Thursday, March 13, 2008

Hart Trophy Follow-up: Offense vs. Defense

It seems like fans have spoken - some on this site, some elsewhere. If the Habs were to have a legitimate shot at the Hart trophy, our best chance would fall to Kovalev.

Despite mine and Tobalev's arguments for Andrei Markov, it seems that history, at least, would be on their side not ours.

If you put aside Bobby Orr who was outscoring all the forwards anyway, it seems giving this trophy to a defenseman went out of style before the end of World War II, about 65 years ago. Other than "Number 4", Chris Pronger is the only defenseman to win the trophy over that period. Interestingly, if you look back to 1999-2000, the scoring was down and the top scorers were either on teams having a mediocre seasons (Jagr, Selanne, Kariya) or probably a little further than the league would want to go (Pavel Bure, Mark Recchi).


I think one thing is relatively clear: Hart trophy voters in general love scorers.

This is probably because it fits better with the image the league wants to put out: a high-flying, fast-paced game with exciting goalscoring galore. This is all well and good, but most hockey fans at least recognise, if not endorse, the idea that a good defenseman is not only valuable, but invaluable for a team to move forward and succeed.

In fact, no one other than Dominik Hasek (who was a human highlight reel and league advertisement on his own) has been able to beat a forward who has more than 100 points. With Ovechkin very close already and blowing the league away with goalscoring, he looks to be a trophy frontrunner. Malkin is there too, with close to 100 points himself, but on a team that threatens to play past April.

Considering defensemen log the most minutes, often direct the PP and the PK, start the majority of plays and (the best ones) score relatively well, it is puzzling to see them get so little recognition.

Take only the example of Niklas Lidstrom. He now has first right of refusal to the Norris trophy, it seems. Detroit, a perennial regular season giant would always seem to be a place to look to find a Hart trophy winner. Alas, Lidstrom has no Hart trophies. Perhaps this is the year to finally honour the man many would put forward as the MVP of the past decade. In retrospect, it looks like the league missed its golden opportunity when a flight of fancy gave the trophy to a goaltender who dragged his team into the playoffs while Lidstrom led his team to top of the table, 15 points clear of any other team, 28 points clear of Theodore's bunch, and ultimately to a Stanley Cup.


In keeping with my thinking on Markov, I think Lidstrom must win the trophy. He leads all D in scoring (again) and leads the league in +/- with an incredible +39 (not rare for him either). What's more, his team is once again the class of the league, as in 2002.

Would you Kovalev supporters get behind a Lidstrom for Hart push, or are you Ovechkin or Malkin folk, through and through?


Around the league this story repeats itself over and over. Look at a successful team and most of the time you will find a successful forward and a successful D or G. For me, I look at the sucess and many defenseman led teams:

Anaheim: Niedermayr more so than Getzlaf
Dallas: Zubov more so than Ribeiro
Detroit: Lidstrom more so than Datsyuk
Montreal: Markov more so than Kovalev

And a number of goalie led ones:

New Jersey: Brodeur more so than Parise
San Jose: Nabokov more so than Thornton
Boston: Thomas more so than Savard
New York: Lundqvist more so than Jagr

There are of course many "team" teams and those led by superstar forwards like Pittsburgh and Ottawa, but I don't look much further than Detroit, Dallas, Anaheim and think we would be in the right company...

Up the defensemen! Go Habs Go.

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