Sunday, June 20, 2010

Got Hart? The 2010 Edition (Part 1)

As the NHL honors the best of the best of the 2009-10 season on Tuesday night, the most compelling debate continues to rage for (arguably) the league’s biggest individual award – the Hart Trophy.

Seems like every nearly year there is a bit of an uproar over which players are named the three finalists for the NHL’s most valuable player, and this year is no different. Many in the media have suggested both Buffalo’s Ryan Miller and Phoenix’s Ilya Bryzgalov should have been named amongst the finalists for the Hart after their Herculean efforts in net for their respective teams – teams that would’ve finished substantially worse in the standing were it not for the two netminders’ performances this year. However, both players were left off the ballot and were instead named finalists for the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goaltender.

There has been outcry from far and wide debating the candidacy of both Miller and Bryzgalov, and has led to some of the league’s greatest alumni to chime in with their thoughts. And there always seems some who feel the need to feel the need to provide clarity on the criteria in determining the NHL’s awards process.

It certainly seems as if there is an anti-goaltender bias when it comes to naming a goaltender as a candidate for league MVP. It would be akin to Major League Baseball’s consistent exclusion of pitchers for consideration for the MVP of both the American and National Leagues. Perhaps the thinking is that since pitchers have their own award to recognize excellence at their position – the Cy Young Award – it would require a truly super-human season to sway the media to vote for a pitcher. (Ironically enough, this peculiarity may well happen this season, considering the dominance of Ubaldo Jimenez of the Colorado Rockies this year, which is already being dubbed “The Year of the Pitcher” by many in baseball’s circles.)

Considering the NHL has given the Hart Trophy to a goalie only 7 times since its inception following the 1923-24 season, it may be safe to say that the NHL’s best netminders will have to settle for the Vezina. And that’s a shame for both Miller and Bryzgalov, because neither of these two fine goalies will take home this particular piece of hardware this year.

Here’s a crazy thought: If the Oscars can expand their nominees for Best Picture from 5 films to 10 – for the purpose of recognizing a wider selection of great movies each year – why can’t the NHL do the same for the Hart Trophy? Yes, ultimately there can only be one winner, but a little extra recognition after a stellar season may perhaps take the sting off of what may still be considered an unsuccessful season (considering the TEAM goal of all but one team goes unfilled every year) and may go a long way to provide motivation for next season. At the very least, it would provide incentive for the best players to avoid becoming a one-season wonder. More importantly, it gives another nod to the players who truly deserve it, rather than going with the “safe picks” (more on that very topic coming very soon).

Just a thought, anyway. Time to get off my soapbox and get down to brass tacks….

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