Making Their Case
The season is beginning to find its end. It is a time that we usually reflect on what has occurred and a time where we joyfully anticipate the upcoming playoff battles. This time of the year always has a few major questions though. The question that continues to plague me; however, is the one that so many hockey writers continue to write about. Does Sidney Crosby still deserve the Hart Trophy after missing so many games with a fractured jaw?
It is a question that I am entirely sick of, to be completely honest. Mostly because the answer is yes and just about everyone knows this, but I highly doubt that hockey writers have to continue to post article after article on why he is still the front runner.
Let me be perfectly clear, when a player misses a significant percentile of his teams games, their continued success or lack thereof does not qualify or disqualify the missing players significance. It simply shows that the rest of the bunch is resilient and not reliant. Hart trophy winners are not always players whose teams only go as far as they take them, despite the continued notion of such, but in fact they are supreme players who take their teams to an entirely different level than before, whether or not success may follow.
In the case of the Penguins, it is continually stated that they win without Sid therefore Crosby is not as important to the team’s success. While this may be true, it is the play of Crosby that helps separate success and dominance. This is what we look for in hart candidates and it is why these following players also deserve recognition in the Hart Trophy discussion.
Jonathan Toews – The captain of captains, as many see him today, is one of the most important players of the modern era. Toews defines what every true hockey fan wants in a player. He is a yeoman like worker with a talent level that borders the elite. He is as intelligent as anyone in this game and uses that intellect in every possible situation.
This young man is what separates the Chicago Blackhawks from other great teams. Lost among the media hound that is Patrick Kane, Toews’ personality is completely derivative of his competitive nature. He is focused and soft spoken, says and does all the little things in a proper and professional manner. His 21 goals on the season and 44 points in 42 games place him among the top 7 in both categories. An extremely impressive stat considering he is and will be for the foreseeable future, a continuous Selke candidate. He averages 1:23 minutes shorthanded every game and has a face off winning percentage over 60%.
Toews does everything right for the Blackhawks and because of this, his team stands alone in the Western Conference. His Hart nomination at the end of the season, even amongst elite offensive teammates, is solidified from this. Jonathan Toews is an elite talent who elevates the Blackhawks to a level of play almost untouched by any in the league.
John Tavares – The budding superstar of Long Island is a Hart candidate and no one will try to tell me otherwise. His play is a mix of some of the greatest players to play the game. His quick hands allow him to score goals in tight areas, reminding many of a former Islander Mike Bossy. He has tremendous vision on the ice which allows him to anticipate plays before they happen, leaving him sometimes completely unattended for strong one time shots on net which almost fit the mold of the great Wayne Gretzky.
His talent is undeniable and his scoring prowess continues to wow me with every opportunity I get to watch him. Just like I mentioned with Toews, Tavares does the little things right almost every time to get these great opportunities. Watching him hound players behind the net is something to behold and for a player knocked for poor skating as a rookie, he is truly a powerful body. So much of his offensive output is generated from his tremendous work ethic and he lets nothing stand in his way. One can see him constantly hacking at the ankles of defenders, only a last ditch effort to slow him down, while trying to trap the puck and do not take this as me calling Tavares dirty. It is this effort not to give in and allow others to dictate play that truly separates the elite. His incredible play this season has elevated the Isles from a contender for a playoff spot to a playoff contender, which again shows that Tavares elevates his team to a completely different level.
While I mentioned earlier that a Hart Trophy contender is not always the player that is solely relied on for their respected team, Tavares might be the only current contender who actually fits this mold. With all due respect to Evgeni Nabokov, who at 37 years of age has played 36 games in this shortened season, Tavares is the engine of the Islanders club. He has eleven more goals than the next closest Islander player and logs over 20 minutes of ice time per game, which is actually a full minute more on average than that of Toews.
If Sidney Crosby does not return until the playoffs begin, or even with one or two games remaining, I find it extremely difficult to say that he is a Hart Trophy favorite. In my opinion you have two players in John Tavares and Jonathan Toews who continually prove night in and night out what a Hart candidate is supposed to be. Crosby, Toews, and Tavares are my picks for this seasons Hart Trophy award (with acknowledgements to Sergei Bobrovsky).