Our first NHL Saturday miniseries has come to an end, so it’s time to look back through our award analyses from 1968 to the present today. The modern era of professional hockey in North America began with the expansion from the Original Six to the 12 teams of the 1968 season, and we had fun examining the five major trophies in the sport on a yearly basis. Below is our summary of that exercise.
As mentioned last week, we’re not sure what is next for this column, but we will be back in the fall with the start of the 2022-2023 regular season. After all, we feel the NHL is the only “pure” North American sport left, so we will dedicate ourselves to a little more “live” coverage of the current events. See you then … Adieu!
Hart: Gretzky is the King
It should be no surprise that Wayne Gretzky turned out to be the best forward of the modern era, as we handed him 10 Hart trophies from 1980 to 1991, for both the Edmonton Oilers and the Los Angeles Kings. It could be a surprise, however, that Boston Bruins legend Phil Esposito managed to snag 6 Harts from us to match Pittsburgh Penguins great Mario Lemieux to finish tied for second.
Esposito won only 2 Harts in real life, so we see him as a very underrated player. Of course, our “rules” for the Hart were a little different, too, and that has something to do with his “extra” trophies in this column. But there is no doubt of his greatness, of course.
Norris: Orr, Orr, Orr
Boston defenseman Bobby Orr won 7 straight Norris trophies from us between 1969 and 1975. It’s shocking the Bruins only managed 2 Stanley Cups in that stretch, considering they were able to pair up Esposito and Orr. But you never know which way the puck will bounce, of course. Either way, we cement Orr’s reputation as the best blueliner of the modern era with our analyses.
There were three other D-men who tied for second in our eyes, however, each with 4 Norris trophies of their own: New York Islanders rock Denis Potvin, the strangely well-traveled Paul Coffey, and the quite-respected Ray Bourque. The fact Coffey won Norris hardware with three teams (Edmonton, Pittsburgh, and Detroit) is quite impressive, and all of Bourque’s trophies came when he was with Boston.
Vezina: The Dominator comes out on top
Perhaps our most surprising category for revisions, our top goaltender turned out to be Dominik Hasek, who won all four of his Vezinas from us while playing for the Buffalo Sabres. He won six Vezinas in real life, but our evaluative system was a bit more equalizing in terms of value. Still, the Dominator is one of the best goaltenders of all time, and there you have it. Others results were more shocking, however …
Four other goalies came in with 3 Vezinas apiece, and they’re not exactly who you’d suspect: New York Rangers stalwart Ed Giacomin, who won 1 real Vezina; Montréal Canadiens hero Ken Dryden, who won 5 real Vezinas; longtime Chicago backstop Tony Esposito, who won 3 real Vezinas; and journeyman Curtis Joseph, who never won the award—but did so with us for both St. Louis and Toronto. Surprise!
Calder: A more accurate view of the past emerged
We only confirmed 16 of the 62 Calder winners from 1968-2022. That is less than 25 percent, which tells us we were looking at slightly different criteria than the voters were. No surprise there, as this is retroactive and based on value, rather than subjective, in-the-moment statistics. The list of Calder winners who had great careers is still fun, though, for our analysis.
Tony Esposito, Dryden, and Bourque all won our Calders, for example. But we had a lot of random winners, too, especially in recent seasons, where we confirmed just 1 of the last 13 vote winners. Yet we also righted some wrongs in giving the Calder to Grant Fuhr, Steve Yzerman, Ron Hextall, Mike Modano, Nicklas Lidström, Henrik Lundqvist, Ondrej Palat, and Johnny Gaudreau. It all evens out.
Conn Smythe: Realism sets in as the cream rises
We had two players win 3 Conn Smythes in this process, followed by 5 players who won 2 Conn Smythes. Got that? At the top of the heap were Gretzky and goaltender Patrick Roy, who strangely did not win a single Vezina from us, usually because he played on outstanding teams. They each won 3 Conn Smythes, all of the Great One’s awards coming with Edmonton, while Roy won with both his teams.
The next group? Dryden, Lemieux, New Jersey goaltender Martin Brodeur (who also didn’t win a single Vezina from us, for the same reasons as Roy), Anaheim Ducks backstop J.S. Giguere, and Penguins star Evgeni Malkin. That is an interesting grouping, as Giguere seems to be the one name that might not belong—and Malkin is here instead of his more famous linemate, Sidney Crosby.