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April 18, 2018

Hart Trophy Doesn't Always Go To Top Scorer

The Hart Trophy, awarded to the player deemed to be the most valuable player to his team, often to goes to a player who has a dominant offensive season.

But when the award was first presented in 1924, it was given to Ottawa's Frank Nighbor. Nighbor was a distant third in scoring on his own team. Teammates Cy Denneny and Georges Boucher finished one-two in the entire league in scoring. Denneny took the goal scoring lead, scoring double the goals than Nighbor.

Nighbor was one of the great defensive forwards of any era, and certainly the best of his era. He clearly must have been very effective to be selected as the league MVP despite being dominated on the score sheet by his teammates. He was like today's Patrice Bergeron or Jonathan Toews.

Unfortunately I have never been able to find Hart Trophy voting results for that season, though there is some suggestion the only known runner up was Montreal Canadiens defenseman Sprague Cleghorn.

But it got me thinking - has any other Hart Trophy winner not led his own team in scoring (not including defensemen and goaltenders obviously)? I found five other instances, though with some asterisks.

The very next season, 1925, Billy Burch was named as the Hart Trophy winner. The Hamilton Tigers' center and Hockey Hall of Famer has been completely forgotten in hockey annals nowadays, but back then he outdistanced Howie Morenz, Clint Benedict, Babe Dye and Aurel Joliat in the voting. He played on a line with brothers Red and Shorty Green, with Red taking the team scoring title by 7 points on both of his linemates. Red Green also played the full season, with the other two missing 3 and 2 games, respectively.

In 1949, Sid Abel won the Hart Trophy, with 43 votes. Only Montreal goaltender Bill Durnan came close with 36 votes. Abel led the league in goals with 28, but technically tied linemate Ted Lindsay for the scoring lead in Detroit. Gordie Howe missed 20 games that season, by the way.

In 1955 Teeder Kennedy somewhat infamously won the Hart Trophy. Kennedy was one of hockey's all time great warriors and he had announced before the season started that this would be his final season. The voters had a Kennedy-love-in and gave him the Hart essentially as a version of hockey's lifetime achievement award. Teeder, who was the Hart Trophy runner up in 1950, finished the year with just 10 goals but was only two points behind Sid Smith for the Leafs scoring lead. Another Leaf probably should have won the award, as goaltender Harry Lumley finished second in Hart balloting with 61 votes compared to Kennedy's 86.

1965 saw Bobby Hull win the Hart Trophy, even though it was far from his best season in the league. And he had a lot of great seasons. Stan Mikita outscored him 87 points to 71, but never got a single Hart Trophy vote. Norm Ullman finished a close second in voting (96 votes to Hull's 103), with Gordie Howe, Roger Crozier and Charlie Hodge also getting votes. Now it should be noted that back then the Hart votes were taken at the mid-way point of the season, and then again at the end. The tallies were combined to find the winner. Hull was clearly the best player in the league in the first half, scoring 32 goals. In the second half he scored just 7.

More recently, Joe Thornton won the MVP in 2006, becoming the first Hart Trophy winner despite being traded mid-season. As a result of the trade, technically he did not lead the San Jose Sharks in scoring that season. He scored 92 points in 58 games with the Sharks, one fewer than Jonathan Cheechoo scored in a full 82 games. But combined with his Boston stats he led the entire league in scoring, capturing his first Art Ross Trophy as well.

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