While the Stanley Cup is the greatest team prize available to win in hockey, arguably the greatest individual prize that can be bestowed upon someone is being named as the game's best player. The Hart Trophy, given annually to the most valuable player in the National Hockey League during the regular season, would be that accolade. While there is another trophy that is awarded to the best player as voted upon by his peers, to be judged as the best player for the 82-game regular season by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association - a group who doesn't always write the nicest things - is quite an achievement. This year's finalists all have a common theme in that they are all from Russia. Your finalists for the Hart Trophy this season are Evgeni Malkin (PIT), Pavel Datsyuk (DET), and Alexander Ovechkin (WAS).
The Hart Trophy was presented to the National Hockey League in 1923 by Dr. David Hart, and is the oldest individual award in professional hockey. Dr. Hart's son, Cecil, coached the Montreal Canadiens from 1926 until 1939, winning the Stanley Cup twice in 1930 and 1931. The first time the Hart Trophy was awarded to the regular-season MVP was at the conclusion of the 1923-24 season when Ottawa Senators forward Frank Nighbor was awarded the honour. Nighbor finished ninth in scoring in the NHL that season with eleven goals and six assists in 20 games, but helped propel the Senators to the best record that season.
The names on the list of the winners of the Hart Trophy over the years is a veritbale "who's who" of NHL greats: Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Bobby Hull, Gordie Howe, Jean Beliveau, Bobby Orr, Bobby Clarke, and Eddie Shore to name a few. Wayne Gretzky has won the trophy a record nine times, eight of those times consecutively. Gordie Howe is second with six wins, and Eddie Shore is third with four wins. There have been a total of 51 players who have received the accolade in 83 seasons of it being awarded.
The Hart Trophy has morphed with the ages. The original Hart Trophy, seen here with Elmer Lach in 1945, now sits in the vault at the Hockey Hall of Fame after its retirement in 1960. The new Hart Memorial Trophy, seen above, is what players receive since the original trophy's retirement.
Some interesting facts about the Hart Trophy include:
- Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier are the only players to win the Hart Trophy with two different teams. Gretzky did it with Edmonton and Los Angeles, while Messier won with Edmonton and the New York Rangers.
- The 2002 Hart Trophy, won by Montreal's Jose Theordore, ended up in a tie between Theodore and Calgary's Jarome Iginla after voting took place. Theodore won by having more first-place votes. This is the closest margin of victory ever for a Hart Trophy winner.
- Joe Thornton became the first Hart Trophy winner to switch clubs midway through his MVP season. In 2006, Thornton was traded from Boston to San Jose before winning the award at the season's end.
- Martin St. Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning became the first Hart Trophy winner that was not drafted by an NHL team since the NHL Entry Draft was made an annual occurrance. He won the award in 2004.
- Dominik Hasek is the only goaltender to have been named season MVP twice. Hasek won back-to-back Hart Trophies in 1997 and 1998 with the Buffalo Sabres.
- There have been only six goalies named as the Hart Trophy winner in the history of the NHL: Roy "Shrimp" Worters (1929, New York Americans), Chuck Rayner (1950, New York Rangers), Al Rollins (1954, Chicago Blackhawks), Jacques Plante (1962, Montreal Canadiens), Dominik Hasek (as stated above), and Jose Theodore (2002, Montreal Canadiens).
- The first person to repeat as the season MVP was forward Nels Stewart of the Montreal Maroons. Nels won his first Hart Trophy in 1926, followed by his second in 1930.
- The Montreal Canadiens have the best representation in terms of Hart Trophy winners. They've have 16 winners out of the 83 times the NHL has awarded the trophy. Boston sits second with 12 winners, and Detroit and Edmonton have had nine winners each.
Tormorrow should be an interesting night from Las Vegas!
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!