Ovi for Hart, Part I: The Hart Trophy is Kind of Stupid

Francois Lacasse

Photo credit: Francois Lacasse

Sidney Crosby, John Tavares, Jonathan Toews, and Alex Ovechkin. Those are the names most seen in the deluge of chatter about this season’s Hart Trophy, the award given each year to the player deemed most valuable to his team. Washington’s own goal-scoring leader Alex Ovechkin seems to be the underdog in those conversations for a variety of reasons, namely that he plays in a bad division and wasn’t exceptional until the middle of March. I think those reasons are suspect, but the Hart conversation is already marred by a whole lot of questionable conventional wisdom.

The Hart Trophy is supposed to be awarded to the player that the Professional Hockey Writers Association deems most valuable to his team. While the actual inscription on the Hart Trophy leaves out the whole “to his team” part, I find that little prepositional phrase to be crucial. The NHL is unlike the MLB, whose MVP award has a simpler definition (“most outstanding player“), the same one used for the Ted Lindsay Award.

The Lindsay is the NHL’s real MVP award: voted on by the players and without consideration for team quality or any of the other logical convolutions that make the Hart the cause of ulcers for everyone silly enough to care about it.

The Hart is for the League’s Best Player

The Hart is not for the league’s best player. It is for the player most valuable to his team. Says so right on NHL.com.

If the Hart were truly an assessment of who the league’s best player is, we could just calculate everyone’s GVT (goals versus threshold, a catch-all stat similar to baseball’s WAR, invented by Tom Awad). The guy with the highest GVT gets the trophy and we all go home.

But it’s not about “who’s best?”, it’s about “who is most valuable?” An insultingly dumb analogy would go like this: a glass of water is more valuable to a guy in a desert than it is to a guy with a Brita. To understand value, we have to understand context. In this case, context is the team. So let’s talk about teams.

Non-Playoff Teams Need Not Apply

The assertion seems to be that about half of all players are disqualified from contention because their teams sucked. Imagine a player who scored more than a quarter of his team’s total goals and assisted in another 15%. Is he not valuable because his team valued him too much? The logic sort of unspools there. That player was Steven Stamkos, and using the NHL’s own definition of the Hart, he certainly deserved a look for last year’s trophy.

Here’s the thing. A great player on a bad team is more valuable to his team than an equally great player on a good team. This isn’t an argument of relative greatness (let’s say they have identical goals and assists); it’s an argument of value, which is the whole damn point of the award in the first place. So yes, sadly, players with good teammates should get “punished” because they are less valuable as a result.

No Goalies Allowed Either

The last goalie to win the Hart Trophy was Jose Theodore, back in 2001-2002. He posted a .931 save percentage in 67 games that year. Since then, Roberto Luongo, Mike Smith, Jonathan Quick, and Ryan Miller have had comparable seasons without the same recognition. Perhaps giving the Hart to a goalie is redundant since the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the best goalie, already exists. But Mike Smith’s performance in Phoenix last year and particularly Lou’s back in pre-lockout Florida were extremely valuable to their teams.

Maybe it’s just that goalies play fewer games a season than skaters. Now that you mention it…

The Games-Played Cutoff

Sidney Crosby will have played in 75% of games this season. That’s a larger percentage than Mario Lemieux played when he won the Hart in 1992-1993. By conventional wisdom, Crosby should not be eliminated from Hart contention, and I totally agree. While there seems to be some kind of minimum threshold of games played for someone to be considered a Hart nominee, it’s arbitrary. That’s okay: this is and should be a subjective award based on the individual value judgments made by its voters. I’m just here to question what those value judgments are, and this one seems legit.

To me, awarding the Hart is identifying the player who is more indispensable to his team than anyone else on any team. It’s not the player who– if you replaced him with some schmuck off the streets (let’s just call that schmuck Jussi Jokinen)– his team would still win six in a row and eight of their last ten games. That replaced player may still be fantastic (in fact, this hypothetical player from Nova Scotia might still be a slam-dunk for the Ted Lindsay), but his value proportional to his team is not as high as other players’.

All the points above are important in discussing how to differentiate good players, but they’re not really relevant to players’ values to their teams, and that’s what matters. Or is supposed to matter, at least.

I don’t know who will win the Hart Trophy. If it’s Crosby, the cynic in me would feel vindicated and the hockey fan in me would be delighted. But judging by public conversations about the Hart, the deliberative process is a mess– poorly defined and clouded by all kinds of dubious wisdom.

Predicting who will win the Hart is a sucker’s game. I usually find it more illuminating to talk in terms of “should” rather than “will” anyway. Especially in the case of the Hart Trophy, which is stupid.

Next: Why Ovi should win the stupid Hart.

p.s. –

hart lt stanley

  • So you’re saying the Fenwick close leader is not going to win the Hart? THIS IS NEWS.

  • Also I like your illustration.

  • I don’t think Crosby should be eliminated from the Hart race BECAUSE he’s injured, but by the fact the Penguins are still winning without him and quite easily at that.

    For me, I don’t think there have been players more crucial to their teams success than John Tavares and Ovechkin. Without either player their respective teams would not even be sniffing at the playoffs. Given there lack of playoff appearances of late, I’d probably give the edge to JT91.

  • the illustration in part 2 will be even better

  • i agree with everything except the part on playoff teams. value is based off of who contributes the most towards overall team success. if you dont make the playoffs, team success is relatively non-existent. ovy i believe deserves the hart (and if not him, then either toews or bobrovski) for the exact same reason corey perry won it two years ago. perry heated up at the end of the season, when his team narrowly made the payoffs and clinched in the last few games. exactly what ovys doing now. no one watching this hockey team can deny that ovechkins incredible performance as of late is whats driving the teams incredible performance, which for me wins it..

  • though i absolutely agree that the hart is stupid and the lindsey receives nowhere near the attention it deserves.

  • Okay, you might be right, but here’s a hypothetical.

    A forward scores literally HALF of his team’s goals. They finish 10th in the division– just two points out of the playoffs.

    Doesn’t he deserve consideration? Without him they’d have been dead last. Isn’t he extremely valuable? Or is every player virtually worthless unless they play in the postseason?

  • For me this trophy is defined differently by the hundreds of writers who are voting for it. So it’s so hard to quantify what each and every person is actually looking for out of their MVP. I’d love some day for this to be a stat award. Whoever has the highest GVT wins. Same with the MLB with WAR.

  • blondinwrx

    dan byslma’s comments also speak to how coaches get it wrong.

    “Adam Oates is the only person I heard of who doesn’t think Sidney
    Crosby is the most valuable player, even if he hasn’t played in the last
    stretch of games,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “(Look at) how
    dominant he’s been and the consistency over the games he played, and he
    has left no doubt in people’s minds that he’s the most valuable player. I
    respect Adam, but only because I played with him.”

    He misses a few key parts, namely “to his team”, which you touch on in your post.

    Nail on the head with you phrase, a glass of water is more valuable to a guy in a desert than it is to a guy with a Britta. Pittsburgh is the britta, and crosby is the tall glass of overflowing water that really isn’t needed. Caps have been in the desert all year long and Ovie is the water that has ensured their survival and success.

    I also see his last remark as a bit of a questionmark. Dan only respects Adam because he played with him? Kinda harsh dude, considering he’s done alot more in this sport, and for this sport then dan ever will. Oh sorry, I forgot dan was given keys to a ferrari when everyone else drove kias and all he had to do was beat them in a quarter mile.

    If you listen to how adam speaks about the pens and their organization he has nothing but respect. Show a little back, dick. All adam was saying is the whole “to the team” part, but I guess that went WAYYY over his head…

  • obviously no ones worthless, but what did those wins create for his team? with this player, they’re not a playoff team. without him, they’re stil not a playoff team but with better draft picks. the worth of a player jumps exponentially when the team makes the playoffs, because the purported success of the team jumps exponentially. Stanley cup > playoffs > regular season wins.by making the playoffs the team has fulfilled one of its main goals, and so someone who contributes say 10% of that is more valuable than someone who contributes 20% to a team that doesn’t achieve this goal.

    goalies are another thing i agree on, absolutely ridiculous how much they;re glossed over especially when theirs such a concrete measure of their success (wins/GAA/SP compared to when they’re not playing)

  • this is very true, i find the same thing with the selke. individual writers all consider things differently, and thereby interpret their own criteria would be nice to base it off of stats.

  • “Adam Oates is the only person I heard of who doesn’t think Sidney Crosby is the most valuable player” He must not talk to a lot of people then. Haha.

  • bob “dark horse” rovsky is taking the hart and there is nothing you or i can do about it

  • A “Britta” is the AT&T of people. The water purifying jug thingy is a one t “Brita.”
    Otherwise I don’t disagree on any particular point. I think you hit it on the head with the indispensable thing. Caps are DFL or within poking distance of it without a resurgent Ovi.

  • Ian

    People shouldn’t waste time giving their predictions with reference to unimportant statistics and latent homosexual urges. Just watch the game and then discuss what happened after. Or better yet, let’s talk more about all those idiots who suggested Oates get rid of Ovechkin in the beginning of the season.

  • Poor Niemi…. The sharks would seriously be in 30th if not for that man, it’s a shame how he gets overlooked by everyone!

  • johnnymorte

    Adam Oates is a legend in this game. Dan Bylsma is a cockroach. Shut your trap penguin scum!

  • beans

    What a prick! Bylsma needs to relax, it’s not like Oates was disparaging Crosby. Bylsma looks and acts like the horn rimmed glasses guy from the show Heroes.

  • milan jurcina

    I feel like the rocket richard and art ross trophies are enough as far as statistical awards go

  • haha thanks for the copyedit