According to the text, the Hart Memorial Trophy is awarded annually to the “player judged most valuable to his team” during the NHL’s regular season. He’s the best player on any hockey club, hence “MVP.” Not exactly a mere participation trophy. To quote Vice President Joe Biden, “This is a big f****** deal,” which begs the question, how in the name of Gordie Howe did some of the guys on this list manage to get their grubby mitts on the hardware?
Since it was first awarded to Frank Nighbor following the 1923-24 season, the Hart Memorial Trophy has been awarded 90 times to 54 different players. It’s voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association, so I guess there’s part of the answer right there.
But when you think NHL MVPs, you think of the perennial all-stars: the prolific goal scorers, the crafty playmakers and even the brick-wall goaltenders who stand unconscious on their head game in and game out for basically an entire season. These are the guys who play the biggest roles in helping their teams post an unlikely winning season or qualify for the playoffs. Remember, they’re supposedly the MOST VALUABLE to his team in that particular season.
If Dr. David Hart were to see some of the players who have won his namesake trophy, he’d roll over in his grave. MVP? What were the writers thinking on these guys? Sure, they all made pretty significant contributions to their respective squads, but best in the entire league is probably a stretch.
Here are the top 15 least-deserving NHL MVPs.
15 Corey Perry (2010-11)
Corey Perry led the league with 50 goals during the 2010-11 season. And that’s pretty much it, but apparently it was enough to award him the Hart Memorial Trophy.
He had the most game-winning goals with 11, so maybe that was the shiny toy that distracted the voters, but to be honest, he just happened to be in the right place at the right time a lot. He finished 14th in the league with 48 assists, third in points (six behind league leader Daniel Sedin), and he was almost a full half a point short of Sidney Crosby’s league-leading 1.61 points per game average.
He helped the Anaheim Ducks make the playoffs, but it’s not like they won their division or anything. Perry was good, but not good enough to put him on a list on which only 53 other NHLers appear.
14 Eric Lindros (1994-95)
Does an MVP title really even count if you earn it during a lockout-shortened season? I guess technically it does, but like it or not, Eric Lindros’ Hart Memorial Trophy-winning 1994-95 season will always have an asterisk next to it.
Despite the abbreviated season and Lindros’ tie for the league’s most points (70), the young, imposing forward for the Philadelphia Flyers finished sixth in goals and fourth in assists. If we’re being honest, Lindros kind of stole it from Pittsburgh’s Jaromir Jagr, who shared the lead in league points and finished second only to the Washington Capitals’ Peter Bondra in goals.
At any rate, shortened seasons are a bit of a wildcard, so you can’t blame the voters on this one. As for Lindros, he would battle injury most of the rest of his career, and he never really had another Hart-caliber season.
13 Roy Worters (1928-29)
It didn’t take long for the first undeserving Hart Trophy winner to be named. In just the award’s sixth season of existence, New York Americans goaltender Roy Worters somehow swindled the title away from Montreal Candiens netminder George Hainsworth and his record-setting 1928-29 season, becoming the first goalie to win the honors.
Worters posted a decent 16-12-10 record and a fantastic 1.15 GAA with 13 shutouts in 38 games played. Not bad until you read Hainsworth’s stat line. Hainsworth appeared in all 44 games that season, racked up a 22-7-15 record for the second-most wins in the league, a microscopic 0.92 GAA and a record-setting 22 shutouts, a mark that still stands almost 100 years later.
He literally shutout half the season! Sorry, Worters, but if that’s not a more MVP-worthy season, I don’t know what is.
12 Henrik Sedin (2009-10)
By the end of the 2009-10 season, the Vancouver Canucks had won the Northwest Division three out of the previous four seasons, and a big reason for that was the uncanny playmaking abilities of Henrik Sedin.
He finished either first or second in team points in each of those years, and his 112 points in 2009-10 was a league-high and a career best for the veteran Swede. The problem was that 83 of those points were assist, and he only had 29 goals – far fewer than Steven Stamkos’ and Sidney Crosby’s league-leading 51.
Young phenoms Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin tied for second in points at 109 with a more balanced attack. And while Sedin did have a career year, it sort of felt like the voters were assigning a sympathy title to the Canucks, because at that point, they hadn’t gotten past the second round of the playoffs in 15 years despite fielding some really good teams.
11 Chuck Rayner (1949-50)
One of these things is not like the others. Spoiler alert: It’s Chuck Rayner. The second goaltender to appear on this list is someone who never even managed to secure a winning season.
Granted, his best year was his Hart-winning 1949-50 season when he went 28-30-11 and guided the New York Rangers to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, but he wasn’t even in the conversation for things like the lowest regular season GAA or win total.
Instead, Rayner was the star of one of those unlikely Cinderella stories that people love to love. He was a mediocre goalie on a bad team that somehow managed to slip into the playoffs and then make a miraculous run to the finals. It’s fun to live vicariously through a guy like Rayner, who defied the odds, but he just wasn’t the league’s best player that year.
10 Jose Theodore (2001-02)
Look, I understand the Hart Memorial Trophy is handed out based on a single regular season performance, but come on.
Fine, yes, Jose Theodore had a spectacular, out-of-nowhere season for the Montreal Canadiens in 2001-02, in which he posted a good 30-24-10 record and led the league with a .931 save percentage and the fewest goals allowed for eligible netminders, but it was a total fluke season propped up by a lack of much offense from opposing teams in the Dead Puck Era. Plus, he had 11 fewer wins than league-leader Dominic Hasek.
His Canadiens were the worst team to make the playoffs, and in 12 postseason games, Theodore was a first-class sieve. He allowed five goals on four separate occasions before Montreal was eliminated in the second round after three straight losses. His GAA skyrocketed to 3.09 after the regular season, and the following year, he turned in a disappointing 20-31-6 record.
9 Ted Kennedy (1954-55)
No, not JFK’s brother and longtime U.S. senator from Massachusetts. This Ted Kennedy played 14 seasons for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the mid-20th Century, winning the league MVP title in his final full season in 1954-55.
He wasn’t the most gifted skater, but he was an absolute workhorse, and he preferred to go through guys instead of going around them to get where he was going on the ice. He had won five Stanley Cups with the Leafs over the years, and while he was a great player, he had never won any serious accolades for his play.
He was awarded the Hart Trophy that season despite only scoring 10 goals and finishing 11th in points. A lot of people will tell you his MVP recognition was more of an acknowledgement of his legacy more than anything, and I’d probably agree.
8 Joe Thornton (2005-06)
Joe Thornton suffered Jose Theodore Syndrome during the 2006 postseason, which sullied his MVP-winning 2005-06 regular season quite a bit.
Thornton rightly won the Hart Memorial for his league-best 125 points, 96 assists and 1.54 points per game, and Jonathan Cheechoo can thank Thornton for his fluky 56-goal season. Thorton was a play-making machine, starting the season in Boston before being traded to the Sharks in the fall. In San Jose, Thornton helped the sharks finish second in the Pacific Division and qualify for the playoffs, but then the wheels fell off.
His offensive output dropped off to less than a point per game in the postseason, and the Sharks were dispatched in the second round. Thornton had 114 points the following season, but since then hasn’t again sniffed the century mark.
7 Babe Pratt (1943-44)
Babe Pratt was a really good defenseman for his time, and it was hard to ignore his better-than-average offensive capabilities, which probably played a major role in his being named the league MVP after the 1943-44 season. But when you fall 25 points short of the league leader and your team finishes in the middle of the pack after a 50-game season, it’s hard to justify him as the best player in the league.
Pratt beat out Boston Bruins forward Bill Cowley by a mere three votes to earn the award, which is curious in itself, because even Cowley finished nine points short his teammate Herb Cain’s league-best 82 that season. But again, I guess it would be hard not to vote for a flashy defenseman when it was so rare for them to be as good as Pratt was back then.
6 Wayne Gretzky (1988-89)
I may be committing hockey blasphemy here, but hear me out. The year prior to the 1988-89 season, Mario Lemieux rightly ended The Great One’s record streak of eight consecutive Hart Memorial Trophies when he claimed it with a league-high 70 goals and 168 points. It was 19 points more than Gretzky despite Gretzky winning his fourth and final Stanley Cup Championship with the Oilers that year.
The following season, Lemieux equaled Gretzky’s league-high 114 assist mark but outscored him by 31 goals to best The Great One in points for the second year straight. In fact, Lemieux had him beat not only in goals and points but also in points per game, power-play points, shot percentage and game-winning goals, yet Gretzky still won league MVP honors.
Maybe the voters pitied Gretzky after being traded from the dynasty that was the Oilers to the unfamiliar lights of Hollywood and the L.A. Kings, but Lemieux really should have been awarded his second Hart Trophy in as many seasons.
5 Milt Schmidt (1950-51)
How Gordie Howe didn’t win his first Hart Trophy in 1950-51 is beyond the scope of my imagination. And it’s not even so much that Boston Bruins centerman Milt Schmidt didn’t have a good season – after all, he’s an all-time Bruins star in his own right – it’s just the fact that legendary Detroit Red Wing Howe led the entire league in both goals (43) and assists (43) and finished 20 points higher than the next highest scorer.
It was the first time Howe led the league in all three of those categories, so how you give the league MVP title to Schmidt, who posted a good-but-not-great 61 points, is an enigma wrapped in a mystery. I mean, the Red Wings finished with the league’s best record, while Schmidt’s Boston Bruins barely even made the playoffs. Um, hello?
4 Chris Pronger (1999-00)
This one was an obvious case of severe oversight. Yes, Chris Pronger was a defensive force to be reckoned with, and no doubt, he definitely helped the St. Louis Blues win the President’s Trophy for compiling the league’s best record, but he was still the wrong choice. “Why?” you might ask. Well, a couple reasons.
Even though he ruled the defensive zone with an often brutish physicality and contributed an impressive 62 points, he still wasn’t even the top-scoring defenseman that year. And as good as it is to be a dependable two-way blueliner on a good team, his performance was far overshadowed by lightning-fast Florida Panthers forward Pavel Bure.
Bure somehow pumped in an astonishing 58 goals, 14 more than anybody else, but was viciously snubbed from the title. The kicker is that the Blues didn’t get any further into the playoffs than the Panthers did despite their impressive regular season.
3 Tommy Anderson (1941-42)
Like a bunch of other guys on this list, Tommy Anderson just didn’t play to the level of the league’s best player in 1941-42. Yet here we are.
In his last of just eight seasons in the league, the Scottish-born Anderson switched from forward to defenseman in 1941-42 and ended up leading the Brooklyn Americans with 41 points even though they finished dead last in the standings.
I guess the voters just forgot about Brian Hextall, Sr., who had a career year and led the league with 56 points to lead the New York Rangers to the best record in the league, but what do I know? That final season for Anderson was only the first time he had ever received votes for any league award, so to climb up the ladder to Hart glory that quickly on his way out seems a little suspect.
2 Mark Messier (1991-92)
There were so many good players who scored a lot of points in the late 1980s and early 1990s that it’s hard to keep track and separate the good from the great. Mark Messier was undoubtedly great and definitely earned his first Hart Memorial Trophy in 1989-90, but it’s a different story for 1991-92.
Messier’s 107 points fell a eyebrow-raising 24 points short of league leader Mario Lemieux of the Pittsburgh Penguins that year, and the Penguins ended up winning the Stanley Cup despite winning 11 games fewer than Messier’s Rangers in the regular season.
Messier ended up finishing fifth in points behind not only Lemieux but also guys like Wayne Gretzky and Brett Hull too. To be frank, he really didn’t deserve the Hart.
1 Al Rollins (1953-54)
Yeah, I’m not sure what the hockey writers were smoking in 1954, but I’ll have what they were having. Maybe Al Rollins was a really good dude on a personal level, but he was the polar opposite of a league MVP, and it’s not even close.
Rollins backstopped the Chicago Blackhawks to a disgraceful last-place finish, owning a 12-47-7 record and a 3.23 goals against average, easily the worst of any netminder to play at least three games.
He’s one of just three eligible players to have won the league MVP title and not be elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame. That’ll tell you all you need to know. Granted, the Blackhawks weren’t very good in the 1950s, but there were a lot of more-deserving goalies that year, let alone skaters. Gordie Howe, anyone?
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