Getting To The Hart Of The Matter

Vancouver Canucks v Philadelphia Flyers

Typically the Hart Trophy goes to the flashier player and to the candidate with the most goals. But what is flashy and why is the flashy player often equated with being the league’s most valuable player? Ditto for goal-scoring. Why is scoring goals almost always taken to be more valuable than setting them up?

I have no doubt that Ovechkin will yet again be afforded the title of the league’s most valuable player. But should he? Isn’t there a better candidate here in Vancouver?

Yes Ovechkin has a certain style. He’s showy, exuberant and bubbly, almost effervescent at times. But style is more than mainstream, more than the effect of the crowd’s expectations. True style is personal, something one makes one’s own, it is cultivated and worked on, in a word, it is something unique.  

Henrik Sedin has cultivated a style, perhaps no more but certainly no less than Ovechkin has.

No he doesn’t try too many end-to-end rushes or post-goal celebrations, but he does do things in his own unparalleled way – things Ovechkin couldn’t, and more revealingly, wouldn’t ever think to do. Some of the plays Henrik makes would simply never enter Ovechkin’s consciousness.

My point is this: Henrik has crafted himself into an elite player in this league, but in a way that rubs against all mainstream, cliched styles. He is truly his own formed bit of art work. It’s really a pity most self-proclaimed hockey connoisseurs don’t seem to notice this. In the end, it’s always the so-called exciting but familiar hockey motions that get afforded most of the value.

The second thing that astonishes me is how far we go in assuming goals are more important than assists, and so choose as more valuable the player with more of them.

Scoring goals and making plays are separate skills that complement each other. They are links in a process. Of course you can have a goal without, or without much of, a pass. But – and this is less noticed – you can also have a nice pass, or simply a normal pass, that isn’t capitalized on. It seems to me that from a rational point of view, these two abilities are equally important and valuable.

And so what would it look like if we let a bit of rationality seep into our assessments? 

The answer is that we would need to reassess our Hart Trophy evaluations. Consider two players, each with 110 points – but one with 20 goals and 90 assists and the other with 60 goals and 50 assists. Far from simply defaulting to the 60 goal candidate, we would need to look for variables completely outside of point production. What kind of team are each of the players on? Are they playing with other skilled players? How many minutes do they play? And so on.

If we did it this way, and if we were honest and discerning in considering their individual styles of play, it is not at all clear to me that Ovechkin ought to be considered more valuable than Henrik Sedin this year.  

  • Stephen Webb

    It's funny how we definitely limit our definition of flashy plays, cause Daniel sure finished off a great pass from Henrik tonight. Sure looked flashy to me.

    Fantastic article.