Monday, April 5, 2010


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 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?


V said...

Well, since you're asking, I would go with Plekanec. I just think his absence would leave the biggest hole.

If Halak went out, you would not lose too much going to Price (I know, cue the Price/Halak arguments) because he is still good, just not quite outer-worldly good as Halak has been.

Gorges is solid in an understated kind of way and sometimes I think we elevate these folks to higher status because of their unsung heroism (bit of an irony there when you think about it). Besides, Markov is our most valuable defenseman. Without him and with Georges we are barely above being a .500 team.

Plekanec put the team on his back in the first half of the season. Without his fantastic play over the first 35 games, this team would have beeen another 5-6 games under .500 when Markov got back. Might have been too much to overcome. And although his play has dropped off a little, he still makes the second line go and when it's humming it's our first line. He does not complain, seems to be widely respected on the team and does everything asked of him and more.

While we are it, I would nominate SK as our most improved player. I think he is on track to be something pretty special... if he breaks out like we hope, he could be a fabulous number 7 forward. And he started the season about half way off the team.

Kyle Roussel said...

Up until this weekend, I would have flipped a coin between Halak and Plekanec and been happy with the result. But after a weekend in which Halak showed that 1 goal in support *is* in fact enough goal support, he has pulled ahead in that race for me, probably for the rest of the year.

Friday's game vs the Flyers encapsulates this whole situation. Plekanec, the runner up in my mind now, scores the one and only goal. You could argue that it was the biggest goal scored by a Habs this season. 2 nights before that game, Price had turned in a stellar performance, but lost. Many people stood and said that Price would have had to be perfect in order to save his team, who could not score to save their lives. And they'd be right. Back in Philly, and they threw Halak under the bus in an even worse manner than they did against Carolina. Except Halak, with the help of lady luck turns in one of, if not his best performance as a Hab. He slams the door. He makes that one goal stand up. This is not a knock on Price. He's been very good this year. Halak has been magical. Yes, he's benefitted from goal support far ahead of what Price has enjoyed, but there have also been 5 instances in which Halak only needed 1 goal to deliver the win.

After the Flyers game, I asked this same question on twitter. The man who scored the winner vs the man who kept the Flyers off the board at the most important of junctures. The response was fairly evenly split, with probably a slight edge to Plekanec.

Either way, I don't really mind. Plekanec has been Mr. Everything for the Canadiens this year. But as you correctly point out JT, Halak has stolen a ton of points this year. Without those stolen points the Canadiens would be mingling with the Leafs in the basement, and that is as close to a fact as it gets.

Besides, I'd rather my team MVP be a restricted free agent vs an unregisrticted free agent!

Kyle Roussel said...

I forgot to touch on Gorges. In my mind, he has not quite been as good as you do this season. I fully acknowledge his guts, his heart and the respect his mates have for him. I've enjoyed watching him play with guys like Hal Gill, having to make up for his slow foot speed time and time again. He has a limited amount of talent, but he makes it work, and I would hate to lose him when his contract comes up for renewal. While he's somewhere down on my list of MVPs, I have gone on record as saying that he's right near the top of my list of guys who should be in the running to wear the C. To me, Gionta, Cammalleri and Markov are the 3 obvious choices. But Gorges could bump either Markov or Cammalleri for me, and I would not bat an eyelash.

Anonymous said...

I think my choice would have to be Gorges.....he really is the Timex d man ..

Paul B. said...

Without Halak, the Habs would have participated in the Taylor Hall/Tyler Seguin derby.

Anonymous said...

As a fellow Newfoundlander, please give me your thoughts on Michael Ryder

Anonymous said...

I thoroughly enjoy your insightful and candid comments, a far cry from the media "experts".
On the Hart choice, it has to be Halak.
Thanks again for your blog.

I'm "HabsFansince49" on HIO

J.T. said...

@anon (the last one): What about Ryder? He's a guy with the uncanny ability to unload a deadly wrister with great accuracy, IF he has the inclination to get himself into scoring position. I think the more money he makes reduces that inclination proportionately.

N.B. Habs Fan said...

Thanks for the great read,I feel the same as you do about our team and I do think we can do allright in the playoffs.

Dave said...

I agree with your thoughts on Ryder. I spent a day in Bonavista two years ago (he was with the Habs) and I get the feeling the money was too much for him, or to put it another way, why bother?

Anonymous said...

Halak gets the Hart without question.

You know you have a chance to win every time he takes the ice. Without the “one more save” attitude he brings to the ice we would be having a totally different discussion.

My only hope for the Habs this year is that Halak gets the respect he deserves from the media, fans and the coaching staff. Especially the coaching staff because I truly believe that he can carry this team on his back through a round or two of play-off hockey.


Anonymous said...

Halak -- all the way.

MC said...

I never liked the fact that goalies can be considered for MVP, but given the rules as they exist, I also have to vote for Halak because he is the most important player to this team given how many shots they have allowed per game and how many goals they score per game. They are 26th overall in shots allowed per game and 24th in goals scored per game. That combination should have them out of the playoffs if it were not for great goaltending.

Patrick said...

The Habs don't win consistently without Markov, and no one, absolutely no one can replace him with efficiency.

I'd say Markov, even if he was sidelined for most of the season.