Monday, September 14, 2020

Does a team made up entirely of Hart Trophy winners beat a team made up of everyone else?

Here’s something neat: There are only two Hart Trophy winners left in the 2020 playoffs, one in each conference. That would be Nikita Kucherov of the Lightning, and Corey Perry of the Stars (who won it with the Ducks). Each series features an MVP facing a team that doesn’t have any. Cool, right? Great, now that I’ve found a way to loosely give today’s post a current events hook, let’s get to the weird roster question I wanted to do anyway.

It started, as these things tend to do, with a question from a reader: Would an all-time NHL team made up exclusively of Hart Trophy winners beat an all-time team made up of everybody else?

It nearly ended with an immediate answer: Yes, of course they would, duh.

I mean, it’s the Hart Trophy. The MVP of the league. It’s been awarded 92 times, to 56 different players, and those 56 players represent the very best the league has ever had to offer. You build a team using just those players, you’re going to be looking at pretty close to the best roster that’s even possible. Where’s the debate?

But as I’ve learned in the past, sometimes these things aren’t as easy as they look. So OK, let’s do this. An all-MVP squad against a team made up of everybody else.

But First, A Few Ground Rules™:

  • We’re filling out a 20-man roster where position matters. We don’t care about handedness for defensemen, but everyone else sticks to where they played in their Hart season. No playing out of position, no centers moving over to wings, etc.
  • For guys who moved around in their career, we’ll use the hockey-reference guide as the arbiter of who was playing which position when.
  • I don’t have a third rule but always feel like this section needs three bullet points.

Team All Hart vs Team No Hart, who you got?

Center: Team All Hart

It’s almost an embarrassment of riches. Let’s start with Wayne Gretzky, whose nine career Harts stands as the all-time record. Next up, give me Mario Lemieux. Gretzky and Lemieux combined to win 12 of 17 trophies during one stretch of the 80s and 90s, which didn’t leave much hardware for the rest of the league during that era. That might create a bit of an opening for Team No Hart, but with the two greatest of all-time already in the lineup, Team All Hart isn’t worried.

The challenge with our next two slots is wading through all the options, because pretty much all of the greateest centers in NHL history are here for the taking. I’m going to go with a mix of Original Six and the modern era, with Jean Beliveau and Sidney Crosby, which means I’m cutting legends like Phil Esposito, Bobby Clarke, Mark Messier, Howie Morenz and Stan Mikita. Modern stats like Connor McDavid, Joe Thornton and Evgeni Malkin barely even make the conversation.

Sidney Crosby is my fourth-line center. What are we even doing here? This is going to be a massacre.

Center: Team No Hart

As expected, the Gretzky/Lemieux era at least yields some decent 1980s options. I’ll go with Steve Yzerman, who did win a Pearson as the players’ pick back in 1989, and Dale Hawerchuk, who was runner-up to Gretzky in 1985. They’ll center my middle six, but my first-line spot will go to a guy who ranks as the best center to never win an MVP or a Cup: Marcel Dionne, who won the Pearson twice and was a Hart finalist for three straight years from 1979 to 1981, but never won.

I’ve decided I want a Selke winner for my fourth line, since I’m going to need somebody to shut down Gretzky and friends. I could go with Pavel Datsyuk, or an active player like Patrice Bergeron or Jonathan Toews. But I’m going to aim for a bigger offensive threat in another 80s/90s star: Ron Francis, who combines with Dionne and Yzerman to give me three of the seven top scorers of all-time. That’s not Gretzky or Lemieux, but it’s better than I thought we could do. And while I didn’t have anywhere near as many options to choose from as the All Harts, I’ve left off other top-20 options like Doug Gilmour and Adam Oates.

So yeah, not bad. But still, center is a clear win for the Harts. One position in, the No Harts have some serious work to do if this is going to be competitive.

Right Wing: Team All Hart

For a brief moment, my unwavering confidence in Team All Hart takes a hit, with the realization that the number of MVPs who played right wing is significantly smaller than what we had to work with at center. We had 49 seasons of centers to work with, but the award has been given to someone who was primarily listed at RW on 18 occasions – and Gordie Howe accounts for a third of those. This is about to get tougher.

But not that much tougher, because a lot of these guys were really good. We’ll start with the obvious pick, and go ahead and slot Gordie Howe on Gretzky’s wing. And we can follow that up with another slam dunk in Rocket Richard, who somewhat surprisingly only won the Hart once but still makes the cut. After those two Original Six legends, we have to lower our standards all the way down to the second-leading scorer in NHL history, as Jaromir Jagr joins the team on the strength of his 1999 award.

While we still have access to old-timers like Andy Bathgate and Boom Geoffrion as well as modern stars like Patrick Kane and Nikita Kucherov, the fourth spot really comes down to two names: Brett Hull and Guy Lafleur. The Flower won the award twice, while the Golden Brett only captured it once. But I think Hull’s 80-goal peak is just too much to ignore. Besides, what kind of powerhouse could pass on a 700-goal man? Brett Hull gets the last slot.

Good luck matching that foursome, Team No Hart.

Right Wing: Team No Hart

Well, hold on. These guys are actually going to be pretty good.

Let’s start with arguably the best pure goal scorer to ever play the position: Mike Bossy, who had six top-ten finishes but never won a Hart despite regularly scoring 50 or 60 a year. We’ll follow him with roughly 1,300 goals worth of Dead Puck Era production from Teemu Selanne and Jarome Iginla. Selanne was a finalist in 1998, while Iginla absolutely should have won in 2002 but lost a tie-breaker to Jose Theodore. It was one of the worst votes in the award’s history, and Team No Hart is glad it happened.

For our fourth spot, we could look at Mark Recchi and Marian Hossa. But I said I wanted a checking line, so let’s go with two-way artist Jari Kurri. His 601 goals means that Mike Bossy is somehow the lowest-scoring right winger on the team. That’s a lot of scoring depth. How much? Well, remember how Team All Hart didn’t have the nerve to leave a 700-goal sniper off the roster? Team No Hart went and did it, with Mike Gartner failing to make the team.

All in all, you still have to give the edge to Team All Heat. But it’s only an edge, as this position is a lot closer than the center slot.

On to the other wing…

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

No comments:

Post a Comment