prove to be a positive move for the NHL. Even James Harrison would have a tough time arguing that point.
[See related: What Wins the Norris: Offense or Defense?]
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