As far as individual NHL accolades go, the Hart Memorial Trophy is the big one. Maybe not physically — but as an honor, it doesn’t get any bigger than being named the player most valuable to his team in the NHL. The award is named for the man who donated it to the league in 1923, Dr. David A. Hart, father of Cecil Hart, one-time manager-coach of the Montreal Canadiens and multiple time Stanley Cup winner in that position.
Voting on the Hart is done by members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association at the conclusion of the regular season. Each member of the PHWA ranks their top five candidates and awards them points, based on a 10-7-5-3-1 system.
It is important to note the wording of the manner in which the Hart is awarded. It does not go to the most valuable player in the league; it goes to the player who is most valuable to his team.
At the end of the 2014-15 season Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price was the overwhelming winner of the Hart. Price earned 1,498 points in the voting, crushing Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin, who finished second with 888 points. Digging deeper, Price received 139 first place votes to Ovechkin’s 8. Only two other players had first place votes, the NY Islanders forward John Tavares (4) and Minnesota Wild goalkeeper Devan Dubnyk (6).
The race for the 2015-16 Hart is already heating up. These five players will be in the running for the award when the season concludes.
5. David Krejci
The Boston Bruins may not be sitting atop the Atlantic Division right now, but that’s not due to lack of scoring. More specifically, it’s not due to the lack of scoring on the part of 29-year-old David Krejci. Since the start of the 2015-16 season, Krejci has put up 14 points (7G, 7A) in eight games. Last year he scored a total of 31 points (7G, 24A) in an injury-shortened 47 game season.
Krejci has always been a consistent scorer for the Bruins, but he has begun this season on a tear that has him in the conversation for the Hart. If he can stay healthy and his confidence remains high throughout the season, expect to see Krejci’s name linked to the Hart Trophy.
4. Alex Ovechkin
Since joining the NHL in 2005-06, Alex Ovechkin has won the Hart Trophy three times, most recently in 2012-13. He has also finished second in the voting twice, including last season.
Ovechkin is and has been the driving force behind the Washington Capitals since his rookie season. The team has solid goaltending these days with Braden Holtby, but make no mistake about it, the fortunes of the Washington hockey club are tied directly to the performance of Ovechkin.
3. Jamie Benn
Jamie Benn had a breakout season for the Dallas Stars last year. The 26-year-old team captain won the Art Ross Trophy for most regular season points and was named an NHL Second All-Star. His achievements garnered him a handful of fourth and fifth place votes in the Hart voting, where he finished outside the top 10.
Early this season, Benn is once again leading the league in points, and he’s also first in goals, scoring more than one quarter of the goals for the Stars so far.
Last year Benn may have flown under the radar playing for a team out of the media eye, but don’t expect him to be snubbed this year, he’ll be in the Hart conversation.
2. John Tavares
John Tavares was selected first overall by the New York Islanders in the 2009 NHL draft. Since then the Islanders have made the playoff on two occasions, 2012-13 and 2014-15. It’s no coincidence that Tavares finished in the top three in Hart voting in both of those seasons.
Tavares is just 25 years old and hitting his prime. He had his best statistical season last year with 38 goals and 48 assists. There’s no reason to think he and the Islanders won’t progress further this season.
1. Carey Price
When Carey Price flew home from the 2015 NHL Awards, he probably had to pay a little extra. You see, the goaltender from the Montreal Canadiens left Vegas that day with some extra hardware.
By the time the awards ceremony ended, Price had the Ted Lindsay Award, the Vezina Trophy, the William M. Jennings Trophy, and Hart Trophy presented to him. Not a bad haul for the 28-year-old player.
This season, Price looks like he may repeat in these same categories. He’s atop the NHL in wins and shutouts and top five in both goals against average and save percentage. Look for Price to have a nice haul at the 2016 NHL Awards.