The Hart Trophy, of all the NHL awards given out at the culmination of each season, is quite possibly the hardest one to determine worth for.
Given to ‘the player judged most valuable to his team’ in the regular season, it’s an MVP award — and although it’s near-unanimous that the players awarded the honor each season are high performers, there’s always the question of whether they’re the biggest ‘difference-makers’ on their team.
This season’s first nominee, Carey Price, was a no-brainer.
On an offensively stagnant Montreal Candiens roster, Price — who was also nominated for the Vezina Trophy and is a front-runner for both awards as both a media and fan favorite — has worked wonders carrying his team into the post-season. Posting an absurd .933 SV% in the regular season, Price stood down over a 66-game season to post a 44-16-6 record. His nine shutouts were second in the league behind only Marc-Andre Fleury, and his playoff performance has been lights out — suggesting he could be in the running for the Conn Smythe by the end of the spring, as well.
Behind Price, though, came two hotly debated forwards.
Alex Ovechkin, captain of the Washington Capitals and the league’s leading goal scorer, has often been accused of being a ‘selfish’ player. He’s not particularly skilled at defense, and he’s been caught floating in the neutral zone during goals against in the past that made him a high point of contention for many.
When new head coach Barry Trotz moved in to Washington’s locker room, though, he cleared up all the rumors surrounding the Russian forward immediately. He wasn’t hard to coach, insisted Trotz, but being coached the wrong way.
Trotz changed his philosophy when it came to Ovechkin, giving the winger little guidance on how to play when he had the puck and instead focusing almost exclusively on what to do when he didn’t have possession. Ovechkin’s numbers skyrocketed, and — through some fun philanthropic stories shared throughout the season — he seemed to finally click as that glue holding an extremely strong Capitals team together.
Finally, John Tavares was given the nod for the way he and his team excelled beyond anyone’s expectations. The New York Islanders — who were almost unfairly given the Washington Capitals in a Stanley Cup Final-esque first round matchup that saw the Isles fall in seven — went from looking like a mess in 2013-2014 to truly being a powerhouse in 2014-2015, and much of that was how Tavares conducted himself on the ice.
Falling to Jamie Benn for the Art Ross leading scorer award by only a point in the final game of the season, Tavares was a difference-maker on the ice nearly the entire year. Despite a number of key injuries throughout the season — from an eye injury to top six forward Kyle Okposo to a lower body issue with Travis Hamonic on the blue line — Tavares was the picture of consistency for a club with a lot of young talent still waiting to explode on the scene. He’s a good off-ice role model, but the way he drove the team’s offense — coming in third in goals created per game (.44), second in scoring (86 points overall) and contributing forty-eight assists despite uncertainty within the team’s top six made Tavares a worthy candidate of the finalist nomination.