If the people who vote for the Hart Trophy do so based on consideration of which player is the most valuable to his team, you'd think that, logically, they must first decide which player is the most valuable to each team in the league, then choose which is the most valuable of that top thirty. So, if you were a Hart Trophy voter, who would you think is the most valuable Hab to be considered on that list?
In a season in which the Canadiens were supposed to be a lottery team in the opinions of many experts because no team could expect to be decent in the first year after such a massive team overhaul, the fact that they're almost certainly in the top eight in the conference is pretty impressive. Add the significant number of injuries they've overcome this season into the equation and making the playoffs is an even greater achievement. The question is, in a team game, can you pick a single guy who's more responsible for it than the others?
Just about every guy currently on the roster has played some kind of role in helping the team get to where it is right now. From Tom Pyatt's nice goal to help put Buffalo away the other night to Price's stand-on-his-head wins in the very first two games of the season, they've all helped. But, of course, in the long haul of a season a few individuals will help more often and more spectacularly than the rest of their teammates.
The way I see it, the top three candidates for Habs' MVP are Jaro Halak, Tomas Plekanec and...drumroll please...Josh Gorges.
Halak's obvious. He's stolen more points than all the other Habs have managed to do together. He's the only goalie in the league to be unbeaten in games in which he's faced forty or more shots. His numbers, which place him in the top ten in all NHL goalie categories, top-three in save percentage, would have him in Vezina territory if he had started ten more games. Shutouts in his last two starts and kudos as the NHL's first star of the week, in a week in which his team needed him more than ever, serve only to solidify his case as the team's MVP. If Hart voters looked at the Habs and chose Halak, there could be little argument. Except...
Tomas Plekanec. The little guy, who's been harder on himself than anyone else could ever be, has taken his thirty-nine points from last season and nearly doubled them this year. He's been killing the first minute of every penalty and playing on the first minute of every PP. When the team needs reliability on the ice, Plekanec is out there. When it needs clutch goals, he's out there too, with his four game-winning goals, including two in OT. He can score, with 20+ goals to his credit for the fourth year in a row. More importantly, he makes the players around him better. Some of the passes he's made to his linemates for big goals are just as important as the ones he's scored himself. He's also found some consistency this year. He may not score in every game, but it's rare for him to go two or three games without a point this season. The Habs' offence, with all the injuries, hasn't been much to write home about, but without Plekanec, you'd burn the letter before you sent it.
Then there's my dark horse for Habs' MVP. Josh Gorges. The man is the Timex watch of NHL hockey players. If there was anyone who takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin' it's him. One of the only two Habs...with Plekanec...to play every game this season, Gorges is a testament to the hearty western Canadian constitution. He's been crushed by forecheckers on icing calls, hit in the face with elbows and sticks and struck in the back of the head by a slapper that was hard enough to leave the writing on the puck permanently imprinted in his helmet. He grinds in the corners against guys much bigger than he is and most times comes out with the puck. He's not afraid of anyone and he'll go to the wall for every man on his team. There's no mystery about why he's the guy out there when there's a one-goal lead to protect in a vital game. In a recent analysis of the best defensive defencemen in the league, Gorges was ranked fifth overall. But the thing I admire most about him is that, in a room of vastly different personalities, it seems as though every person on his team respects and likes him. That's not an easy thing to accomplish.
So, there you have it. Those guys are my top-three picks for Habs MVP. If I had to pick a winner, I'd be hard-pressed. But I think, in the end, I'd have to go with Halak, if only because when I think of the team without any of those three, I think it would be worse off without Halak than it would be without the other two. Whether the Habs' MVP would be good enough to win the Hart when competing against the other 29 team MVPs is still up for debate. When you think about the Caps without Ovechkin or the Sabres without Miller, you see how important individuals are to some teams. Maybe it's to the Habs' credit that they remain afloat better than other teams without the solo contributions of a single player. That doesn't mean, though, that Halak...or Plekanec or Gorges...isn't as important to the Habs as the official Hart candidates are to theirs.
Which Hab would be your pick, if you were voting for the Hart?