For many years, I've been fascinated by the National Hockey League's individual trophies, with the main one being the immensely prestigious Hart Memorial Trophy. The Hart Trophy is awarded to the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the entire NHL, the highest individual honor in the league. Regarding other leagues, the NBA and the NFL's MVP awards cover the solitary league, while Major League Baseball awards MVPs in the American and National Leagues. But regarding the NHL, there's just something about the Hart Trophy. It covers 82 games of a sport that is grueling, difficult, and stressful, but often worth the headaches.
The Hart Trophy was named after Dr. David Hart, who donated the original trophy to the league, and was also the father of Cecil Hart, who served as the coach and GM of the Montréal Canadiens during the 1920s and 1930s. It was first awarded all the way back in 1924 by Frank Nighbor from the original Ottawa Senators franchise. He had only 17 points that season (11 G/6 A), but he was awarded the trophy due to his contributions to the league back then. Nels Stewart was the first player to win the trophy twice, both times playing for the Montréal Maroons. 1947 would see Maurice Richard win the Hart Trophy for (surprisingly) the only time in his storied career, in spite of being one of the greatest goal scorers in NHL history.
With the extensive history and the long list of winners, I just want to point out some of the most notable players to have ever won the prestigious Hart Trophy.
Gordie Howe, Mr. Hockey himself. One of the greatest players of all time, held the career goals record until another multi-time Hart Trophy winner surpassed him. Howe captured the Hart Trophy for the first time in the 1951-52 season, which saw him lead the league in goals (47) and points (86), while leading the Detroit Red Wings to the Stanley Cup that year. He would capture the trophy again in the following season, which saw him lead in all three offensive categories. Howe added two more Hart Trophies in 1957 and 1958, a fifth in 1960, and one more in 1963. In his sixth and last MVP season, Howe's 38 goals and 86 points led the league during the 1962-63 season.
Recent blueliners such as Victor Hedman, Erik Karlsson, and of course, Cale Makar, have made me a bit of an enthusiast when it comes to defensemen. Very recently, a lot of legendary defensemen have been mentioned, and one of them is, of course, Bobby Orr. That's a name I've heard a lot as a hockey fan. Now, Bobby Orr is not the first blueliner to win the Hart, but he's the first player of any position to win it three years straight. Orr's first Hart came in the 1969-70 season, which ended with a Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins. In that year, Orr also won the Ross Trophy, as his 120 points led the league that year. His second Hart came in the 1970-71 season, which saw him lead the league in assists with a whopping 102, and his third Hart came in the 1971-72 season, which also saw him win his second Stanley Cup.
What can be said about The Great One that hasn't been said on a loop already? I'll say this. "The Great One" moniker? Not made on a whim or out of any arrogance. It's all merit. Nine Hart Trophies. Nine. Won in every year in the 1980s except for one. Not only that, Gretzky's the first player in NHL history to win Hart Trophies with different teams, as his ninth and last Hart came as a member of the Los Angeles Kings. 1988-89 was The Great One's first season with the Kings, and during that year, Gretzky racked up 168 points (54 G/114 A). By the way, the only other player to win Harts with different teams: Gretzky's longtime teammate, Mark Messier. Messier only won twice: once with the Oilers in 1990, and two years later with the Rangers in 1992.
So who was the player who kept The Great One from being the undisputed MVP of the 1980s? None other than Super Mario himself. Mario Lemieux's first Hart Trophy came in the 1987-88 season, and during that year, Lemieux led the league in goals (70) and points (168), leading the latter by 19 over Gretzky. His second Hart came in the 1992-93 season, where he scored 69 goals in 60 games, over a goal a game, and led the league in points with 160. Three years later, Lemieux captured the Hart for the third and last time, due to surpassing his second MVP season's point total by just one: 161 points.
Of course, I can't mention Mario Lemieux without bringing up his star pupil, Sidney Crosby. I did love that kinship in Pittsburgh. Lemieux knew he had a star in the making in Crosby, someone who he could pass that torch to. Boy, was he right. While "Sid the Kid" did not capture the Calder Trophy in the 2005-06 season, he did win the Hart in the following year, as well as the Ross, as his 120 points led the league that season. Crosby wouldn't take the league's MVP honor again until the 2013-14 season, but still, that's just a small amount of the vast collection of trophies and honors he's racked up in his career.
The player who beat out Crosby for the Calder during that 2005-06 season was none other than Alex Ovechkin, and a year after Crosby captured his first Hart, Ovi won one of his own. The 2008 Hart was the first of back-to-back trophy wins for "The Great Eight," with his second coming in the year that saw Crosby win his first Stanley Cup. Ovechkin's third and most recent Hart Trophy came in the shortened 2012-13 season, and those three Harts come with eight Rocket Richard trophies, and a Stanley Cup that he finally captured in 2018. Of course, the big news surrounding Ovi is his quest to surpass Gretzky's career goals record, and he's relatively close.
Lastly, there's the most recent Hart Trophy winner: Connor McDavid. We all know about McDavid. We've seen him scare the living daylights out of the rest of the NHL for almost a decade now. The reason why I rant so much about the Oilers is because this kid is just too, too good to not have the big one. McDavid's first Hart Trophy came in 2016-17 season, which was the year that the Oilers ended their decade-long playoff drought. In the years that passed, McDavid became an absolute beast, and he captured two more Harts in the shortened 2020-21 season, and last season. Last season was inevitable; we saw how his year was going. Now, it doesn't look like a repeat will happen for McDavid; he is off to a very slow start to this season. We may see his running buddy, Leon Draisaitl, take the Hart for the second time--his first came in the 2019-20 season.
Regarding collective Hart Trophies by team, the Canadiens lead the league with 17 trophies, but their last NHL MVP was Carey Price in the 2014-15 season. The Oilers have 13 trophies, though 11 of them belong to either Wayne Gretzky or Connor McDavid, and the Bruins have 12, with their last one being Joe Thornton, who actually won as a Bruin and a Shark during that 2005-06 season. As for the Colorado Avalanche, only two Hart Trophies were awarded to Avs players: Joe Sakic in 2000-01 and Peter Forsberg in 2002-03. Really should have been more; Nathan MacKinnon should have at least two Harts in his collection.
This season will be a milestone for the Hart Trophy, it will be awarded for the 100th time in NHL history. This season has some pretty good candidates. Auston Matthews definitely has a chance to win his second Hart in three seasons. A case can be made for Cale Makar; he's having such an amazing season for the Avalanche. Maybe Elias Pettersson or Quinn Hughes takes it. Both players are absolutely shining for the Canucks this season. In any event, the Hart Trophy pool is a deep one this season, and after the Cup's awarded, we'll see who will have the honor of being the 100th Hart Trophy winner.