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Have a Hart




It is rare that a defenseman is nominated as a Hart Trophy finalist, and even rarer that the trophy is awarded to a blueliner. Chris Pronger was the last d-man to win the Hart, and before that, you have to go back to Bobby Orr. Before that, you have to go all the way back to Babe Pratt in 1944, 11 years before the introduction of the Norris trophy.


That was not always the case. Nine of the first 21 Hart Trophies were awarded to defensemen. It is not as though we have a recent dearth of talent at the position either. Since Orr’s era of dominance, we have seen greats such as Denis Potvin, Larry Robinson, Rod Langway, Paul Coffey, Ray Bourque, Chris Chelios, and Nicklas Lidstrom go through their primes, just to name a few. There can be no doubt that is a “who’s who” list.


Why then, is it so rare for a defenseman to get any love in MVP balloting? I believe the answer can be found in the fact that a defenseman’s contributions are not entirely (or sometimes primarily) found on the stat sheet, whereas that is generally not the case for forwards. From 2003-2014, the Hart Trophy winner led the league in scoring, goals, or both. A change in the mentality and approach of voters makes it much more difficult for a defender to have success. With that in mind, I want to look back and honor some defensemen whom I believe worthy of a nomination or a win.


2015: Erik Karlsson

It does not have to be Karlsson, it could be any of the finalists, but I think he is the obvious choice because he won the Norris. I am not going to argue that Carey Price should not have won the Hart, because I think he was the correct choice. However, when the Art Ross Trophy winner finished with only 87 points, it was obviously not a banner year for forwards. So, why not give some love to a defenseman who managed 66 points? I would replace Tavares with Karlsson in 2015.


2006: Nicklas Lidstrom

Lidstrom finished higher in the balloting in 2008, but I am going to offer him as a candidate in 2006 instead, because it might have been his best season ever. The thing is, Lidstrom’s usefulness was quite obvious on the score sheet in 2005-06, because he managed to post an 80 point season. The top two vote getters were Joe Thornton and Jaromir Jagr, who scored 125 and 123 points respectively. But consider this: whose defensive play would be superior? I think it is quite clear that the answer is Lidstrom by a mile. Lidstrom should have been a finalist at the very least, and at the risk of being thought of as nuts, I would have considered him strongly as my winner. Replace Miikka Kiprusoff as a finalist, and possibly Joe Thornton as the winner.


1995: Paul Coffey

I will admit that I have been quite critical of Coffey’s defensive play, and that I do not rate him as highly among defensemen as most, but he had a whale of a season in 1994-94. The season was shortened by a lockout, meaning the league’s point leaders, Jaromir Jagr and Eric Lindros had only 70 points. Coffey had 58, and had the most point shares of any skater that season according to hockey-reference.com. I would nominate Coffey instead of Dominik Hasek, and I would be hard pressed not to give him the win.


1990: Ray Bourque

I almost mentioned Bourque in 1994 as a potential nominee, but chose not to because I knew I would want to do this. Bourque was runner-up in 1990, losing to Mark Messier. The two had the same number of first place votes, and Bourque had more second place votes. Mess won the award on third place selections believe it or not. With the type of season that Bourque had that season, it baffles me that he was left off of any ballots. Messier had an incredible season, but considering the impressive two-way play of Bourque, I would have to vote for him.


1979: Denis Potvin

Potvin just barely missed out on being in the top three in 1979. The finalists were Bryan Trottier, Guy Lafleur, and Marcel Dionne who had 134, 129, and 130 points respectively. Too bad Potvin could manage only 101, right? No disrespect to any of the finalists. They all had outstanding seasons, and are all-time greats, but I have absolutely no problem in saying that I would have cast my vote for Potvin. Despite his 59 goals, I think I would replace Dionne since the other two were better defensively, but I think Potvin should have been a finalist and that year’s winner.


1977: Larry Robinson

I know that a plus/minus rating has to be taken with a grain of salt, but when a guy puts up a +120 rating, he is obviously doing something right. I will not go so far as to dethrone Guy Lafleur as that season’s winner, because he had a truly remarkable line of stats, but I certainly think Robinson should have been among the top three. I would put Robinson in Rogie Vachon’s place, and honestly, he probably would have been second on my ballot.


There you have it. I am not saying that those guys are the only ones worthy of recognition, but I think those cases are among the strongest of the last 40 years. I do not think it is right that defensemen are so frequently overlooked, and this has been my attempt at paying homage to some of their greatest performance.


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Nicklas Lidstrom, Ray Bourque and Denis Potvin are the only ones I would bestow the hart upon. Paul Coffey I wouldn't rank above Hasek for the hart that season. Hasek had a save percentage of 9.30 when second place had 9.06..


Ideally though, I would have Lindros as the winner, Hasek second and Coffey third...

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I won't fuss too much with that. Hasek had a great season, no doubt. I guess for me it all goes back to my ideas about when a goalie should win the Hart. Hasek was clearly the best goalie that season, but there were plenty of worthy candidates among skaters making it a little harder for me there. But yeah, Lindros had a great season, and it's not like I think his win was a travesty or anything like that.


Btw, though, Chris Osgood and Jocelyn Thibeault tied for second in save percentage that year with a .917.


Anyway, I'll stop there, because that's all another discussion.

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I thoroughly enjoy your posts, Scott.


I like Karlsson for 2015.   Nothing against Price--who had a terrific season--but I don't like a goalie for it.  If there was a season in which you give it to a goalie (or a defenseman), though, last year was it.   My only comment pointing toward Price over Karlsson is that as good as Karlsson was, the Sens got there because of a hot goalie and a Turris/Stone tandem that caught fire down the stretch (and Karlsson, too).  But the point is if Karlsson goes down they have a chance.  An unlikely chance, but a chance.  If Price goes down it's close the doors and go home.   That's an MVP, to me.


Yes on Lindstrom.  He'd have gotten my vote.


I'm actually less hard on Coffey than most, but he was a disaster if caught in his end, particularly in the corner.  I give it to either forward that year, but Coffey deserves to be in that conversation.   But again, despite my dislike of giving it to goalies, I'm good with Hasek if Brodeur doesn't get it (That's just for @JagerMeister).


Bourque deserved to be as close as he was in 1990.  That vote went the way I think it should have in terms of who eked it out, but I'm with you in being astounded that he was left off.  You have to imagine that's a forward bias for some voters (the point to your thread, I think).


I loved Potvin as a player.  Given that I was a Flyers' fan even back then, that's hard to say, but I did.  I also loved Trottier.   My vote goes to him, but Potvin is second.   Hard to argue against The Flower and Dionne, but I'm with you in leaving Dionne off. (On the other hand, Dionne had Taylor and....?   Trottier and Potvin had a pretty good developing cast).


Agree with every word on Robinson.  Yes, LaFleur wins.  Robinson is #2.

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@ruxpin You absolutely picked up on the point to my post. I'll build on it a bit more, though. After I finished typing it and looked back over it, something struck me. In the last two examples I gave, the two guys that I said I think should have been finalists were teammates with the winners, which makes me wonder even more what role a forward bias might have played.


Did the fact that Trottier was so good in 1979 push votes away from Potvin or Lafleur from Robinson? I don't really know if there's a way to prove or disprove the idea, but on the surface, it doesn't appear that being teammates with an MVP-caliber forward is any kind of help at all to a defenseman in a Hart race.

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