One of the most tiresome things about the NHL awards is that we spend as much time debating their subjective parameters as we do which players and coaches should win them.
Should the Norris Trophy rely so heavily on a defenseman’s offensive output? How much should team success factor into the Vezina Trophy’s goaltending field? Is age nothing but a number for the Calder Trophy, or should an 18-year-old’s accomplishments be weighed favorably against those of a 25-year-old who played three seasons in the KHL?
Perhaps no trophy creates more handwringing than the Hart Trophy — understandable, given the prestige an MVP award carries throughout sports. Who should win, and for what reasons, is a question that vexes voters and flummoxes fans.
So I decided to ask an actual Hart Trophy winner to find out what he thought about the award and its arbitrary parameters.
As luck would have it, I work with one that won the award twice. Consider these Mark Messier’s Rules for Hockey MVPs.
Rule No. 1: Context is king
“I never thought about winning a Hart Trophy once, to be honest with you,” said Messier, ESPN analyst and Hockey Hall of Famer, who won the award in 1989-90 with Edmonton and in 1991-92 with the New York Rangers.
Right off the bat, this surprised me. One thinks of Mark Messier as a guy born with a captain’s ‘C’ on his chest, who literally has an annual award for leadership that bears his name. A guy for whom MVP honors would be obvious, if not obligatory.
But back when Messier was teammates with Wayne Gretzky on the 1980s Edmonton Oilers, he was a foundational player for their success but not the MVP. That was Gretzky, who won the award in eight straight seasons from 1979-80 to 1986-87.
“When I was playing with Wayne, I was playing a different role. So I never thought about the Hart Trophy. Just ways to try to win the Cup every year,” Messier said.
The 1989-90 Oilers were a team trying to climb back on the throne. Edmonton didn’t advance past the second round for the first time in seven seasons in the previous playoffs. Gretzky was off in Hollywood. While the Oilers still had a stacked roster, end of the dynasty proclamations were aplenty.
Messier’s role changed a bit, post-Gretzky.
“We had a solid year. My responsibility that year, when Wayne left, was to provide more offense than I had in the past,” he said. “And we found a real groove. We probably weren’t the most talented team that won the Cup, but we certainly played well as a team.”
But he “leveled up,” and the Oilers improved year over year, and suddenly Messier was the MVP.
Rule No. 2: Career highs help
Contextually, it’s easy to see why Messier won that year for the Oilers. His 129 points in 79 games were a career best, and a leap from his 94 points in 72 games in the previous season. He scored 45 goals, his highest total since hitting 50 goals in 1981-82. Neither of these marks led the league — Messier finished second to Gretzky’s 142 points for Los Angeles while he finished tied for ninth in goals scored. But personally, it was his time to shine.
“I never saw myself in that kind of light, as a purely offensive player, before that,” Messier said.
Having a career year as a star player is a surefire way to win the Hart. Nikita Kucherov, Auston Matthews, Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid (in 2016-17) … even Taylor Hall‘s Hart win for dragging a mediocre Devils team to the playoffs was enabled by a scoring season that was 13 points better than any other season of his career.
Rule No. 3: You don’t have to make the playoffs
OK, here’s where myself and Messier differ somewhat. I’m infamously a “gotta be in it to win it” voter when it comes to Hart candidates that finish outside of the playoffs. I measure a team’s value in the NHL regular season by virtue of whether or not they earn a playoff berth. Teams that don’t have no value to me. So I can’t value a player’s value on a team that has no value, capiche?
Mario Lemieux was the last player from a non-playoff team to win MVP back in 1987-88, when Pittsburgh finished two points out of a playoff seed. McDavid came closest most recently in 2018-19, finishing third after the Oilers finished out of the money.
Messier is on the fence.
“It’s a debate that’ll go on for a long time. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer,” he said. “I think guys can have unbelievable individual seasons. Whether they’re the most valuable to their teams, that’s where the debate comes in.”
But he did offer an interesting counterargument: Why would it be OK for a player from a losing Stanley Cup team to win the Conn Smythe — something I’ve advocated for more than once — but not a player from a “losing” regular season team to win the Hart?
That gave me pause, ideologically. And then I went back to never supporting non-playoff MVP candidates, per tradition.
Rule No. 4: Yes, goalies can win
Former Detroit Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill was asked last year if a goalie should be able to win the Hart Trophy. “Goalies have their own award,” Blashill said, “but you could make a huge argument that the goalie is the most important player on the team.”
In that response, he hit on the two most controversial aspects of goalies winning the Hart: That the Vezina Trophy is “the goalie award” and that, much like quarterbacks in football, you could give a goalie the MVP award every season if you so desired, because the position is that critical.
During Messier’s career, goalies won the Hart four times, including Dominik Hasek twice. The last goalie to win MVP was Carey Price in 2014-15, the only one to take it in the cap era. When I asked Messier if goalies should win the Hart, he offered a two-word response:
“When you talk about the MVP of a team that was right on the bubble of making the playoffs … you take Shesterkin off the Rangers, was there a guy more valuable to his team than Shesterkin was to the Rangers last year?” he said. “There’s an argument that he should have won it last year.” For the record, the Rangers goalie placed third in Hart voting last season.
Messier’s 2022-23 Hart Trophy prediction: Igor Shesterkin.
All this established, let’s project some awards:
Frontrunners: Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Kirill Kaprizov, Igor Shesterkin, Leon Draisaitl, Nathan MacKinnon, Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby
Hipster picks: Cale Makar, Mark Stone, Matthew Tkachuk, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Jack Hughes
My favorite longshot: Jack Eichel
To go back to that Messier “career highs help” rule, I think Kaprizov of the Minnesota Wild has a real shot at the Hart if he somehow tops his 47-goal, 108-point effort from last season. There’s an undercurrent of support for the guy, perhaps as the bright new star in a galaxy of players that have won this award before.
Eichel is a fascinating longshot. (There are 13 players with better odds at MGM Sportsbooks, for example.) He’s a point-per-game talent on a team that many feel is on the bubble due to its goaltending — and one that missed the playoffs last season. If Eichel leads the team offensively and plays more than 70 games for the first time since 2018-19, it may not matter that Stone is the soul of the Knights. Eichel could win MVP.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman discusses Alex Ovechkin’s chase for the most career goals in NHL history.
Frontrunners: Cale Makar, Adam Fox, Roman Josi, Victor Hedman, Charlie McAvoy, Aaron Ekblad, Quinn Hughes, Kris Letang, Alex Pietrangelo
Hipster picks: Devon Toews, Jaccob Slavin, Shea Theodore, Jared Spurgeon
My favorite longshot: Miro Heiskanen
We could be at the dawn of the Makar Era, but the Norris is a fickle award when it comes to the same defenseman winning a bunch in a row. The last player to win in consecutive seasons was Nicklas Lidstrom from 2005-06 through 2007-08. The only player to win back-to-back before that was … Nicklas Lidstrom, from 2000-01 through 2002-03. I think Makar has that kind of streak in him, as he’s still improving his game year over year, which is scary.
Heiskanen of the Dallas Stars intrigues me for two reasons. First, because he’s one of the few defensemen from this wave of young stars that hasn’t gotten serious Norris consideration. Second, because he’ll get top power-play minutes with John Klingberg gone and a system from new coach Peter DeBoer that runs 5-on-5 offensive zone action through the Stars’ defensemen. Miro Heiskanen at 36 points finishes 12th for the Norris. What about at 56 points?
Frontrunners: Matty Beniers, Owen Power, Mason McTavish, Shane Wright, Cole Perfetti, Marco Rossi, Juraj Slafkovsky
Hipster picks: Alexander Holtz, Jack Quinn, Jake Sanderson
My favorite longshot: Logan Thompson
Beniers and Power, those Michigan boys, seem to have the most juice entering the season. I might like Beniers’ chances a bit better because the Kraken are so loaded on the wing. McTavish has a lot of that world juniors goodwill to his candidacy, and I think the voters will love the way he plays.
Thompson’s an obvious longshot because if the Golden Knights get average goaltending from the kid, they make the playoffs. And “rookie who steps up to save the season” is a pretty stout narrative. Remember Messier Rule No. 1: Context is king.
Frontrunners: Igor Shesterkin, Juuse Saros, Ilya Sorokin, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Jacob Markstrom, Thatcher Demko, Frederik Andersen, Connor Hellebuyck
Hipster picks: Tristan Jarry, Jake Oettinger
My favorite longshot: Jack Campbell
This is probably Shesterkin’s to lose, as it will be for quite a while. I think Vasilevskiy’s an interesting counterpoint, as he could end up being the best thing about this Lightning team. I also wonder if Hellebuyck gets back in the conversation if the Jets contend for the playoffs and a reduced workload brings his numbers back up.
My ESPN fantasy hockey friend Sean Allen picked Campbell to win the Vezina, and that’s so bonkers that I couldn’t help but make it my favorite longshot, even if I don’t see it happening. Now, Stuart Skinner on the other hand …
Frontrunners: Mike Sullivan, Rod Brind’Amour, Jared Bednar, Jon Cooper, Bruce Boudreau, Jay Woodcroft, Darryl Sutter, Bruce Cassidy, Gerard Gallant, John Hynes
Hipster picks: D.J. Smith, Don Granato, Pete DeBoer, Lane Lambert, Dean Evason
My favorite longshot: Jim Montgomery
While there are some interesting names among the frontrunners — Bruce Cassidy, Gerard Gallant and Mike Sullivan included — I can’t believe Montgomery isn’t on more radar screens. His history of overcoming addiction combined with him potentially keeping the Bruins in the playoff mix through their injury woes seems like Adams fodder, as does the way his system could return the B’s to the top of the league defensively. Yet he didn’t receive a single vote in the recent poll on NHL.com.
Seems like a pretty obvious candidate.
Then again, we don’t make the rules. Only Mark Messier does.
Jersey Foul of the week
New season. New fouls.
— Kirk O’Steen (@KirkOSteen) October 12, 2022
A quick scan of Carolina Hurricanes jersey history finds nine players that wore No. 13. Could this be a reference to Ray Whitney, Bates Battaglia or Max Domi? Probably not. A deeper internet dive finds another possibility: The death metal band Embalmer put out an album called “13 Faces of Death” in 2006, the band’s first and only full-length album. Mystery solved?
Video of the week
I had the honor of collaborating with the incredibly talented video team at SportsCenter on this Colorado Avalanche essay. Come for the mountain puns, stay for the obstacles that stand in the way of a Stanley Cup repeat.
Winners and Losers of the Week
Winner: Digital ads on the boards
I was actually surprised by how many people on my social feeds didn’t completely hate the NHL’s new digital advertising on the rink boards — the “erase and replace” tech that lays 30-second ads over the real-world logos seen inside the arena. The league did studies that indicated the digital ads were more pleasing to the eye. Some of the feedback I saw seemed to agree with it.
The verdict wasn’t unanimous — I had someone with an NHL team tell me the ads “made me nauseous.” The tech wasn’t perfect: I noticed some glitches when the bench doors opened and a flickering when a Kings player’s white jersey got too close to the boards. But the backlash wasn’t as harsh as I expected. And soon, we’ll all be used to it.
Loser: What can’t be unseen
— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) October 12, 2022
Once I saw the reflections for the “real world” ads on the ice below the new digital ads, that was all I could see. But hey, congratulations to “ATLED” and “OCIEG” on the subliminal promotion.
Winner: Donny Meatballs
Don Granato went from interim coach to head coach to earning a contract extension that’ll take him through the 2024-25 season. By then, hopefully, the Buffalo Sabres will have cycled back up to playoff contention and all his work will be rewarded. Gotta be happy when good things happen to good people.
Loser: Alberta Beef
So @EdmontonOilers please explain why Daryl Katz continues to gouge fans? Oilers+, over charging for jerseys at the team store, food prices. Funny how once the product is successful they want money money money. pic.twitter.com/yj3v79zGD9
— Brad Slater (@Iwantadonair) October 12, 2022
Twitter user Brad Slater spotted these prices at an Oilers preseason game. Look at combo No. 2 and combo No. 5. If you do the math, that’s $11 for two bags of Lay’s chips, when a 10-pack of these same chips retail for $6.99 (US).
Edmonton fans: If you keep buying these $55 combo meals, you won’t have any money for the $60 “Oilers+” streaming service that offers you a chance to hear what Warren Foegele thought of the game moments after its completion.
Winner: Vegas Golden Knights
Their opening night win over the Los Angeles Kings was a proof of concept victory. Logan Thompson plays slightly below expected (-0.37 goals saved above expected, per Evolving Hockey) but gets Vegas just enough stops to allow their loaded roster a chance to win. The Knights got a goal from the Jonathan Marchessault, from Jack Eichel, from their power play and then Mark Stone with the game-winner.
Rinse and repeat. This team needs competent goaltending, but it’ll be able to score its way out of a lot of situations.
Loser: Opening Night tradition
I can’t stop laughing this was so unnecessary pic.twitter.com/EkXmJtvfuD
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) October 11, 2022
I … don’t understand. Like, I get the sentiment: It’s a little “gentlemen start your engines,” but for hockey. But given by a ref before a faceoff, with not one player paying attention, made this speech seem absolutely superfluous. Chris Rooney’s delivery of “what’s better than this?” reminded me of a high-school principal hyping the annual faculty talent show. If we’re doing this again, we’re doing it with Wes McCauley, or we’re not doing this again.
Could the NHL one day use puck and player tracking technology to call penalties? “There may be a way where we will leverage it for on-ice officiating to know exactly where the stick is, where the limbs are. We could be using that potentially for officiating in a game or a video review that needs to get looked at.”
Enjoyed this piece about Buffalo Sabres center Tage Thompson and his wife Rachel. “They are entrenched in the city where they have grown together and endured what Rachel described as ‘the lowest points in our lives.’”
Before a moment with the crowd that felt like a farewell, Carey Price spoke with The Athletic about his future. “It’s not a great-looking outlook as far as a hockey career when you’re struggling to get up and down stairs.”
The Minnesota Wild had yard signs for fans to declare that hockey was back.
Ian Kennedy on the Hockey Canada scandal and its fallout: “With Hockey Canada’s board of directors and CEO gone, the process of changing hockey’s toxic culture, and challenging the power dynamics and structures of the game can now begin.”
The Ringer’s NHL season entrance survey includes topics like “Which preseason favorite has the biggest chance of flopping?” and “How excited/concerned are you about watching the Coyotes play in Mullett Arena (real name), the 5,000-seat Arizona State venue?”
The average height and weight of every NHL team this season. Someone get the Devils some Jersey Mike’s gift cards.
From your friends at ESPN
Hey kids: THE DROP is now a weekly streaming show!
Every Thursday, @Arda and I bring you interviews, rankings, rumors, and answer your NHL Qs. Can’t thank ESPN enough for helping us create a cool and different kind of hockey show.
— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) October 12, 2022
Very excited to share that Arda Ocal and I are bringing “The Drop” to the NHL on ESPN YouTube channel, with new episodes dropping every Thursday. ESPN was kind enough to allow our particular brand of whimsy a place to flourish and we hope you’ll join us for the ride!
Source : Sky.com