Trophy Case: Who should win the Hart?

Carey Price stepped up in his return to the ice.

With NHL Awards set for June 24 in Las Vegas, three staff writers make a case for each Hart Trophy nominee.

Which player do you think is most deserving of the hardware?

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Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens

A goalie hasn’t won the Hart Trophy since Jose Theodore in 2002, but that’s about to change.

Frankly, this shouldn’t even be a debate. There’s no real case for anyone but Carey Price to win the Hart Trophy.

No single player did more for their team this season than the Montreal Canadiens goaltender. And it wasn’t even close.

Price, 27, not only led the NHL in wins (44), goals-against average (1.96) and save percentage (.933) — the first to do so since Ed Belfour — but the gold-medal winning netminder carried (no hyperbole) an otherwise-mediocre Canadiens team to an Atlantic Division title and a top-two seed in the Eastern Conference.

Whether you break it down with traditional or advanced metrics the Canadiens, outside of Price, were not a very impressive group. They posted below average regular season numbers in terms of goal scoring, puck possession, and shots allowed (30.1 per game).

Yet, the team still allowed the fewest goals against all season. Can you get more valuable than that?

Price is a lock to win the Vezina Trophy and should easily take home the Hart after the most impressive season of his career. – Jeff Simmons

John Tavares, New York Islanders

Career highs in goals (38) and points (86) and a return to the post-season helped New York Islanders captain John Tavares earn his second nomination for the Hart Memorial Trophy.

Tavares appeared to be on his way to his first Art Ross Trophy as the league’s leading scorer, until Jamie Benn and his Dallas Stars teammates made an 11th hour push on the last day of the season. Tavares played in all 82 games for the third time in his six-year career (he also played in all 48 games of the 2012-13 lockout-shortened campaign) and recorded a point in 65.9 percent of them.

Some in the analytics community will point to Tavares’ 67.8 percent offensive zone-start rate as a knock against him as a ‘complete player.’ Is it really that difficult to understand why Islanders head coach Jack Capuano wouldn’t want one of the game’s top snipers to constantly be placed in a position to succeed on offence? What a novel concept!

It’s not all that bad for Tavares in terms of underlying numbers, though, as evidenced by his 5-on-5 WOWY totals. Tavares finished 2014-15 with a career-best Corsi For mark of 54.9 percent. His linemates (min. 300 minutes played together) all saw their possession totals dip in their captain’s absence.

Tavares turned in his finest season and he did so with his top winger, Kyle Okposo, on the shelf for 22 games. The Islanders resurfaced as a relevant hockey club again and they would not have done so without Tavares driving play and leading both on and off the ice. – Scott Lewis

Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

Already a three-time winner, Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin could surpass Mario Lemieux, Bobby Orr, Bobby Clarke and Howie Morenz to move into a tie with Eddie Shore for third on the NHL’s all-time Hart Trophy list. The Great 8 led the league with 53 goals, becoming the sixth player in NHL history to record six 50-goal seasons. He also became the fifth player to lead the league in goals by 10 or more on three separate occasions. Wayne Gretzky didn’t even accomplish that one.

Once the calendar switched from 2014 to 2015, the five-time Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy winner (he’s the reigning champ three years running) took his game to a new level. From Jan. 1 to the conclusion of the regular season Ovechkin registered 36 goals and 51 points in 45 games. This won’t be reflected in the voting, but he was the only player in the top seven in scoring whose team advanced to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Also, look at what he did to Hart favourite Carey Price on April 2.

While he’s mostly about goals, Ovi isn’t only about goals. He led the league in shots, finished 10th among forwards in hits with 259, and took his defensive game to a new level under head coach Barry Trotz going from a cringeworthy minus-35 last year to a respectable plus-10 this year. For these reasons, Ovechkin deserves to win.

Hot take: Ovechkin is the only Hart Trophy finalist to have been used as a rap lyric by J. Cole. If there’s a tiebreaker required, this tidbit should seal it for Ovi. – Mike Johnston

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