Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once wrote of hindsight that “it is easy to be wise after the event,” which is why I’ll never be too hard on Robert Downey, Jr. making a vastly inferior sequel to his “Sherlock Holmes” because, hey, it probably seemed like a good idea at the time.
The same goes for awards voting. It’s easy to be wise after the event, but that doesn’t diminish the virtue of wisdom. Some brilliant ideas in the moment seem dim when revisited with new context, new information or a new sense of value. You know, like Taylor Hicks winning “American Idol” over Katherine McPhee, Chris Daughtry and Kellie Pickler — or “Crash” beating “Brokeback Mountain” for Best Picture. Or just someone getting jobbed out of winning the Hart Trophy because of recency bias.
Here are the 10 least deserving NHL award winners of the last 20 years, in the sense that there was another finalist who deserved the hardware more. Some of these are travesties, while others were quibbled. But all of them deserve some sort of retroactive re-gifting of the trophies. Let’s take a look back, chronologically, at some of the worst affronts to common sense and honor … at least with the wisdom of hindsight.
(Please note that Jose Theodore‘s much maligned 2001-02 Hart Trophy win over Jarome Iginla isn’t included here. Theodore was absolutely incredible in 67 games with a .931 save percentage and an absurd 45.91 goals-saved above replacement. He rolled off six straight wins in the thick of the playoff race to clinch a spot for the Montreal Canadiens. Iginla led the league in goals (51) by 11 over Bill Guerin, in points (96) by six over Markus Naslund and led his team in both by an absolute country mile. But the Calgary Flames missed the playoffs by 16 points, and, well, you know how I feel about that vis-à-vis the MVP award.)
Calder Trophy, 1998-99
Drury is a good American boy from Trumbull, Connecticut and was a member of that hamlet’s Little League Baseball World Series championship team. While at Boston University, he won the Hobey Baker Award as the top NCAA men’s hockey player in 1998. Reports at the time suggested he smelled of apple pie and freedom.
Milan Hejduk, however, was none of these things in 1998-99, which is why this native of Ústí nad Labem in the Czech Republic finished a distant third in the voting (184 votes) behind Drury (448), who won the Calder Trophy for top rookie in a walk.
Drury had a great season: 20 goals and 24 assists in 13:15 of average ice time. But Hejduk, statistically, had a better season: 14 goals and 34 assists in 82 games, leading all rookies in points. To wit: Drury didn’t lead first-year players in goals (Mark Parrish, 24) or points or points-per-game average (Brendan Morrison, 0.61).
But with Drury getting all the national attention with firmly established credentials among the Northeast elitist voters, Hejduk and fellow non-North American Marian Hossa were relegated to runners-up status.
“I think that any three of us could have been here this evening. I really feel fortunate standing up here,” said Drury after winning the Calder in a moment of true self-awareness.
Hart Trophy, 1999-2000
Since 1967, only one defenseman not named Bobby Orr has captured the Hart Trophy for regular-season MVP: The mercurial and injurious Chris Pronger of the Blues, who doubled up with the Hart and the Norris in the same season.
It’s a rather infamous vote. Pronger edged Jaromir Jagr of the Pittsburgh Penguins by a total of 396-395, the narrowest margin for the Hart in the award’s history at that point. Dave Molinari, the Penguins’ beat writer for the Post-Gazette, actually penned a column defending his choice of Pronger over Jagr on his ballot, knowing that a hometown vote would have tipped the scales for the Penguins star. “There simply was another player who deserved it a bit more,” wrote Molinari.
And he couldn’t have been more correct.
Except that player’s name wasn’t Chris Pronger. It was Pavel Bure.
Bure was in his first full season with the Panthers after being traded by the Vancouver Canucks in 1999, an acrimonious split following a trade demand. His 1999-2000 campaign was extraordinary: 58 goals and 36 assists for 94 points in 74 games. While game-winning goals can be as nebulous and deceptive a stat as plus/minus (keeping in mind Bure was also a plus-25), he had an incredible 14 game-winners for Florida, which remains the highest total in the last 35 years.
Jagr’s case was made in the averages, seeing as he was limited to 63 games that season. Bure smoked him in goals (Jagr scored 42), but lost the points-per-game battle, as Jagr led the NHL at 1.52, and Bure was third at 1.27. But if there’s one stat that’s just awe-inspiring in this comparison, it’s even-strength goals: 45 of Bure’s 58 were at even strength, while Jagr scored 32. That ties him for 10th for the highest single-season even-strength goal total in the last 35 years, and he did it while stuck in the mire of the dead-puck era.
The overall league goals-per-game average in 1999-2000 was 2.75, which isn’t the nadir of the trap years, but it’s not exactly an offensive bounty, either. Which brings us to Pronger. The Blues went from 87 points to 114 points, season to season, improving from 13th to first in goals allowed, for which Pronger and his 30 minutes of ice time a night were credited. He had 62 points in 79 games, as well.
Pronger made the Blues an incredible team that season. But Bure, it can be argued, was the team that season. In an argument familiar to Hart Trophy voters in 2018 (hello, Taylor Hall), Bure finished 23 points better than the Panthers’ second-leading scorer and doubled the goal total of their second-leading goal scorer Ray Whitney (29).
Bure entered the Hockey Hall of Fame without a major award other than the Calder to his credit. This should have been his MVP season.
Vezina Trophy, 2003-04
The “reputation-based” awards result are always confounding. Obviously, you doff your cap to the beneficiaries of such outcomes because they’ve earned the benefit of the doubt through years of stellar play. But in the end, they’re literally stealing bonus money away from more deserving candidates based solely on past performances.
Brodeur’s 2003-04 season was exactly what one might expect from him, thanks to his prowess, the defensemen in front of him and the typically stingy Devils’ system that yielded just 24.4 shots per game, second-fewest in the NHL.
Luongo’s 2003-04 season was, in hindsight, perhaps the best of his career. He posted a .931 save percentage and a 2.43 goals-against average for a Panthers team that gave up a league-high 34.5 shots per game, 10 more every night than what Brodeur faced. He only won 25 games because a league-high 14 of his 72 games ended in a tie or overtime loss. But he was third in the Vezina voting.
While I’ve never found it completely kosher that the proficiency of Brodeur’s team was used as a strike against him by critics, I absolutely believe the fecal abundance that was the 2003-04 Panthers should have turned Luongo’s performance into what would still be his only Vezina.
Selke Trophy, 2006-07
The Selke Trophy, more than any other, has the greatest number of reputation-based winners. You win one award for best defensive-forward, chances are you’re going to win again. In 40 years, there have been nine multiple winners, and their total wins equaled 25.
Brind’Amour won his first Selke in 2005-06, true to the award’s stereotypical criteria: He was known as a good defensive player, won a bunch of faceoffs and then posted 70 points in a season, because offensive output is inexplicably overvalued when it comes to the Selke.
Then he won again in 2006-07 with an even greater offensive season: 82 points in 78 games. Here’s the thing, though: He didn’t earn the majority of first-place votes in 2007 like he did in winning in the previous season. It was actually Samuel Pahlsson of the Ducks who received 24 first-place tallies to Brind’Amour’s 16.
Pahlsson was outstanding, a shutdown center in every sense. He was a penalty killer to the tune of 4:29 average shorthanded-ice time per game. While he wasn’t quite up to Rod The Bod’s prowess as a faceoff guy (59.3), Pahlsson did have a 52.6 faceoff winning percentage.
“The thing with Sammy is you’ve got to watch him every night to realize he’s a Viking,” GM Brian Burke said in 2007. “He’s a throwback to a time when Sweden was feared all around the globe. He’s ultra-competitive. An extremely valuable player.”
Alas, he also only managed 26 points, which would be a career high for him, but not up to the offensive standards to win a defensive award. Read that last part again, and try not to hit your head on the desk too hard.
Norris Trophy, 2008-09
In her sensational standup special “Nanette,” comedian Hannah Gadsby argues that “nobody is born ahead of their time, it’s impossible” during an extended riff on Vincent Van Gogh’s inability to network with art buyers. (Don’t ask, just watch it.)
I would argue, however, that Mike Green was ahead of his time, by roughly three years. Green’s 2008-09 season will go down as one of the most remarkable offensive performances from a defenseman in the modern NHL: 31 goals and 42 assists for 73 points in just 68 games. No defenseman since 1994 has had a higher points-per-game average than Green’s 1.07 that season. Not even Erik Karlsson.
Karlsson won the Norris for the first time in 2012 in somewhat of a revelatory manner. Here was a 21-year-old defenseman whose defense was widely criticized, but whose offense and puck-possession numbers made his Norris candidacy undeniable.
Three years earlier, Green wasn’t the beneficiary of such urgings, despite having perhaps even a better case. Chara’s reputation as a shutdown defenseman mixed with a 50-point campaign was like catnip for voters. The simple argument that Green’s possession of the puck in the offensive zone was as good as a defensive play in his own zone couldn’t break through the noise. A great all-around defenseman won the Norris, but a good all-around defenseman who had one of the greatest offensive seasons of his era finished second, regrettably.
Conn Smythe, 2010
The Conn Smythe Trophy for postseason MVP has been awarded to a player from the team that lost in the Stanley Cup Final five times. Four of those winners were goalies. The Flyers’ Reggie Leach won it in 1976 after setting a league record for playoff goals with 19, including four in the final against Montreal.
It could be argued that Pronger should have won it twice in a losing effort. His playoff run for the Edmonton Oilers in 2006 — bittersweet, considering his tenure there — was as dominating a performance from a defenseman as we’ve seen in the postseason, with 21 points in 24 games and over 30 minutes of ice time per game. But Cam Ward of the Carolina Hurricanes made sense as the MVP, what with the Ken Dryden-esque rookie run to the Cup.
In 2010, Pronger did it again. He was everything and more that the Flyers needed, helping to solidify a defense that was trying to win a Cup in front of Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher. He had 18 points in 23 games and skated 29 minutes a night, playing a dominating three rounds before an inconsistent final. But in that final round, we saw a different kind of leadership. Remember Pronger stealing the puck after Game 2 and making the story about him rather than the Flyers dropping the first two games of the series?
Toews had 29 points in 22 games, while Patrick Kane had 28 points and the game-winning goal of the final. There’s a case to be made for both, but it’s a total playoff award, and no one was better overall than Pronger, even in defeat.
Hart Trophy, 2010-11
There should be senior dissertations written about the context of this Hart Trophy race.
Consider the recency bias, as Perry scored 25 of his 50 goals in the last three months of the season while Sedin scored 47 of his 104 points before January 1, 2011. Consider the goals vs. points bias, as Perry won the goals race but watched Sedin win the points race as the only player that season to break the century mark (while playing about three and a half minutes less than Perry on average).
Now, consider these connected dots: Henrik Sedin of the Canucks won the Hart in 2010, and one of the major facets of his MVP case was having scored 17 points in the 18 games that Daniel missed due to injury that season. Perry won the Hart in 2011, and one of the major facets of his MVP case was having scored 15 points in the 14 games his linemate Ryan Getzlaf missed due to injury that season. Daniel Sedin, meanwhile, put up 104 points in 82 games, in a season that saw the previous campaign’s MVP, Henrik Sedin, also play 82 games. So while Henrik benefited from Daniel’s absence, Daniel was penalized by Henrik’s attendance. What a world.
Also, Perry had 104 penalty minutes. Call me crazy, but shouldn’t the Most Valuable Player not be the guy who puts his team at a manpower disadvantage that often?
Hart Trophy, 2012-13
The lockout season (“No, not that one, the other one.” – NHL) is admittedly a tough one to get your dander up regarding a miscarriage of justice in awards voting. A 48-game sample size isn’t exactly fair, but the voters played the hand they were dealt. There were three numbers worth focusing on in 2012-13: 56, 48 and 36. The first number is the point total for both Crosby and Ovechkin that season. The other numbers are Ovechkin’s games played vs. those for Crosby that season, as the latter missed the rest of the regular season after March 30 due to a broken jaw. That gave Crosby a remarkable 1.56 points per game average to 1.17 for Ovechkin.
Ovechkin won the award on the strength of 32 goals in 48 games for a 0.67 goals per game average. It was a rebound season for Ovechkin after one of his least productive goal-scoring seasons in his career, and that was enough for voters (myself included) to put him over Crosby for the Hart.
Mea culpa: It might have been recency bias. Crosby missed the last month of the season. Out of sight, down the ballot, as they might say. Which is a shame, as Crosby put together 25 points in the Penguins’ 14 straight wins before his injury, helping to lead the Penguins to the top of the Eastern Conference. Pittsburgh won 28 of his 36 games that year.
He’d end up second for the Hart and then win it in a rout the following season.
Norris Trophy, 2015-16
The “preordained awards victory” isn’t as common as one might thing, or else Crosby would have a 2006 Calder Trophy on his mantle. But for whatever reason, all of Canada (and a few Americans) decided before the 2015-16 season that Doughty should finally get his Norris Trophy after being a finalist twice and having won two Stanley Cups.
Did he have a season worthy of an award? Sure. Doughty’s 51 points and 28 minutes of ice time on average, along with the ungodly Corsi of Darryl Sutter teams all combined for a strong case. But the cases don’t get any stronger than 82 points in 82 games for a defenseman, which is what Karlsson posted that season.
Honestly, I have no idea what happened here with Karlsson, who finished a distant second to Doughty. His defense was no longer considered suspect. I mean, the dude won the Norris in the previous season. Offensively, this was his masterpiece, and to date his only point-per-game season. Was it a perfect storm of voters who didn’t want a repeat win for Karlsson and who en masse decided it was Doughty’s “turn” to get a taste? Maybe.
Conn Smythe, 2016
Winner: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
Should have won: Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins
Phil led the Penguins in goals (10), points (22) and shots (98) during their Stanley Cup run, serving as the offensive engine for the HBK Line that was the heart and soul of the team through three rounds. Crosby was second in points (19), played all-around great hockey and most importantly had two assists in their elimination game against the San Jose Sharks, while Phil went scoreless.
But there’s no question Kessel deserved the playoff MVP that season. He lost to Crosby by three points in the voting, having been completely left off of one ballot, and had to settle for being America’s sweetheart and getting called out by the President as a champion.
Hey, you can’t blame the voters. It’s easy to be wise after the event, after all. Although, seriously, Phil totally deserved the Conn, you guys…
The Golden Knights settled their trademark dispute with the Army, unfortunately depriving us of a “peak NHL” scenario in which Vegas sells tens of millions of dollars in gear only to be forced to rename the team the “Desert Knights” or some such. [ESPN]
Jaromir Jagr isn’t focused on an NHL return this season … yet. [NHL.com]
Artemi Panarin sets a firm Sept. 13 deadline for negotiations with the Columbus Blue Jackets on a new contract, which in theory is just procedural if one is to believe earlier reports that Panarin doesn’t want to live in Columbus. [Dispatch]
Monika Caryk, the fiancée of current Panthers forward Mike Hoffman, has filed an application with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice seeking the disclosure of information in a cyberbullying scandal involving Melinda Karlsson, the wife of Senators player Erik Karlsson. [ESPN]
How a 250-pound Double-A player used hockey to excel at baseball. [Express News]
Meet the co-captains of the Brown Bears, a hockey team made up almost entirely of women of color. [VPR]
The NCAA really needs to figure out its overtime format stuff. “The rules committee voted to authorize conferences to use either a five-minute, three-on-three overtime period and a shootout or only a shootout to award additional conference points. In both scenarios, a traditional five-minute overtime must be played before the conference option is available. During nonconference games, these alternative options are not permitted, and a game would end in a tie after the traditional five-minute overtime.” [NCAA]
The USA Hockey Warrior Classic, which annually brings together teams from across the country comprised of U.S. military veterans to compete in sled hockey, is going to be held in Las Vegas this October and the presenting sponsor is … a ventriloquist. [USA Hockey]
Hockey tl;dr (too long; didn’t read)
Dom Luszczyszyn’s grades of all 31 teams this offseason through the eyes of his model based on Game Score. [The Athletic]
In case you missed this from your friends at ESPN
Core control: Ranking the best NHL’s locked-in young talent groups, from Emily Kaplan.