Sergei Fedorov was the last Detroit Red Wing to win the Hart Trophy and was widely considered one of the top players in the 1990s. Pavel Datsyuk has entered the discussion as one of the best all-around players in the game, today. Could he follow in Fedorov’s footsteps and play well enough to earn the Hart this season?
Like Fedorov, Datsyuk is an incredible skater. He mixes quickness with amazing agility. Datsyuk has deceptive speed and often seems to surprise opponents when he turns on the speed and blows by people. He has so many moves and is so crafty with the puck that he should be considered the Barry Sanders of the ice.
His puck handling is second to none in the league. He often splits opposing players as he makes the puck just dance on his stick. The puck handling skills and speed also make him one of the top defensive forwards in the league. He often is among the league leaders in takeaways every year. Beyond his speed he is also very committed to playing defense and fights just as hard on both ends of the ice.
Datsyuk has already won the Selke Award three times as the best defensive forward in the league. If not for an injury plagued season where he was limited to only 56 games, he likely would have won his fourth consecutive award last year. Fedorov is the only player to win the Selke and Hart in the same season, could Datsyuk become the second?
Datsyuk can score from anywhere on the ice. Goalies have nightmares about facing him in a shootout where he has made many a net minder look foolish. He has a quick shot and is lethal from anywhere on the ice.
The one down side in a Hart Trophy effort is that Datsyuk is not likely to lead the league in goals. There are two reasons for this. First, he is just as likely to setup a teammate as he is to shoot the puck himself. His magic with the puck forces opposing players to often lose track of other Red Wings. Datsyuk has a unique ability to not only find these open players but to place the puck in a great position for them to score.
The second reason is due to the system that the Wings play. They are more likely to have six players score 20 goals then to have one player score 50. Despite that, Datsyuk has twice finished fourth in points in the league when he had 97 points in back to back seasons.
The Hart tends to be all about gaudy numbers and not so much about having an all around game. The Art Ross Trophy is given to the leader in points every season. The Hart Trophy tends to go to one of the top scorers every season and seems to only focus on offensive numbers. Occasionally, a goalie is able to sneak in and win the award but players with a true all-around game tend to be ignored.
Of course do Red Wing fans really want him to win the Hart Trophy? After all over the past 20 seasons, only two Hart (Sakic and St Louis) and three Ross winners (Lemieux, St Louis and Malkin) have gone on to win the Cup in that same season. Putting so much on just one player does not seem to help a team in the chase for the Cup.
With that said, if Datsyuk can remain healthy all season and get close to 100 points again, then with his superior defensive play he should be in the running for the Hart. He has been considered one of the top players in the league for awhile now and few general managers would not trade anyone on their roster for him. His greatness goes beyond what can be seen on a pure stats sheet. This year hopefully the Professional Hockey Writers Association—the people who vote for the Hart—will look at a player’s complete play on the ice.