The NHL regular season is coming to a close and, naturally, that means the discussion surrounding the league’s individual player awards is starting to heat up. Who’s in for the Norris trophy? Who will get the nod for the Hart trophy? Questions and speculations are in full force and will continue until the answers are revealed.
But this discussion – rather this speculation – is the root of this particular conversation. Since 1998, the NHL has introduced five new player awards: the NHL Foundation Player Award (1998), the Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard Trophy (1999), the Roger Crozier Saving Grace Award (2000), the Mark Messier Leadership Award (2007), and the NHL General Manager of the Year Award (2010).
But it’s the subjectiveness of the awards – and the eventual winners – that’s raised even a bigger question surrounding these individual accomplishments. Have the NHL awards become too diluted – too convoluted?
NHL Awards: Should Be Black and White
For the most part the NHL’s individual awards are based, to some degree, on the player’s hockey ability and individual statistics. The Lady Byng Memorial trophy is awarded to the player who exhibited outstanding sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.
Using this example, while there’s no clear cut statistical ruling, there’s an understanding that the award will go to the player that manages to stay out of the penalty box while putting up some good offensive numbers. By that definition alone, Colorado’s Ryan O’Reilly would and should be named the winner of the Lady Byng trophy at season’s end.
Ryan O'Reilly took his first penalty of the year yesterday. Ryan O'Reilly is still going to win the Lady Byng trophy. No jokes needed.
— Tim Rosenthal (@_TimRosenthal) March 30, 2014
Other awards, however, are more subjective. The Vezina trophy, for example can be a bit of a grey-area award. What defines the league’s best goaltender? It could be the most shutouts, the most wins, or the lowest goals-against average. But the William M. Jennings trophy is for the goalkeeper who allows the least amount of goals (while playing a minimum of 25 games) in the regular season.
How about the Ted Lindsay award? Or what’s the difference between the Frank J. Selke trophy and the NHL Plus-Minus Award? The King Clancy Memorial award is awarded to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice. How is one player picked over the others that give back to their community?
The Hart trophy is one that really seems subjective. Aside from some of the team awards, it is the oldest trophy awarded in the NHL – created in 1924. While the Hart trophy is awarded to the league’s most valuable player, and has been for nine decades, some would argue that newer end-of-year achievements bring into question the qualifications for being named the league’s MVP.
Hart Trophy: Valuable Beyond Offensive Skills
In 1948, the Art Ross trophy was introduced to the league. Since then, it’s been awarded to the player who finishes the regular season with the most total points. Over fifty years later, in 1999, the NHL unveiled the Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard trophy which is award to the top goal scorer in the regular season.
With the introduction of both, the qualifications for the Hart trophy are more debatable and a simple question makes for deciding a winner much more difficult: what makes a player the most valuable among his peers?
The Hockey Writers’ own Andy Dudones recently debated Claude Giroux’s spot in the discussion for this award – stating many reasons in favour of giving the Flyers’ forward the honours. In fact, his play has his Philadelphia Flyers sitting in third in the Metropolitan division and currently in a playoff spot.
TSN’s panel recently debated whether or not Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson should be considered for the Hart trophy. After all, the offensive-minded defenceman has 71 points (20g-51a) in 78 games so far this season.
Everyone will have their reasoning on who and why specific players should be considered for these – let’s call them – grey-area awards. The Hart trophy is no different. With points and goals now covered by other awards, what differs the league MVP from the league’s top scorer?
Although Giroux isn’t Dudones’ pick for the Hart trophy, he might be the most intriguing. While Philadelphia was not expected to be unbelievable by any means, the team battled back from a slow start and has found a groove as of late. Obviously, Giroux has had a big role in leading the team with his 79 points (25g-54a) in 77 games.
#NHL point leaders
4 players tied at 74
— Yahoo Sports NHL (@YahooSportsNHL) April 6, 2014
Karlsson, on the other hand, is a tricky suggestion. While he has great offensive numbers for a blueliner, he’s struggled in his own zone with a minus-16 rating. Ottawa is also going to miss the playoffs – another factor that should be considered in picking the most valuable player.
So while the addition of some awards can be understood – the trophy for general manager of the year (introduced in 2010) and the Rocket Richard trophy (created in 1999), other awards have become so subjective that it seems impossible to choose a clear cut winner.
Sometimes, less is more. In the case of the NHL’s player awards, it seems that the more that they’ve created, the more questionable the winners have become. With that, comes a sense of dilution in the accomplishment – of some but not all – of these awards.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.