At this point in the season we've basically got things figured out. This team is good, that one's bad. This guy is having a great season, that guy's underperforming. As a consequence of this certainty about how things are shaking out, one of the things the hockey world turns its attention to at this point of the season — along with the various undecided playoff races, of which there are but a few this year — is who is going to win each award, or who should win.
For example, you should have a pretty good idea who deserves the Hart Trophy, awarded annually to the one guy in the league who is the “player judged most valuable to his team.” This guy who deserved it the most currently plays for the Pittsburgh Penguins and entered Thursday night with 91 points in 68 games, which was 17 ahead of the next-closest guy on the list.
And yet it does not. We have to entertain talk that Claude Giroux should be the guy instead. Or maybe Carey Price. Or Ryan Getzlaf. Or even Kyle Okposo. No one is saying those guys aren't having great seasons. They clearly are. No one is saying they are not their teams' most valuable players. They clearly are. But what everyone should be saying is that they are significantly outshined by Crosby, who if he could have stayed healthy the last few years would have a closet full of Hart Trophies and people would still not accept this kind of thing as a matter of course.
People are going to back their players, sure. There's a reason that most of the Giroux chatter is coming out of eastern Pennsylvania or much of the pumping of Price's candidacy is coming from Montreal. But there is a clear choice, and it's the guy who has nearly 25 percent more points than the next closest person on the NHL's list of scoring leaders.
This was the case last season when Crosby was jobbed by the Alex Ovechkin backers, many of whom thought his production was so nice they voted for him twice. Crosby finished with 56 points in 36 games, but missed the final quarter of the season with an injury, and thus couldn't overcome the near-goal-a-game scoring onslaught posted by his longtime professional rival over the back half of the season. Meanwhile, Islanders fans raged against all available evidence and said John Tavares was more valuable than both.
Part of the reason that much of this happens seems, to me anyway, to be predicated upon the idea that you have to go around looking for things that would undermine the top player's candidacy. After all, Crosby plays on the same team as Evgeni Malkin, who fluctuates from being anywhere between second- and fourth-best in the world on any given day, and thus it's a lot easier to get things done.
Hey, didn't he and Malkin combine, in some way, for 19 goals so far this season? Isn't he just 17 up on the next-closest guy? Seems awfully suspicious.
Plus, he gets to play with a Canadian Olympian like Chris Kunitz. That helps too!
And besides, Crosby doesn't exactly play a lot of defense, right?
Granted it's because he always has the puck, but still.
It's not exactly clear how subterfuge entered into such an argument. You pick the best guy because he is the best. He shouldn't be punished for having been too talented on a baseline level (i.e. Crosby did not exceed understandable but ludicrously high expectations and thus didn't make himself notably more valuable than he should have been).
He still has to be on the right end of those goals for, does he not?
He likewise shouldn't be punished for not being as much of a quote-unquote leader as another candidate. He shouldn't be punished for his team having not been better than it should have been. Value is value and that's the end of it. It's easily measured across the entire league.
For instance, yeah, Price has been exceptional for the Canadiens this season, and they're garbage when he's not in the game, but he really only has control over the former issue (his own goodness) and not the former (his team's absence thereof). For instance, if you replaced everyone on the Penguins but Crosby with an ECHL team, he would be the most valuable player to his team by far, but he would also have like 65 points for the season as he tried to do literally everything himself.
This is the reason Jarome Iginla didn't win the Hart 10 years in a row with Calgary.
The same kind of thing, actually, is going on in college hockey right now. Flames draft pick Johnny Gaudreau of Boston College finished his regular season with 69 points from 37 games, a ridiculous amount that eclipses the next-closest player in the country by 12 in one fewer game played. Not since Paul Kariya's days with Maine has there been a more cut-and-dried case of, “Well yes, this guy should win the Hobey Baker award as college hockey's most outstanding player.”
But people are 100 percent going to go looking for reasons not to give it to Gaudreau, and there will be Hobey Baker voters who do not put him No. 1 on their ballot. Arguments I've heard against a kid who put up 1.86 points per game include but are not limited to “He's not a good leader,” “He has good linemates,” “He doesn't play defense,” and “BC didn't get out of their conference quarterfinal series.” The obvious counterargument is that he had 69 points in 37 games and even if all those criticisms were legitimate — which they uniformly are not — they wouldn't matter because that is an actual crazy number of points and so shut up.
The same applies to other awards races as well (Zdeno Chara should be the runaway Norris winner this season, but might not even win). Voters will always seek out reasons why not when the reasons why are so overwhelming. Doesn't really make a lot of sense.
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