The offseason of comings and goings is complete, and the exhibition games have been played. It’s time now for the real magilla. On Wednesday, the National Hockey League begins its regular season with a slate of four games, including the defending champion Washington Capitals opening up at home against the Boston Bruins.
It is a time of great hope among hockey fans, as everybody’s record is still pristine and anything can happen. A week into the season, you might be feeling differently if your team is a complete mess and the best player has been injured. But for now, everything is fine.
While you might be focused on the race for the Stanley Cup, a different kind of race begins in earnest on Wednesday night, as each and every player can dream of winning the Hart Trophy handed out to the league’s most valuable player. Of course, only the elite players in the league actually have a chance of nabbing this prestigious award. In Wednesday night’s action for example, you can focus on Toronto’s John Tavares and Auston Matthews and Washington’s Alex Ovechkin as definite possibilities.
Many hockey fans fixate on this award for the prestige of it, since many past winners are among the true legends of the sport. Still others look at it from a betting perspective. One of the most popular proposition bets in the NHL is one that allows you to speculate right now on which player will take home this coveted trophy.
With that in mind, I thought I’d take you through the ins and outs of the award, from past winners to trends that you might be able to latch onto as you make your pick. I’ll also discuss some of the pros and cons of this year’s top candidates, while also looking at some long shots that might make for a value. And, just for good measure, I’ll also help you find the right site to make this extremely fun wager.
So what are you waiting for? Let’s drop the puck and get at this.
Past Hart Trophy Winners
Let’s face it: If you want to be considered among the greatest players to ever hit the ice, you have to, at some point in your career, win the Hart Trophy. Needless to say, The Great One himself, Wayne Gretzky, stands alone among Hart Trophy winners, having captured the award a stunning nine times. He won it every year in the 1980’s with the exception of 1988, when a young upstart named Mario Lemieux took the title away.
Lemieux would become one of four three-time winners of the award. Gordie Howe stands second to Gretzky with six Hart trophies, while 1930s great Eddie Shore picked up four. Alex Ovechkin, who is a clear contender this year, could match Shore’s total should he grab MVP honors for the 2018-19 campaign.
Looking at the list of winners through the years, it’s hard to find a player who wasn’t a dominant force for many years in the league. Even the goaltenders are represented occasionally, most famously when Dominik Hasek won back-to-back Hart trophies in 1997 and 1998. When a player’s career is done, a Hart Trophy on their resume signals nothing short of utter greatness.
Last Year’s Hart Trophy Race
If there could be something like an upset winner of the Hart Trophy, it happened last year when Taylor Hall surprised the world. He wasn’t even included on most bookmakers’ odds boards as a possibility to win at the start the season. After all, he had struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness for several years heading into the 2017-18 NHL season.
And it’s not like there weren’t other top competitors. Connor McDavid, who won the award at age 20 the previous year, led the league in scoring for Edmonton. William Karlsson stood out for his stunning plus/minus statistics with the upstart Vegas Golden Knights, who nearly won the Stanley Cup as an expansion team. Veteran Anze Kopitar put up a career year with the Kings, while 22-year-old phenom Nathan MacKinnon delivered breakout numbers in Colorado.
But Hall ended up winning the Hart Trophy for his contributions to a team that struggled in years past and needed someone to carry them on his backs. With Hall leading the way with 39 goals and 54 assists, the Devils squeaked into the postseason for the first time in a half-decade. When it comes to most valuable, it was hard to argue against the 26-year-old star.
Using The Past To Predict The Hart Trophy
When you’re looking at the Hart Trophy as a potential wager, you need to analyze it as you would any other bet. Take a look at how the award was voted in past years and use that as an indicator of future possibilities. In that way, you can start to assess which players have a definite shot and which players are probably barking up the wrong tree in their quest for the Hart.
Let’s be honest here: It is hard to claim that you can be a valuable player if your team is in the doldrums. Think of it in terms of where the team in question would be without this particular player. If they didn’t make the playoffs with him, they couldn’t be much worse without him, right?
To that end, it has been thirty years since a player has won the award on a team that didn’t make the postseason, and that player was the transcendent Lemieux in 1988. Chances are the vote might have gone against Hall last year if the Devils hadn’t squeaked in to the playoffs by a point. So, when you’re starting to handicap the possibilities for the Hart, begin by thinking about who the best teams are going to be.
Defense is a very difficult thing to gauge in the sports world. In baseball, sabermetrics experts still haven’t come up with anything close to an exact science when it comes to defensive play. Basketball fans can look to blocked shots and steals as indicators of defensive prowess, but they don’t take into account a player’s ability to lock down one-on-one or provide excellent help defense when needed.
A similar problem exists with hockey, in that it is hard to quantify the defensive actions of players. Perhaps that is why defensemen, as important as they are, rarely receive much consideration for the game’s biggest award. Chris Pronger’s upset win in 2000 represents the last defenseman to win the award, and, before that, you have to go back to the one and only Bobby Orr and his three consecutive wins from 1970 to 1972.
What About The Guys With The Masks?
Goalies have a little bit better track record than defensemen in recent years with their Hart Trophy efforts. Carey Price’s win in 2015 is a reminder that a goalie, more than any other player on the ice, can ride an incredible hot streak. The fact that Price has struggled somewhat since that win is an indicator that goalies can be the most unpredictable of Hart winners.
That said, you’d have to go back to Jose Theodore in 2002 before Price to find a goalie who has won the award. There is that stigma that goalies have their own pretty prestigious trophy (the Vezina) on which they can fall back when the Hart is out of reach. When it comes to the Hart, it’s better to put your money on those who can put the biscuit in the basket, instead of those who are protecting it.
Top Hart Trophy Contenders:
Now that we know the criteria, we can better assess the possibilities for this year. Here is a look at the top choices on most odds boards for the Hart Trophy, along with some pro’s and con’s for each.
Connor McDavid, Edmonton, Center
- Pros: He won the award at age 20 in a brilliant year, then followed it up with a scoring title last season. Why wouldn’t he be the favorite to do it again?
- Cons: Well, there is the fact that he is such a heavy favorite that could work against him. Rarely does a preseason choice with this much juice get through the season unscathed by injury or slumps. Call it a jinx or whatever you want, but it’s true.
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh, Center
- Pros: The name recognition is a pretty big factor here. To a casual fan, Crosby is the most recognizable face in the sport, which helps him get a bit of a sentimental edge on the rest of the field, no matter what voters might tell you.
- Cons: Last year was the first season in his career in which he made it through all 82 games without injury. What are the chances he can pull that off again at age 31?
Auston Matthews, Toronto, Center
- Pros: Another one of the sport’s tantalizing young guns, he has already made a name for himself as one of the deadliest scorers in the game, and he’s only 20.
- Cons: The Maple Leafs’ high-profile signing of John Tavares, himself a prime candidate for the Hart, means that Matthews will be fighting for attention with his own teammate.
Alex Ovechkin, Washington, Center
- Pros: His brilliant play in the postseason removed one of the biggest stumbling blocks of his career. If he plays at that level throughout the regular campaign, it will be hard to deny him his fourth Hart victory.
- Cons: The Great Eight is 33. While it would be an amazing accomplishment to win the award for the fourth time, some eleven years after he first accomplished it, there is a lot of young blood in this league hungry for that trophy as well.
John Tavares, Toronto, Center
- Pros: The story is a great one: Long-time underappreciated star returns to his childhood favorite team and leads them to a possible Stanley Cup. That would be hard for voters to pass up.
- Cons: It will be difficult to outshine his own teammate Matthews, who is six years younger and only getting better.
Possible Longshot Winners Of The Hart Trophy
As I mentioned above, Taylor Hall managed to win the most valuable player award even though he wasn’t on anybody’s radar to do it at the beginning of the season. Will we see another unlikely hero come from nowhere? If it does happen, it could be one of these guys who does it.
Matthew Barzal, New York Islanders, Center
He is coming off a rookie season which saw him nab the Calder Trophy. Yes, the Islanders may struggle this year. Yet if Barzal can do it again and carry his team to a surprising playoff appearance the way that Hall did, he could surprise. Especially with the New York media behind him.
Nicholas Backstrom, Washington, Center
The veteran Capital has never really been a threat for this award before. But imagine a scenario in which Ovechkin misses time with injury. That sets up Backstrom to carry the Caps offensively, which, considering their standing as one of the best team in the league, would immediately put Backstrom into prime Hart consideration.
Pekka Rinne, Nashville, Goalie
I know that I said that goalies are a long shot to win this thing. But coming off a year in which he nabbed the Vezina Trophy for the first time, is it out of the realm of possibility for Rinne to grab the Hart this season? He is the linchpin for one of the league’s best teams, one without a transcendent offensive star to steal the headlines.
Choosing A Site To Bet On The Hart Trophy
Once you’ve decided on who might your pick (or picks) to nab the Hart Trophy is going to be, you need to locate a site where you can place a bet on it. The best bet is to look at one of the sites that we recommend for sports wagering. What do these sites have in common?
Well, they all offer excellent customer service, ensuring that they will afford gamblers the most pleasant, user-friendly experience possible. In addition, these sites will make sure to clearly state any procedures they have for withdrawals and deposits. You should also make sure that the sites are easy to navigate so you can place a bet on the Hart Trophy, an NHL game, or anything else with ease.
On top of all that, a good betting site will make it worth your while to bet with them. By that I mean they will provide you with incentives to try them out. These might come in the form of deposit bonuses, VIP rewards, or other perks that allow you to get more out of your wagering money than you could elsewhere.
It should be a fun race for the Hart Trophy in 2018-19, one that will likely have many unexpected twists and turns. That said, if you follow along with what we’ve talked about here, you should be able to find a few guys who stand out. Considering that you can get excellent odds at this point of the year, it makes for an excellent betting opportunity for diehard hockey fans.