This is a repost of something I wrote during the early rounds of the playoffs (with some slight edits), but since it was awards night I thought I'd dust it off and put it back out there.
Just saw the Hart Trophy finalists. Can't really say that I'm surprised, nor can I really find too much fault with the names there. Certainly, Ovechkin, Malkin and Iginla are all very deserving candidates.
But, once again, defensemen are conspicuous in their absence, not just in the list of finalists but from the discussion altogether.
Chris Pronger took home the big trophy in 2000; before that, you need to go back to Bobby Orr from 1970, 71 and 72 to find the last Hart Trophy-winning blueliner. Before that? Babe Pratt, 1944. FDR was the president. Mackenzie King was the prime minister of Canada.
And it isn't like defensemen are just going through a dry spell winning the award; in order to win, you have to get nominated (by being in the top three in voting). Besides Pronger's narrow victory in 2000, the last defensemen to be nominated for the award was Ray Bourque in 1990.
So over the last two decades, a defender was one of the top three most valuable players in the league only twice? And a defender has been the most valuable player in the league only once in 35 years? Sorry, I don't buy it.
Bourque won the Norris Trophy five times and was a first-team all-star an NHL-record 13 times. But the man who is arguably the NHL's second-most-decorated rearguard never won the NHL's biggest individual trophy and was nominated for the award only twice, losing to Gretzky once and Messier once.
Nicklas Lidstrom, another five-time Norris Trophy winner, is (in my opinion) the best, smartest player I've ever seen, and I've been watching a lot of very good Red Wings teams (as well as other great players) for over ten years. Most analysts admit that he's nearly an automatic pick for league's best defender year in and year out, and he's expected to pick up Norris #6 at the ceremony this year. Besides for the 2003-2004 season, Lidstrom has been both a Norris finalist and a first-team all-star every years since 1998. Revered Wings captain Steve Yzerman has admitted that Lidstrom is the machine that truly makes Detroit run, and called him the best player he'd ever played with. There's no doubt in my mind that the Red Wings wouldn't have won any of their four cups without Lidstrom shutting down the opposition and powering the transition offense.
Lidstrom, obviously, has never been nominated for a Hart Trophy.
I'm not going to say that, objectively, Lidstrom deserves the Hart this year. But, I find it despicable that the man who is, arguably, the most valuable player of this decade has never been nominated for the most valuable player award an any season. And I find it despicable that great defenders everywhere practically have to lead the league in scoring (see Bobby Orr) just to get a whiff at the trophy.
Every year I complain that Lidstrom deserves a Hart nomination, and every year people tell me, "yeah, I understand what you're saying, but look just how incredible Ovechkin / Crosby / Jagr / Thornton / St. Louis / Forsberg / *insert forward or goaltender having career year here* are having! It's a season for the ages!"
The problem with this argument, of course, is that every year there will be forwards and goaltenders having superstar seasons. Why is it that we fall over backward trying to bestow recognition on their accomplishments, yet ignore defenders like Lidstrom, Sergei Zubov and Scott Niedermayer, who play like superstars every season and are the most important players on the NHL's best teams?
If a forward or goalie established himself as "by far the best" at his position in a single season, they would be an unquestioned lock for the Hart -- and really, would probably deserve it. Meanwhile, a defensemen who has been "by far the best" at his position for quite some time ... nothing.
And what kills me is that I know Lidstrom will never get a nomination. If he's already played like the best defender of a generation for ten years and never earned a nomination, what more can he possibly do? Why would anyone give him a Hart Trophy for another 70-point, +40, 30 minutes-per-night campaign when its never gotten him nominated before? Some forward will just put up 120 points or some goalie will win 45 games and everyone will go "ooh" and "ahh" and guys like Lidstrom and Zubov will be on the outside again.
Most hockey people will tell you that having a great defense shutting down the opposition and quarterbacking the attack is more important than having great offensive forwards. So why is there no recognition for defenders when the end of the year awards roll around?