The NHL will reveal the winner of the Hart Trophy on Wednesday, awarded by the members of the Professional Hockey Writer’s Association for the “player judged most valuable to his team.” This year will be particularly tricky to handicap, since along with Washington Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin and New York Islanders center John Tavares is Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price, making it difficult to make an apples-to-apples comparison of their performances.
Ovechkin won his fifth goal-scoring title this season with 53 goals in 81 games, which ranks 27th all time after you adjust for the scoring environment. The Russian superstar scored 10 more goals than the league’s second leading goal scorer (Steven Stamkos, 43) while only two other players (Stamkos and Rick Nash) scored more than 40 goals on the season. Tavares had a career year, producing 38 goals and 86 points for the Islanders. Tavares scored more points per 60 minutes than Ovechkin (2.2 vs. 1.8), largely due to his ability to create scoring chances.
Of the 336 even-strength shot attempts created by Tavares, 74.1 percent of those were labeled as scoring chances, and 48.6 percent of those scoring chances were considered dangerous, either originating in the slot, off the rush or via a rebound. A little more than half of Ovechkin’s shot attempts were chances (51.5 percent) and less than a third (31.3 percent) of those were considered dangerous. Still, Tavares barely edged Ovechkin in goals per 60 minutes of even-strength ice time, 1.03 to 1.01.
When Ovechkin skated at evens, the Capitals saw 53.7 percent of all shot attempts in their favor, similar to Tavares’ impact with the Islanders (54.9 percent). Tavares saw a higher percentage of his starts in the offensive zone (40.1 vs. 37.0 percent for Ovechkin), so that could explain some of the difference. But on the power play, no one can match Ovechkin’s production.
Ovechkin scored 25 goals with the man advantage over 302.7 minutes of playing time for 4.96 goals per 60. Tavares produced 13 goals over 302.9 power-play minutes for 2.57 goals per 60. And The Great Eight outshot Tavares more than two-to-one on the power play, contributing to a huge advantage in overall shot attempts over the course of the season.
According to all-in-one stats like Hockey-Reference’s point shares (12.6 for Ovechkin, 11.2 for Tavares) and War on Ice’s wins above replacement (25.5 for Ovechkin, 21.83 for Tavares), Ovechkin should get the benefit of the doubt.
But would the voters name Price as the league’s most valuable player over Ovechkin? History shows they haven’t in the past.
Price has the chance to become only the third goalie in 50 years to win the MVP award. Jose Theodore was the last goaltender to win it in 2002; Dominik Hasek was the other, winning in 1997 and 1998. The last goalie to be nominated was Henrik Lundqvist after the 2011-12 season.
Price led the league in overall save percentage (.933) and had the fourth highest save percentage on high-danger shots among goaltenders playing at least 3,000 minutes.
But being considered one of the league’s best goalies hasn’t translated into votes for the Hart. Since 2005-06, here is how the top goalie finished in the voting:
- 2006: Miikka Kiprusoff, third with 24 first-place votes
- 2007: Roberto Luongo, second with 25 first-place votes
- 2008: Martin Brodeur, fifth with one first-place vote
- 2009: Steve Mason, fourth with no first-place votes
- 2010: Ryan Miller, fourth with 13 first-place votes
- 2011: Pekka Rinne, fourth with one first-place vote
- 2012: Henrik Lundqvist, third with two first-place votes
- 2013: Sergei Bobrovsky, fifth with four first-place vote
- 2014: Semyon Varlamov, fourth with one first-place vote
And of those nine goalies above, just five were awarded the Vezina trophy by the league’s general managers as the goaltender who is “adjudged to be the best at this position.” Compare that to how the league’s best scorer has fared in the voting:
2006: Joe Thornton, top point scorer
2007: Sidney Crosby, top point scorer
2008: Alex Ovechkin, top point scorer and top goal scorer
2009: Alex Ovechkin, top goal scorer
2010: Henrik Sedin, top point scorer
2011: Corey Perry, top goal scorer
2012: Evgeni Malkin, top point scorer
2013: Alex Ovechkin, top goal scorer
2014: Sidney Crosby, top point scorer
If Ovechkin does win his fourth career MVP award, he will join Wayne Gretzky (nine times), Gordie Howe (six times) and Eddie Shore (four times) as the only players to have won the award at least four times.
If he doesn’t, it can be considered an upset.
Note: I am a member of the international chapter of the PHWA but do not participate in the voting for the year-end awards.