NHL Awards: Sidney Crosby Most Deserving of Hart Trophy

Sindey Crosby
Charles LeClaire USA TODAY Sports

The NHL Hart Trophy is given out every year – every year that they don’t cancel a season, that is – “to the player adjuged to be the most valuable to his team.” The three nominees for this year are Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf, and Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux. The votes are submitted by the Professional Hockey Writer’s Association, not the general managers or players.

Judging a player’s value to his team in most team sports is difficult because it’s not easy to parse out exactly how much value players bring to different teams. It’s also not easy to figure out the difference in value between a skater and a goalie.

There are different ways of judging how much value a player brings to his team:

  • Goals vs. Threshold (GvT) is a metric that evaluates goals (and contributions to goals) that a player has on his team. Essentially, it helps measure a player’s contributions in all phases of the game, as well as giving an ability to compare a goaltender to a skater. It should be viewed much like WAR (wins above replacement) in baseball. It’s not a “catch-all” but it’s especially useful in measuring the contributions by all members of a team against each other.
  • CorsiForRelative (CorsiForRel) measures a player’s shot attempt differential when on the ice to that of his teammates. Corsi, for the uninitiated, is just a sum of all shot attempts (shots on goal, shots blocked, shots that miss the net, and goals) at 5-on-5. CorsiFor is the percentage of all shot attempts that occur when a given player is on the ice that belong to his team. If Sidney Crosby has a 60-percent CorsiFor-percentage (he was actually 53-percent, FYI), that means for every 100 shot attempts he was on the ice for (for both teams), 60 belonged to his team and 40 to the other. CorsiForRel thus measures that percentage against the average of his team. Of course the problem with this is that it’s useless for measuring goaltender value.
  • Traditional measures like team wins can be used as well.

There are any number of ways to measure a player’s value, those are just a few of them. I personally like to include whether or not a player’s team went to the playoffs. It’s all well and good to have a player raise a last-place team to a tenth-place team, that’s improvement. It still has the organization on the beach the middle of April and that’s not very valuable at all.

With that said, here are the cases for the three nominees as well as a fourth who deserved consideration.

Sidney Crosby

Crosby finished the season with 104 points and 36 goals. Those aren’t really eye-popping numbers until we see that no one besides Crosby cracked 90 points this year and he had more goals than either of the other nominees pitted against him. In fact, his margin of 17 points to win the scoring race was the largest in the NHL (in a full 82-game season) since 1998-1999 when Jaromir Jagr’s 127 points was 20 points ahead of Teemu Selanne at 107. Crosby and Jagr are the only two players to have a margin greater than 15 points since the 1990-1991 season.

When looking at Hockey Prospectus’ GvT for this year, what hockey fans saw with their eyes and what hockey fans saw on the score sheet translated almost perfectly; Crosby finished as the top skater in GvT this year at 26.1 (San Jose’s Joe Pavelski was second at 24.2).

The worrisome part is that Crosby’s 53-percent CorsiFor-percentage isn’t overly elite. In fact, it was his lowest rating since 2008-2009 (49.6-percent). The difference this year, and in parts of last year, is that Crosby was used much more in a checking role than he had before (thanks to the Jordan Staal trade). This effect was summed up nicely in a post from the SBNation Pensburgh site. When looking at his top-20 most common opponents in 2010-2011, names like Chad LaRose, Sergei Samsonov, Andreas Nodl, Adam Hall, and Mike Fisher make an appearance. This year, he either got a team’s checking line (like the Sean Couturier line in Philadelphia) or the first lines of other teams like the Derek Stepan line, the John Tavares line, the Alex Ovechkin line and so on.

He faced tougher competition than normal through necessity and still managed the largest margin of victory in the Art Ross trophy race in 15 years.

Ryan Getzlaf

It was a phenomenal season from start to finish for Getzlaf. He set a career-high in goals (31 and had never had more than 25), he led the NHL in points per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 at 3.13 (teammate Corey Perry was at 3.04, no other player was over 3.00), and he led his team to a Pacific Division title and the second-best record in the NHL.

What’s curious about Getzlaf is that he was used more in the offensive zone (31.4 percent) and less in the defensive zone (32.7 percent) than he had in either of the previous two seasons. The emergence of Andrew Cogliano as a viable checking center took some of the pressure off of Getzlaf which obviously allowed him to flourish a bit more offensively.

Getzlaf finished as a top-10 player in GvT (eighth at 21.3) but finished fourth among skaters (the top four on the list, by the way, are all goalies). In a bit of a twist, he finished behind Perry who was an even 24.0 and finished third among skaters.

Much like Crosby, Getzlaf was a decent, not great, possession player at 50.8-percent. His team wasn’t a very strong possession team overall as the Ducks were 15th at 50.2-percent at score close. That hasn’t really been Getzlaf’s game since he and Perry became the focal point of this team as Getzlaf hasn’t crossed the 53-percent mark since 2008-2009.

To sum, Getzlaf was used kind of in the same role as Crosby – in the defensive zone when needed, mostly in an offensive role – and was one of the key cogs to one of the best teams in the NHL this year.

Claude Giroux

Saying it was a tumultuous season for Giroux is a bit of an understatement. The Flyers started the season with a 4-10-1 mark through 15 games and their coach was fired a week in to the season. A lot of this start had to do with the start that Giroux himself had, as he had zero goals through those first 15 games. What a turn-around after that, though.

After going 15 games with zero goals and seven assists, Giroux had 28 goals and 51 assists (79 points) in his next 67 games. After the 4-10-1 start, the Flyers went 38-20-9 to earn a playoff spot with Claude Giroux leading the way.

It wouldn’t stop there, though, as Giroux was more or less “snubbed” from the Canadian Olympic team. Despite now leading the NHL in points since 2011, Giroux was left off the team and he came out with a vengeance after that; Giroux had 29 points in 23 games after the Olympic break was over.

Giroux finished lowest on the list in GvT among all three at 20.1, 13th overall and 10th among skaters. He played on a poor possession team – 23rd in the NHL at 48.2-percent at score close, second-lowest among all playoff teams – but he posted an excellent 53.2-percent, third on the Flyers (coincidentally, the top two were his typical line mates Scott Hartnell and Jakub Voracek).

Without the turn-around from Claude Giroux in November, this Flyers team is not a playoff team and may even be close to a lottery team. That’s a tremendously valuable player.

Projected Winner: Sidney Crosby

As good a season as Getzlaf and Giroux had, Crosby was dominant from the start of the season right through to the end. His usage on his team combined with the margin of victory in the Art Ross Trophy race makes this one a slam dunk.

Alternate Nominee: Semyon Varlamov (G-COL)

I was kind of surprised when the nominations came out that Semyon Varlamov’s name was not among the top three.

Varlamov led NHL goalies in wins with 41 (the only goalie to crack 40) and finished with the second-best overall save percentage in the NHL (Josh Harding’s 29 games technically qualifies him for first but I can’t believe that a little over one-third of a season is sufficient in this regard). That was all while playing behind a porous Colorado defense that allowed the sixth-most shots per game at 32.7 (Edmonton was at 32.9). This led to Varlamov facing a league-high 2013 shots while no other goalie faced more than 1890. He led the team to a division title in a division that includes St. Louis, Chicago, and Minnesota after they finished last in the West a season ago.

If that doesn’t scream “valuable player,” I’m not sure what does.

*as always, thanks to ExtraSkater, Hockey Analysis, and Behind the Net for their information

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