In the 93-year history of the Hart Trophy, only two players aged 20 or younger had taken home the hardware: Wayne Gretzky, who captured it twice by 20th birthday, and Sidney Crosby, who was named league MVP in 2006-07 as a 19-year-old. But now, a decade after Crosby captured the Hart for the first time, you can add Edmonton Oilers’ phenom Connor McDavid to the exclusive list of 20-or-under players with Hart honors.
At the NHL Awards in Las Vegas Wednesday night, the hockey world watched as McDavid was coronated as heir to the throne as the game’s best player by taking home the league’s top individual prizes in the Hart and Ted Lindsay Award, the latter the MVP honor as voted by his fellow players. And when it came to the Hart, one of the most coveted awards in the league, the voting, quite frankly, wasn’t even that close.
When the final tally was announced, McDavid had captured the Hart with 1604 voting points, defeating Crosby, who received 1104 points, and Columbus Blue Jackets netminder Sergei Bobrovksy, who finished a distant third with 469 points. It’s far from surprising that McDavid captured the Hart by such a margin, however, considering the 20-year-old’s accomplishments this past season.
McDavid was the league’s lone 100-point player in 2016-17, winning the Art Ross race by 11 points. En route to reaching the century mark for the first time in his career, McDavid was one of 26 players to score 30 goals and led the league with an outstanding 70 assists. And while his scoring was undoubtedly impressive, it was the impact he had on the group around him that was most awe-inspiring. With McDavid healthy and in the lineup for all 82 games — he missed 37 games of his rookie campaign in 2015-16 — the Oilers saw an improvement of 33 points. No other team took a greater leap forward this past season, and McDavid was undoubtedly the prime catalyst behind the resurgence in Edmonton.
It wasn’t just that the Oilers had a turnaround that pushed McDavid to the forefront of the MVP conversation, though. Rather, it was the fact that McDavid dragged Edmonton out of a decade-long post-season drought, giving the franchise their first taste of playoff action in the post-lockout NHL. That McDavid did so while in his first season wearing the ‘C’ only adds to how impressive his campaign was.
It’s not as if McDavid taking the Hart leaves Crosby and Bobrovsky empty-handed, however. Crosby, as we already know, celebrated his season in the best way possible by adding a third Stanley Cup to his trophy case — consecutive Cups, to boot — while also capturing the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP for a second-straight season. As for Bobrovsky, well, he may not have earned himself a great percentage of the votes for the Hart, but he definitely cleaned up when it came to the Vezina Trophy.
The Blue Jackets goaltender, who is four years removed from capturing his first Vezina, landed a whopping 138 points, 51 more than any other netminder, in the voting for the league’s top keeper. It was a no-doubter award, too. As much as McDavid was the cornerstone of the Oilers’ season, Bobrovsky turned heads as the backbone and last line of defense in Columbus. Bobrovsky wasn’t just good, he was excellent, leading the league with a .931 save percentage, 2.06 goals-against average and posting 7 shutouts with a 41-17-5 record as the Blue Jackets turned in their best regular season performance in franchise history. None of this to mention Bobrovsky also turned in a .939 SP at 5-on-5 this past season. The only goaltender better was Ottawa Senators netminder Craig Anderson. And while the Blue Jackets netminder may have had challengers for the Vezina throughout the campaign, his consistency separated him from the pack as the year rolled on, putting him ahead of his compatriots and keeping him there.
The same can be said for San Jose Sharks defenseman Brent Burns, too, who came out of the gate firing and became the runaway favorite for the Norris Trophy early. Burns was stunning the rest of the league was his offensive output midway though the campaign and was at one point on pace to become one of the few defensemen in league history to hit the 30-goal plateau. Burns’ pace may have slowed as the post-season approached, but his 29 goals were the most by a defender since Mike Green potted 31 back in 2008-09.
Burns’ Norris victory may have caught some by surprise, however, and it was a close race between he and Erik Karlsson. Karlsson silenced doubters this past season with his excellent play at both ends of the rink, but Burns eked out the victory with 1437 points to Karlsson’s 1292. McDavid, Bobrovsky and Burns weren’t the only big winners Wednesday night, though.
Calder Trophy: Auston Matthews’ 40-goal campaign, the first by a rookie since Alex Ovechkin in 2005-06, left no question in the minds of voters as the Toronto Maple Leafs freshman won the Calder by a landslide. One has to wonder if the vote would have been closer had Patrik Laine, who finished second, would have remained healthy all season. By the looks of things, though, it wasn’t all that close.
Jack Adams Award: The Blue Jackets’ remarkable year was headed up by Tortorella, and the fiery bench boss only adds to his impressive resume with the second Jack Adams Award of his career. There are only five other coaches who have won the Jack Adams twice, and Tortorella being among those bench bosses puts him in some incredibly exclusive company.
Selke Trophy: Patrice Bergeron finds himself in the history books following Wednesday night. Bergeron, who has been the very picture of a two-way pivot over the course of his career, captured his fourth Selke, making him one of only two players in league history to capture the award four times. The other, Montreal Canadiens legend Bob Gainey, was on hand to pass the trophy to Bergeron, a fitting way for the Boston Bruins center to take the award.
Lady Byng Trophy: ‘Johnny Hockey’ can now adopt the nickname ‘Johnny Gentleman,’ should he so choose. The Flames winger wasn’t exactly a shoo-in for the award, but it was hard for things not to lean in Gaudreau’s favor given he played 70 games and found himself in the penalty box only twice all season. That’s right: in more than 1,300 minutes on ice, Gaudreau was only whistled for infractions twice. It also didn’t hurt his case that he put up 18 goals and 61 points for the Flames.
Bill Masterton Trophy: Craig Anderson’s win was the most touching moment of Wednesday’s ceremony. Anderson, who took time away from the game to be with his wife who had been diagnosed with cancer, returned to action and turned in one of the best seasons of his career. He posted a .926 SP, 2.28 GAA and five shutouts for the Senators and was the league’s best 5-on-5 goaltender.
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