Known as the trophy awarded to the NHL's "MVP" (most valuable player), the Hart Memorial Trophy is handed out to the player (or goaltender) judged as the most valuable to his team during the course of the regular season. The award is named in honor of Cecil Hart, a former manager-coach of the Montreal Canadiens, and is voted on by the members of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association.
Wayne Gretzky has won the Hart Trophy a record nine times, eight times consecutively between the 1979-80 and the 1986-87 seasons. Other players who have won the trophy multiple times include Mark Messier, Mario Lemieux, Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Dominik Hasek, Guy Lafleur and Alex Ovechkin.
The three finalists for the 2011-2012 NHL season are New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, and Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos. The winner will be announced on June 20 during the 2012 NHL Awards ceremony in Las Vegas.
A breakdown of the finalists' performances during the season is done using the charts:
*Note that the first 5 categories are relevant only to Malkin and Stamkos, and that the last 5 categories are relevant only to Lundqvist.
Malkin and Stamkos finished first and second in NHL scoring with 109 and 97 points respectively. They were also the only two players to score 50 goals or more during the season; Stamkos scored 60, and Malkin scored 50 times. Malkin scored 109 points in only 75 games, resulting in a points per game average of 1.45. Stamkos's 97 points were scored in 82 games, for an average of 1.18 points per game.
Malkin scored 18.3% of his team's goals during the season; the Penguins were the highest scoring team in the NHL, with 273 goals for. Malkin was involved in 39.9% of his team's goals scored (either scoring a goal or assisting on one). Stamkos on the other hand scored 25.9% of his team's goals and was involved in 41.8% of his team's goals scored overall.
Malkin finished the year with more points, but in terms of value to his own team, Stamkos gets the nod over Malkin.
Advantage: Steven Stamkos
Special Teams Scoring
Both Malkin and Stamkos finished the year with 12 power play goals; the difference is that Malkin had 9 more assists than Stamkos. Malkin accumulated 34 power play points, good enough to finish 3rd in the league in that category, while Stamkos finished with 25. With Malkin centering the first power play unit, the Penguins' power play was the 5th in the league (in terms of power play percentage); the Lightning's power play finished a disappointing 25th.
The Penguins scored 57 goals on the power play, Malkin contributing to 59.6% of those. The Lightning only scored 41 power play goals, but Stamkos contributed to 60.9% of those. Malkin also spent more time per game on the power play than Stamkos (4:21 to 3:48), so Stamkos is once again the more valuable to his team, although Malkin did lead his team to finish with a top-5 power play in the NHL.
In terms of penalty killing, neither Malkin nor Stamkos scored a point while shorthanded during the season. In fairness to them, they do not play the role of penalty killer on their teams. Malkin only played 3 minutes on the penalty kill throughout the whole season, averaging 2 seconds per game of penalty killing time per game. Stamkos played a little more on the penalty kill, averaging 33 seconds per game, for a total of 45:26 of shorthanded time on the season.
Advantage: Steven Stamkos
Malkin was one of the most dangerous players in the shootout during the season, converting 8 of his 11 shootout attempts into goals. His 8 shooutout goals is the second highest total among all players, with only his Russian counterpart Ilya Kovalchuk scoring more goals. Malkin's shooting percentage in the shootout was 72.7%, and 3 of his goals in these situations were game deciding goals that secured the win for his team. Malkin was the most accurate Penguins player in shootouts and was the main reason why the Penguins finished with a record of 9-3 in shootouts.
Despite being the league's top scorer, Stamkos struggled in shootouts, scoring only once on four attempts, for a shooting percentage of 25%. Stamkos was the Tampa Bay player that was used the most in shootouts, but he did not score any game deciding goals, and his team finished with an ordinary shootout record of 3-3. Stamkos's disappointing performances in the shootout easily gives Malkin the advantage.
Advantage: Evgeni Malkin
Plus / Minus
Malkin finished the year with a +18, leading all Penguins forwards. He was a plus (+) player at home as well as on the road (+14 at home, +4 on the road). Stamkos finished the year at +7, a decent accomplishment considering the Lightning were the team that gave up the most goals during the season. Stamkos was a +11 on at home; however, he was a -4 on the road and a -1 against teams outside his division (Malkin was a +16 against teams outside his division).
Advantage: Evgeni Malkin
Time on Ice
Stamkos led all centers in total ice time (1,805:40 minutes) and time on ice per game (22:01 minutes) last season. Having missed 7 games due to injury last season, Malkin's total ice time was 1,576:46 minutes, which was the most among centers who played less than 80 games. Malkin averaged one less minute per game (time on ice of 21:01 minutes) than Stamkos. While neither saw significant time on the penalty kill, they ranked second and third among centers in power play time on ice (Malkin played 326:56 minutes, and Stamkos played 311:38 minutes).
In terms of how efficient they were while they were on the ice, Stamkos recorded a point every 18:37 minutes on average; Malkin recorded a point every 14:28 minutes. Stamkos also had a lot more shifts than Malkin; Stamkos had 2,016 shifts to Malkin's 1,644, a difference of 372. While Stamkos had more overall ice time than Malkin, it was the Pittsburgh center that made the most of his ice time.
Advantage: Evgeni Malkin
Henrik Lundqvist played in 62 games for the Rangers during the season and started all of them, meaning his team never made a goaltender switch in a game that he didn't start. Lundqvist started 75.6% of his team's games during the year, and because the Rangers clinched a playoff sport early, Lundqvist was rested a little more near the regular season's end. Among starting goaltenders in the NHL, Lundqvist ranked 12th in games played and 11th in games started. The average number of games played among goaltenders who played over 50 games during the year was just under 63, so the number of games that Lundqvist played in was just around the average.
Despite the fact that 11 other goaltenders played more games than him, Lundqvist finished 3rd among goalies in wins, with 39. Lundqvist won 39 out of his 62 starts, for a winning percentage of 62.9%, which was the second highest among goaltenders who started 50 or more games on the season. Lundqvist's winning percentage was also 10% higher than the average winning percentage for goaltenders who played more than 50 games.
The Rangers won 12 of the 20 games that Lundqvist didn't play in, a slightly lower winning percentage than for the games that Lundqvist featured in. In the games Lundqvist played in, the Rangers picked up 66.9% of the points available to them; in the games that backup goaltender Martin Biron played in, the team picked up 65% of the points available to them.
Goals Against Average
Lundqvist finished with a goals against average of 1.97, the second highest among goaltenders who started 50 or more games. The average goals against average of goaltenders in this group was 2.44, a difference of 0.47 with Lundqvist's numbers.
In the games that Lundqvist didn't start, his backup Biron recorded a goals against average of 2.46. The Rangers also allowed an average of 0.52 more goals per game in the games that Lundqvist didn't start. When Lundqvist plays, the Rangers shut out the opposition on average once every 7.75 games. In the games that he doesn't play, the shut out their opponents once every 10 games.
Lundqvist recorded a save percentage of .930, tying him with Coyotes stopper Mike Smith for the highest among goalies who started 50 or more games. The average among that group of goaltenders is or .917. Lundqvist's power play save percentage is .905, ranking among the top 5 goalies with 50 or more games started, and his short handed save percentage is .972, the best among goalies in that group (along with Carolina's Cam Ward).
When Lundqvist doesn't play, the Rangers goaltenders' overall save percentage drops to .904, a significant drop in terms of save percentage in the NHL. The power play save percentage also sees an important drop to just .868, and the short handed save percentage goes down to .947.
Lundqvist's stats in the shootout were average; he had a record of 4 wins and 3 losses, allowing 7 goals on 25 shots, for a save percentage of .720. Compared to other goalies in the league, these numbers are not impressive, but once again, the statistical difference between the games that Lundqvist has played in and the ones that he did not feature is important.
In games Biron started, the Rangers went to a shootout twice and lost both games. Biron allowed 4 goals on 7 shots, recording a save percentage of just .571. Those two losses proved costly, as the Rangers finished just 2 points shy of the President's Trophy winners the Vancouver Canucks for the best record in the NHL.
And The Winner Is...
Of all the major NHL awards this season, the Hart Trophy is the one that will be the most closely contested. All three candidates are deserving of their nominations, but cases can be made for and against each candidate.
Steven Stamkos had a 60-goal season and was very valuable to his team, but the Lightning didn't even make the playoffs.
Evgeni Malkin had another great season, leading the league in scoring and leading his team to the fourth-best record in the NHL despite the lengthy absence of Sidney Crosby, but Pittsburgh is a team full of talented players that can hold their own even if one or more of their superstars are injured.
Henrik Lundqvist was arguably the best goaltender in the NHL this season, but the Rangers still had a winning record when he was injured or not playing.
Though he was by far his team's most valuable player this season, it's hard to imagine that Stamkos will win the Hart Trophy considering the Lightning finished 10th in the Eastern Conference and only 6 points out of last place. The Hart Trophy winner will likely be Malkin or Lundqvist. While it would be hard to imagine the Penguins finishing the season where they did without Malkin (considering Sidney Crosby was injured for most of the season as well), it's almost impossible to imagine the Rangers winning the Eastern Conference without Henrik Lundqvist.
The Rangers finished first in the East, despite being only the 7th highest scoring team in the 15-team conference. Lundqvist made up for the Rangers' scoring problems by establishing them as the best defensive team in the East (they gave up an average of only 2.22 goals per game). The difference in the Rangers' stats in games with Lundqvist and without Lundqvist reveals the value of the Rangers's goalie to his team. Similar to Malkin's Penguins finishing the season only one point behind Lundqvist's Rangers for first in the East, look for Lundqvist to take home the Hart Trophy by the slightest of margins.
Hart Trophy Winner: Henrik Lundqvist
Other NHL Awards Articles:
Editor's Update (06/20/2012): Evgeni Malkin won the 2011-2012 Hart Memorial Trophy.