The Hart Trophy is probably the most prestigious individual award in the NHL, and teams that have strong candidates for it are generally among the league’s best – something the now-second-place Flames haven’t been in quite some time.
Their ascent to a legitimate Cup contender this season has several Flames players vying for big NHL awards, and the Hart is among them. Leading the charge is none other than leading scorer Johnny Gaudreau.
Named after Dr. David Hart, the father of Cecil Hart who served as head coach of the Montreal Canadiens for nine seasons in the NHL’s early days, the Hart Trophy was donated to the league in 1923. The original trophy was retired in 1960 and replaced with the Hart Memorial Trophy. It is awarded to the “player judged most valuable to his team.”
Fifty-six different players have won the award over 92 years starting in 1924. All but three players who have won the Hart and satisfied eligibility requirements have been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
The Professional Hockey Writers Association votes on the winner of the Hart Trophy at the end of the regular season.
- 2017-18: Taylor Hall (New Jersey)
- 2016-17: Connor McDavid (Edmonton)
- 2015-16: Patrick Kane (Chicago)
Last year’s voting leaders
(Voting points awarded on a 10-7-5-3-1 basis.)
Taylor Hall (NJD)
Nathan MacKinnon (COL)
Anze Kopitar (LAK)
Claude Giroux (PHI)
Connor McDavid (EDM)
Last year’s Hart race was a neck-and-neck battle between Hall and MacKinnon. Hall ultimately took home the hardware, but MacKinnon would have been a worthy choice as well. Last season, the Devils vastly outperformed their initial season expectations, and on a career year from Hall, earned a playoff berth. That’s basically why he won. Colorado and MacKinnon’s story was near identical, which is why he was also a strong candidate for the award.
The Hart seems like a pretty easy award to vote on, but there are a few nuances with it. Generally, forwards win this award. Chris Pronger is the only defenseman to win the Hart since Bobby Orr in the ’70s, and unless you’re a terrific goalie on an otherwise mediocre team*, the Hart goes to a forward.
As well, at least recently, the winner of the Hart Trophy has to be on a team that makes the playoffs. This is the one trend that probably makes the least amount of sense, but in the eyes of the voters, if you didn’t get past Game 82, you weren’t valuable enough to be considered.
Usually, the Hart is awarded to a player in one of the following two categories:
- A really good player on a really good team that made the playoffs;
- A really good player on a team that vastly surpassed expectations and got into the playoffs.
Handicapping Gaudreau’s candidacy
No Flames player has ever actually won the Hart Trophy*, and Jarome Iginla was the last Flames player to receive votes for it in multiple years. The only player after Iginla to earn any Hart recognition at all was Jiri Hudler in 2015, receiving just 16 total award votes. Gaudreau, despite a few excellent seasons leading the Flames in scoring, has never received a single vote for the Hart. This year, he’ll probably be among the finalists.
Currently, Gaudreau has the third most points in the NHL with 73, the fifth most goals with 29, and the sixth most game-winning goals with six. At 5v5, he’s posted a 54.4% CF, and leads the team in iCF, iSCF, iHDCF, shots, and penalties drawn. There’s no question that he’s been the player stirring the Flames’ offensive drink (probably purple Gatorade) this season. He is one of, if not the most, dynamic player in the league, and is able to create an offensive chance on almost every single one of his shifts.
And, on top of all of that, the Flames are a team that has surpassed expectations from the beginning of the season. Even the most optimistic projections had the Flames vying for a playoff spot, not a team in striking distance of the President’s Trophy. In many ways, Gaudreau fits into both Hart categories, which definitely makes him one of the frontrunners for the award.
In the PHWA’s mid-season award voting, Nikita Kucherov of the Lightning finished in first place for the award, followed closely by Gaudreau. Should the Oilers and/or Ducks make the playoffs, McDavid and John Gibson are also prime candidates for the Hart, who could steal votes way from Kucherov and Gaudreau. Other than those four players though, I don’t really see anyone else as a true horse in the race.
All in all, Gaudreau has as good, if not a better chance of winning the award at season’s end. If he keeps up his pace, and the Flames continue to challenge for the President’s Trophy, there is a good chance Gaudreau’s name could be the next one etched into the Hart Trophy.
* Iginla deserved Hart Trophy was robbed by Jose Theodore in 2002.