Among the highlights of the 2012-13 season for the Islanders was the first ever appearance of John Tavares on the ballot for Hart Trophy consideration. Much of the Islander Nation felt he deserved to win, this writer included. Just the fact he was included in the voting spoke volumes for his talent and value to his team. But as nice as being a finalist is there is a strong argument to be made that Tavares deserves the Hart this year, not just a top three placement.
The Hart trophy is awarded annually to “the player judged most valuable to his team.” Well, no, actually it’s not. In truth, the Hart is most generally awarded to the league’s most valuable player, as determined by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association. But it should be, because that’s what it’s supposed to be awarded for. And if it were awarded correctly based on the actual criteria, it stands to reason Tavares would be at or near the top of the heap every year.
The Isles’ captain is in on 42% of the Islanders goals. As bad as they’ve played and as few points as they’ve accumulated, it doesn’t take much of a leap to imagine where they’d be without him. There are surely other teams with players who figure in on large percentages of their goals, possibly even more so than Tavares does for the Isles. It is likely, with the sheer amount of points they pile up, that guys like Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin – the other two finalists from last year – account for a large portion of their respective teams’ offensive totals.
The difference is, when those guys aren’t producing, their teams still do. Malkin steps up when Crosby is hurt or slumping. Washington is more of a ‘scoring by committee’ club, but they do manage to get the job done when Ovechkin is struggling. It’s tough to say who would step up to the plate if John Tavares was out injured or if he ever went through a prolonged pointless streak, because he never has. But there is every reason to think that there is nobody capable of carrying the Islanders in the absence of their leader.
Maybe it’s premature to declare Tavares a Hart contender in December. An awful lot can take place between now and April, both good and bad. Tavares could go on an extended points run and break the century mark for the first time in his career, or he could struggle along with his teammates and finish well below the point per game level. The more likely scenario at this point seems to point to another mediocre season for the team, with Tavares standing out as the “head-and-shoulders above” points’ leader. The only real question is how many he can score with the linemates he so selflessly makes better. Which is another thing that makes him stand out as a Hart candidate: Tavares makes those he plays with, play better. Just ask Matt Moulson, or Kyle Okposo.
John Tavares is not the league’s Most Valuable Player. This writer happens to think he may be at some point in the not-too-distant future, but he’s not there yet. Where he is, though, is bringing more to the Islanders than anyone else in a similar position around the league is bringing to his team. With luck this will prove to be enough to garner him the respect he deserves, and a trophy for his mantel.