The NHL’s abbreviated regular season has finished and it’s time to decide who should win the Hart Memorial Trophy, awarded to the league’s MVP. A goaltender hasn’t won the trophy since 2002. I think it’s time for that streak to end this year and believe the case for Ottawa’s Craig Anderson is virtually airtight. Today’s NHL analysis will focus on the following…
- The case on behalf of Anderson
- The strong case for Sidney Crosby, limited only by his playing time
- Several other players who deserve to have their names mentioned in this discussion
Craig Anderson leads the NHL in save percentage, stopping 94% of the shots fired at him. This stat alone is impressive enough, but it doesn’t begin to show his value to the Senators. This is a team whose defense ranks in the bottom third of the NHL when it comes to stopping shots, so Anderson’s percentage comes in spite of dealing with a high volume of pucks coming at him. Nor does he get a lot of support from the offense, where Ottawa also ranks near the bottom of the league. In spite of all this, Ottawa made the playoffs.
Thus, Anderson competes in an environment where he’s under constant attack and has no margin for error, yet he succeeded at an extremely high level and led his team into the postseason. If that’s the definition of an MVP I’m not exactly sure what is.
THE CASE FOR CROSBY
As much as I believe in Anderson’s case, if Sidney Crosby had been healthy for the entire year, this conversation might be different. Crosby played in 36 of 48 games and still managed to lead the league in assists. While there is good talent on the Pittsburgh offense, it’s not as dynamic as it was a year ago. Evgeni Malkin, who won the Hart Trophy in 2012, had only nine goals this season. Pascal Dupuis was the only scorer to get 20 goals. I don’t want to make it out like Pittsburgh doesn’t have the talent on offense—they do—but when Crosby was on the ice he was clearly back to his pre-eminent role on this team.
The problem is, how can you dismiss 12 missed games? It’s tough to make an argument for MVP when you miss a quarter of the games your team plays. It’s a testament to Crosby’s ability that he still led the league in assists and added 15 goals in this limited time. It’s a heckuva argument to say that he is, in general, the NHL’s best player. But this is not an “in general” discussion. It’s very specifically about how the Most Valuable Player was in the 48 games that constituted the 2013 season. And Crosby’s missed games are too much to overlook.
*Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin had a comeback year, scoring 32 goals and dishing 24 assists. He was the only consistent scorer on a Capitals team that finished third in the Eastern Conference in goals scored and turned their season around to win the Southeast Division. The reason he comes up short is that he has two very good centers passing to him in Niklas Backstrom and Mike Ribiero, so unlike Anderson, Ovechkin didn’t have to singlehandledly carry the Caps.
*Tampa Bay & Chicago both had two elite offensive players, and the very fact that each star had someone else to rely on hurts them in MVP talk. But there’s no denying the years enjoyed by Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos in Tampa, as they were the league’s two best point-getters. And Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane each scored 20-plus goals while remaining good passers on the league’s best team.
*How about some love for New York Islanders’ center John Tavares? He scored 28 goals and was the one consistent scorer on an Islanders team that relied on its offense to overcome some subpar goaltending to get back into the postseason. I gave Tavares serious consideration for the top honor. The fact that there were some decent passers to set him up—Matt Moulsen, Brad Boyes and Kyle Okposo—leads me to think Tavares wasn’t quite as lonely as Anderson. But if you were to restrict me to a position player for the award, Tavares would be my choice.