Wednesday, May 1, 2019

The Hart Trophy should be based on both the regular season and the playoffs (so let's repossess a few trophies)

The​ NHL revealed the​ three​ finalists​ for​ the​ Hart​ Trophy for​ league MVP on​ Sunday, and there​ were​ no major surprises.​​ The honors went to Nikita Kucherov, Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby, with everyone expecting that Kucherov will end up as the winner.

Given how voters typically treat the award, those finalists seem about right. It’s a bit of a surprise to see McDavid in the final three since his team didn’t make the playoffs, which seems to be a deal-breaker for many voters. But I had all three on my ballot, along with Johnny Gaudreau and Patrick Kane. So sure, Kucherov, Crosby and McDavid are worthy picks.

But they have something else in common: None of them won a playoff round this year. In fact, none of them even won a game.

That’s apparently the first time that’s ever happened, but it’s not far off from last year, when the top three were Nathan MacKinnon, Anze Kopitar and eventual winner Taylor Hall. None of them made it out of the first round either, as they combined for a grand total of three playoff wins. Go back through the history of the award, and this sort of thing isn’t rare. That’s because the voting is done immediately after the regular season ends, before we know how the playoffs turn out. And often, they don’t turn out very well for the Hart finalists.

Is that a problem? Maybe not, but it highlights an oddity about how we vote for the Hart. Modern voters have apparently decided that only players who make the postseason can ever be the league’s move valuable player; Mario Lemieux in 1988 was the last non-playoff participant to take home the trophy, and even being a finalist is exceedingly rare. That’s because, as it’s been explained to me, the postseason is what matters. You can rack up all the numbers you want, but if they don’t get your team into the playoffs, it was all meaningless.

But then we do the voting before the first round starts, when we have no idea if that all-important playoff berth will amount to anything. It’s a weird place to draw the line. Kucherov didn’t just have a quiet playoffs, after all, with no goals and only two points – he actively hurt his team by taking a suspension for a must-win game. And yet he’s almost certainly going to run away with the Hart voting, while guys like Kane and McDavid get left off many ballots entirely because we’re told that the playoffs are all that matter.

It’s not wrong, necessarily. Just strange. Pick a lane, you know?

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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