With the 2017-18 NHL regular season officially in the books and the Stanley Cup playoffs under way, it means all of the ballots for the individual awards have already been cast.
This year’s MVP race is going to be one of the most intriguing and perhaps the tightest one we have seen in years. Not only was it lacking a clear-cut winner, but there are probably nine or 10 players that all have a legitimate arguments to win the award. No matter who wins, they are going to be deserving of the award.
But sometimes as voters we get it wrong, and history gives us a chance to look back on our mistakes. So let’s do that.
Here we revisit some of the more, let’s say, regrettable NHL award decisions over the past 35 years.
(Note: The Professional Hockey Writers' Association votes on the Hart and Norris trophies; NHL general managers vote on the Vezina.)
1995-96 Vezina Trophy
1. Jim Carey, Capitals (52 points)
2. Chris Osgood, Red Wings (46)
3. Daren Puppa, Lightning (34)
4. Martin Brodeur, Devils (31)
5. Ron Hextall, Flyers (23)
This is one of the more perplexing award decisions I encountered because it just does not make any sense looking back on it two decades later. I’m not even sure it made sense in 1996. Or if there will ever be a time when it makes sense.
Carey had a very brief career with the Capitals, arriving during the lockout shortened 1994-95 season. He had a pretty great rookie campaign, finishing third in Vezina voting, second in Calder voting, and basically backstopped the team to the playoffs. The following year he was as hit and miss as any goalie could possibly be.
Carey's overall save percentage in 1995-96 was .906. Among goalies who played in at least 30 games, that ranked 15th in the NHL. He did lead the league with nine shutouts, which was an impressive accomplishment. But consider what that overall save percentage was. It was only .906 for the season and that includes the nine shutouts. That means in the 63 games Carey did not have a shutout, his save percentage was only .892, which was a pretty awful performance.
History will remember Carey’s career unraveling because the Penguins “figured him out” in the playoffs in each of his two years with the Capitals. The reality is the league figured him out entirely in 1995-96 outside of those nine shutouts.
What makes Carey’s Vezina nod so baffling is there was a perfectly legitimate winner sitting right there in the league in Dominik Hasek. And it’s not like Hasek was unknown at this point. He had won the previous two Vezina Trophies. This was the third year in a six-year run where he would lead the league in save percentage. He won the Vezina Trophy in five of those years. For some reason in 1995-96 he finished eighth. Seven spots behind Jim freaking Carey.
The following season, Carey was traded after 40 games (in which he had an .893 save percentage) to the Bruins in a blockbuster deal along with Anson Carter and Jason Allison in exchange for Adam Oates, Bill Ranford and Rick Tocchet. He only played 33 games in the NHL after the trade.
1988-89 Hart Trophy
1. Wayne Gretzky, Kings (267 points)
2. Mario Lemieux, Penguins (187)
3. Steve Yzerman, Red Wings (109)
The last player to win the Hart Trophy for a non-playoff team was Mario Lemieux during the 1987-88 season, ending Wayne Gretzky’s eight-year streak of MVP awards. He had a magnificent season, leading the league in goals and total points for a Penguins team that fell just a single point short of the playoffs. It was Lemieux’s first ever MVP award.
Incredibly, he was even better the next season for a Penguins team that not only made the playoffs, but won a round and was a Game 7 loss away from going to the Wales Conference Final.
Statistically, it was Lemieux’s best season ever and one of the single greatest offensive performances in NHL history. He scored 85 goals (leading the league by 15), recorded 114 assists (tied for the league lead with Gretzky), and finished with 199 total points (leading the league by 31). He did all of this while missing four games.
Given that he won the Hart Trophy the year before, while playing for a worse team, one might conclude that he would be a slam dunk lock to win in 1989 with better numbers and better team results.
He finished as the runner-up to Gretzky (who was 31 points behind him in the scoring race) because, apparently, everyone had to make up for Gretzky not winning the year before. Not only did Lemieux not win the award, he received only 18 first-place votes to the 40 for Gretzky.
In the context of Lemieux winning the year before, this is just a bizarre result.
2001-02 Hart Trophy
1. Jose Theodore, Canadiens (434 points; 26 first-place votes)
2. Jarome Iginla, Flames (434; 23)
3. Patrick Roy, Avalanche (282)
4. Sean Burke, Coyotes (172)
5. Markus Naslund, Canucks (64)
Over the past 45 years, there have been 12 instances of a player leading the league in goals and total points in the same season.
Wayne Gretzky did it five times.
Mario Lemieux did it three times.
Alex Ovechkin, Jarome Iginla, Guy Lafleur and Phil Esposito all did it once.
In 10 of those instances, the player who did it also won the MVP award that season. The only two exceptions were the aforementioned Gretzky over Lemieux vote in 1989, and Iginla finishing as the runner-up to Jose Theodore in 2002.
As far as controversial voting results go, this one isn’t horrible because Theodore was legitimately great for the Canadiens and probably single-handedly took a mediocre team to the playoffs. But recent MVP voting precedent set over the previous three decades had pretty firmly established that players that do what he did almost always win the Hart Trophy.
Iginla was one of the exceptions.
His team not making the playoffs probably hurt him, but that just illustrates the flaw in award voting sometimes. Iginla had a hand in 47 percent of the Flames' goals that year. He doubled every other player on the team in goals and had 22 more points than any other teammate, while only one other player (Craig Conroy) topped 51 points.
2008-09 Norris Trophy (and 2009-10)
Voting results (2008-09; 2009-10)
1. Zdeno Chara, Bruins (1,034 points); Duncan Keith, Blackhawks (1,096)
2. Mike Green, Capitals (982); Green (831)
3. Nicklas Lidstrom, Red Wings (733); Drew Doughty, Kings (663)
4. Shea Weber, Predators (186); Lidstrom (303)
5. Dan Boyle, Sharks (173); Chris Pronger, Flyers (168)
At the time, there were passionate arguments being made that Green finishing as the runner-up in both of these years was an insult to the award (OK, maybe that is an overstatement) because he was an all-offense, no-defense defender. My opinion: He didn’t finish high enough in the voting, especially as it relates to the 2008-09 season, when he scored 31 goals and had 73 total points … in only 68 games. Think about that. Thirty-one goals. As a defenseman. In one of the lowest-scoring eras in NHL history. In only 68 games.
There have only been 18 different 30-goal seasons from a defenseman in league history (done by only nine players) with only two of them occuring after 1989. Before Green, nobody had done it since Kevin Hatcher in 1992-93. I will again point out that Green did it in only 68 games. The only 30-goal defenseman who did it in fewer games was Dit Clapper in 44 … during the 1929-30 season. And even that is not a fair comparison, because Clapper also spent time as a forward.
Here is the other thing about Green: At his peak, he was never as bad defensively as his critics want you to believe that he was. He was consistently among the best possession-driving defenders in the league and a big-minute, top-pairing defender on a top team.
Given that, plus his offensive ability that no other defenseman in the league at the time could match, he should have won at least won one Norris Trophy.
2003-04 Vezina Trophy
1. Martin Brodeur, Devils (89 points)
2. Miikka Kiprusoff, Flames (55)
3. Roberto Luongo, Panthers (45)
4. Marty Turco, Stars (43)
5. Andrew Raycroft, Bruins (14)
Roberto Luongo might go down as one of the most underappreciated great players of his era. Even though he has been one of the best goalies in the NHL for nearly two decades, the only award he’s taken home was the Jennings Trophy in 2010-11 when he and Cory Schneider teamed up to allow the fewest goals in the NHL.
He should have another award for his trophy case — a Vezina Trophy in 2004.
In Luongo’s first stint with the Panthers, he was a young goalie stuck on a perpetually rebuilding team that would bleed shots against every single night. He would play 65-70 games every year, face more shots than any goalie in the league, and consistently put up some of the best numbers in the league.
The 2003-04 season was his best, finishing with a .931 save percentage in 72 games.
In the history of the league, only three goalies played in at least 70 games in a season and finished a save percentage higher than .930.
Bernie Parent did it in 1973-74 with the Flyers, Dominik Hasek in 1997-98 with the Sabres, and Luogno in 2003-04 with the Panthers. Parent and Hasek both won the Vezina Trophy in their seasons. Loungo finished in third behind Martin Brodeur and Miikka Kiprusoff.
This isn’t meant to be a knock on Brodeur, but he finished that year with .917 save percentage while playing behind a vastly superior team. It was a reputation win and nothing more.
2015-16 Norris Trophy
1. Drew Doughty, Kings (1,254 points)
2. Erik Karlsson, Senators (1,020)
3. Brent Burns, Sharks (619)
4. Kris Letang, Penguins (587)
5. Roman Josi, Predators (120)
The two best defensemen in the NHL for the past five years have been Erik Karlsson and Drew Doughty. When it comes to ranking them, it probably depends on your preferred style of play. Doughty is more of the shutdown type defenseman, and he is the best one going in the league today. Karlsson is the most prolific offensive defenseman the league has seen since, well, probably the days of Bobby Orr.
Karlsson is already a two-time Norris Trophy winner and he probably should be a three-time winner after his 2015-16 season performance when he averaged a point per game, finished in the top four in the scoring race, led the league in assists, was on the ice for the second-most goals of any player in the NHL, and played more than 28 minutes per game. It was one of the most dominant seasons a defenseman has had in years. And it was not enough to win the Norris Trophy.
My biggest problem with this result: It seemed to be a foregone conclusion all season long that Doughty was going to win the award because it was “his time” or “overdue” or that it should have happened in previous seasons. And maybe it should have. But it shouldn’t have happened in this season.
It was basically a career achievement award for a player who was 26 years old and still in the prime of his career.