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Ranking the Top 10 Candidates for the 2013-14 Hart Trophy

Rob VollmanContributor IMarch 15, 2014

Ranking the Top 10 Candidates for the 2013-14 Hart Trophy

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    DAVE SANDFORD/Associated Press

    Entering the final month of the 2013-14 NHL season, who are the Hart Trophy favorites? How significant is Sidney Crosby's lead, what are the chances of Alexander Ovechkin defending his title and what other potential candidates are coming out of the field?

    We last took a look last January when Bleacher Report's own Jonathan Willis identified and ranked the top 10 most likely Hart Trophy candidates.

    Following his footsteps, we also added the perspective of the two leading all-in-one statistics: Hockey Reference's point shares and Hockey Prospectus' goals versus threshold (GVT). These are very much like baseball's WAR (wins above replacement).

    Given the estimated and contextual nature of these statistics, we also supplemented the analysis with a player usage chart of the candidates for both forwards and defensemen. Suffice it to say that we used the wide range of analytic tools at our disposal to produce these new rankings.

    Using the perspective of modern hockey analytics, we can roughly establish which players are most likely to contend with Sidney Crosby for this year's Hart Trophy. Let's begin! 

     

    All scoring data is from NHL.com, player usage data from Extra Skater and all other advanced statistics are via writer's own original research unless otherwise noted.

     

Honorable Mentions

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    Karl B DeBlaker/Associated Press

    The following players are very unlikely to win the Hart Trophy or to even finish among the finalists, but they could get some late-ballot recognition.

    As is fitting of a Hart Trophy candidate, they are all the most valuable players on potentially playoff-bound teams, and generally by a wide margin over any other skater on their teams.

    - Martin St. Louis, New York Rangers

    - Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers

    - Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings

    - Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars

    There are a few likely Hart candidates who have linemates that may also receive some Hart recognition, and they'll be mentioned in the appropriate slides instead.

     

     

10. Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    The numbers: Duncan Keith leads all NHL defensemen with 48 assists, is second to Erik Karlsson with 51 points, is sixth with 169 shots, tied for eighth with a plus-21 and ninth with 19 power-play points.

    In terms of catch-all statistics, Keith is tied for second in GVT and fifth in point shares among the league's defensemen.

     

    The skinny: Keith is generally the consensus pick as the league's best defenseman.

    He's on a great team, though, with several other players who can make an equally strong claim for being responsible for the team's success.

    Keith also doesn't do all the heavy lifting on Chicago's blue line, which is blessed with several players just as capable of handling the tough minutes. That puts him in a less valuable category than blueliners relied upon by their teams to a greater extent, like Ryan Suter, Shea Weber and Zdeno Chara.

     

    Bottom line: Even if Keith's status as the league's best defenseman were more certain, there's virtually no chance of him getting any serious Hart Trophy consideration.

    Defensemen are very rarely chosen for this award. Bobby Orr's three consecutive wins from 1970-72 were the first Hart Trophies for a defenseman since 1944, and only Chris Pronger in 2000 has won it since then.

     

9. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    The numbers: Tuukka Rask leads the NHL with a .940 save percentage at even strength. Martin Jones does have a .952 save percentage, but he's only competed in 15 games.

    Rask is tied for third with a .928 save percentage overall but with almost double the games of those ahead of him—Ben Scrivens and Josh Harding. He is tied for fourth with 30 wins and leads the league with six shutouts.

    Rask is fifth overall in GVT and sixth among goalies in point shares.

     

    The skinny: It's been a fantastic season for Rask, but there has always been the question of how much his numbers are boosted by such a fantastic defensive team all playing coach Claude Julien's well-designed system. After all, Tim Thomas posted similar numbers when he was backstopping the Bruins.

     

    Bottom line: Rask might win the Vezina, but he won't win the Hart.

    Boston has a great defensive team, and Rask has to share the credit for the team's success to a far greater degree than this year's other great goalies.

     

     

8. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    The numbers: Thanks to seven goals in his last six games, Jonathan Toews is tied for 16th in the NHL with 26 goals and 63 points and is also 13th with a plus/minus of plus-25.

    He is sixth overall with a 56.8 faceoff winning percentage and is second to T.J. Oshie with seven shootout goals in 13 attempts.

    Toews is 11th overall in GVT, sixth among skaters, but outside the top 20 by point shares.

     

    The skinny: Jonathan Toews is actually third in team scoring, so why is he the potential Hart candidate?

    Teammate Patrick Kane is currently higher in the scoring race with 29 goals and 67 points but has been on a free fall lately, as detailed by Bleacher Report's own Jonathan Willis. Kane is also focused on offense only and generally isn't tasked with facing top opponents.

    Toews' linemate Patrick Sharp also bests his scoring totals with 29 goals and 65 points and is 10th overall in GVT. Together, they take on the opposition's top players and dominate them.

    So why Toews? He has the team's best possession numbers, and other than Marian Hossa, he's the only top-six forward who is also tasked with killing penalties. In short, he is their most complete player whose overall offensive and defensive contributions are the greatest.

     

    Bottom line: Chicago is an amazing team with the second-fewest regulation-time losses, but the 'Hawks aren't reliant on a single key player.

    Jonathan Toews is the most valuable Blackhawk but by only a modest margin over Duncan Keith, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp.

    While one of the Blackhawks should be considered for the Hart Trophy, it would be difficult to choose between any of these players.

7. Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks

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    Tom Mihalek/Associated Press

    The numbers: Joe Pavelski is currently tied for third with 34 goals and ninth with 66 points. He is also 22nd in the NHL with a plus-22.

    Pavelski has the eighth-best faceoff winning percentage with 56.3.

    He is ranked ninth overall in GVT (fourth among skaters) and 14th in point shares (sixth among skaters).

     

    The skinny: The San Jose Sharks are once again in the running for the Presidents' Trophy, just two points back of the St. Louis Blues.

    But who is to credit? San Jose has three players with at least 60 points, including 2005-06's Hart Trophy winner, Joe Thornton.

    Pavelski has amazing possession numbers, though Thornton's are even better and appear in tougher circumstances. Pavelski kills penalties, but so does Patrick Marleau, who also plays in tougher circumstances at even strength.

     

    Bottom line: Someone in San Jose should be in the running for the Hart Trophy, but voters may be split on whether it should be Pavelski, Thornton or Marleau.

    Pavelski will have to keep making his case on the ice. He has had three three-point nights in the last nine games and recently went on a consistent stretch where he scored in 30 of 41 games, scoring 25 goals and 51 points over that span.

6. Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    The numbers: Toronto has outscored its opponents by 10 goals when Phil Kessel has been on the ice at even strength this year, the widest margin on the team. He leads the Leafs in scoring by 18 points. 

    Overall, Kessel is second in NHL scoring with 73 points, is also second with 256 shots and is tied for third in goal scoring with 34.

    Kessel ranks 12th overall in point shares, fourth among skaters, and 14th in GVT, ninth among skaters.

     

    The skinny: The speedy Kessel has certainly established himself among the league's elite players with his fifth 30-goal campaign in as many full consecutive seasons.

    The Leafs are set to defy the critics and qualify for the postseason for the second consecutive season, and it's largely thanks to their goaltender Jonathan Bernier and superstar sniper in Kessel.

     

    Bottom line: Kessel is obviously a Hart Trophy long shot, at best.

    While the Hart Trophy does indeed generally go to offense-only players, their scoring totals are usually not merely competitive with everyone else's but significantly eclipse them.

    That being said, if Kessel can reproduce his recent hot streak, where he scored 13 goals and 31 points in just 17 games, he could threaten to cross the 50-goal and/or 100-point mark by the end of the season. Assuming Crosby gets hurt and/or slows down, that just might do the trick.

5. Corey Perry, Anaheim Ducks

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    The numbers: Bolstered by six goals in his last six games, Corey Perry is second in the NHL with 36 goals and leads the league with 29 at even strength.

    Perry is also tied for sixth with 67 points and ninth with a plus-26. He has drawn 40 penalties, the most in the NHL, and also leads the league with nine game-winning goals.

    Among skaters, Perry is ranked second by point shares and third in GVT, or ninth and eighth overall, respectively.

     

    The skinny: The Ducks have defied expectations to be in the running for the Presidents' Trophy, currently tied for second overall with 95 points.

    In such circumstances, the voters are looking for the most valuable player who made that possible, and it's either Perry or his linemate Ryan Getzlaf.

    Perry, who won the Hart Trophy in 2010-11, plays tough two-way minutes against top opponents and enjoys the best possession numbers on the team.

     

    Bottom line: Working against Perry is the fact that Anaheim has two superstars on the same line, and the Hart Trophy can only go to one.

    His vote totals could consequently be diluted by voters who disagree on which of Anaheim's stars was most responsible for the team's success this season.

4. Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    The numbers: Alexander Ovechkin leads the league with 45 goals, nine more than Corey Perry, and 337 shots. No other Capital has 20 goals or more than 180 shots. He is second to Corey Perry with eight game-winners. 

    Ovechkin is tied for fourth with 68 points and is second in the NHL to linemate Nicklas Backstrom with 33 power-play points. He has played an amazing 92.6 percent of the team's power-play minutes, leading the NHL by over 10 percent more than Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin.

    Due to real or imagined defensive shortcomings, Ovechkin is nevertheless only 19th in the NHL in point shares (ninth among skaters) and 73rd in GVT.

     

    The skinny: Ovechkin is infamously second last to Edmonton's Nail Yakupov with a minus-29.

    While plus/minus is hardly the greatest statistic, the Capitals don't exactly dominate their opponents when Ovechkin's on the ice. And that is the despite the fact that he starts 60.7 percent of his non-neutral shifts in the offensive zone, his line leading the team by a very wide margin.

    Fortunately for Ovechkin, defensive neglect rarely deters Hart Trophy voters. And those voters do love him; they've awarded him the Hart Trophy three times over the last six years (2007-08, 2008-09 and 2012-13).

     

    Bottom line: Washington is currently 13th overall and will likely miss the postseason, killing Ovechkin's Hart Trophy chances regardless of how many goals he scores. To make matters even worse for him, the Russian sniper has only a single point in his last five games.

    If Ovechkin does go on a tear and carries the Capitals into the postseason, there is still the dark-horse potential of a fourth Hart Trophy.

3. Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    The numbers: Ben Bishop's .936 save percentage at even strength is second among NHL starters.

    He is tied for third with Tuukka Rask with a .928 save percentage but with almost double the games of those ahead of them—Ben Scrivens and Josh Harding. He's also tied with Rask for fourth in wins with 30 and tied for fourth with four shutouts.

    Bishop is first in the entire NHL in GVT, and by quite a margin, and third among goalies in point shares.

     

    The skinny: Unlike Rask, Bishop is really on his own in Tampa Bay. There's no Zdeno Chara, no Patrice Bergeron and no Claude Julien system preventing high-quality scoring chances.

    Instead, there's eight rookies and only one superstar at a time—either Martin St. Louis when Steven Stamkos was injured or just Stamkos now that St. Louis is gone.

    Tampa Bay's grip on the postseason is tenuous (two points), but if the Lightning make it, there's no player to whom more credit could be given than Bishop.

     

    Bottom line: Goalies rarely win the Hart Trophy. Dominik Hasek was a truly dominant, game-changing netminder when he won his back-to-back awards in 1997 and 1998, and he was the first goalie to win since Jacques Plante in 1962. Patrick Roy never won the Hart, nor did Martin Brodeur.

    Jose Theodore won in 2002, but that was more of an aberration potentially explained only by some sportswriters talking themselves out of the idea of the Hart being awarded to a player on a non-playoff team and/or to Jarome Iginla personally.

    If sportswriters similarly talk themselves out of awarding it to Sidney Crosby this year, as they certainly have in the past, then Ben Bishop could be the likeliest benefactor.

2. Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks

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    Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    The numbers: Ryan Getzlaf is tied for second with 73 points and for eighth with 29 goals. His 55 points at even strength are only one back of Sidney Crosby for the league lead.

    He ranks fourth with 25 goals at even strength and is tied for fifth with seven game-winners. Getzlaf is also tied for ninth overall with a plus-26.

    Among skaters, Getzlaf is third in point shares and second in GVT, or, respectively, 11th and seventh overall.

     

    The skinny: Not only is Getzlaf outscoring linemate Corey Perry, but he is also the leader and defensive conscience of the line.

    Among Ducks, only Saku Koivu plays a higher percentage of his shifts in the defensive zone, and Getzlaf is second to Daniel Winnik among the team's forwards in penalty-killing time.

    Hart Trophy voting doesn't always consider a player's defensive strengths, but they can break ties when the offensive totals are roughly equal.

     

    Bottom line: The Anaheim Ducks are in a bit of a slump with just one win in their last five games and a 4-5-2 record since the end of January.

    They have subsequently slipped into second place in the race for the Presidents' Trophy, two points back of the St. Louis Blues.

    If this cold stretch continues, it could sour the voters on the idea of awarding this year's Hart Trophy to a member of the Anaheim Ducks.

1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

    The numbers: Sidney Crosby leads the league with 88 points, 15 more than Phil Kessel and Ryan Getzlaf and 22 more than teammate Evgeni Malkin.

    Crosby is third with 32 power-play points and tied for fifth with 31 goals.

    In both point shares and GVT, Crosby is third overall and first among skaters.

     

    The skinny: What makes Crosby's scoring particularly exceptional is that it is produced against the league's best players, all keying in on him.

    Crosby takes on the team's top opponents, ranks in the top 10 by any statistical measure of competition and absolutely kills it. And he does so with the likes of Chris Kunitz and Lee Stempniak (formerly Pascal Dupuis) by his side.

    The Pittsburgh Penguins have 92 points, which puts them in the lead of the Metropolitan Division by 16 points and only one point back of the Boston Bruins for the Eastern Conference lead. They have a good team, but where would they place without their captain?

     

    Bottom line: The bar seems to be set a little bit higher for Crosby. If anyone is even remotely close to Crosby, the voters generally like to err in his favor, much as they did in 2009-10 and again last year in 2012-13.

    However, this year, there really is nobody who is even remotely close to Crosby. Circumstances can certainly change in the remaining 15 games, but right now, the Hart Trophy is Crosby's to lose.

     

    Rob Vollman is author of Rob Vollman's Hockey Abstract, co-author of the annual Hockey Prospectus guides and a featured ESPN Insider writer. @robvollmanNHL.

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