Ed Willes, CanWest News Service; Vancouver Province
Published: Friday, February 09, 2007
VANCOUVER - It might be the ultimate commentary on this NHL franchise but, in its uneven 34-season history, the Vancouver Canucks have never produced a Hart Trophy winner.
The closest they came was four years ago when Markus Naslund finished second to Colorado's Peter Forsberg in the height of the dead-puck era. In that campaign, Naslund counted 48 goals and 104 points - you're invited to contemplate how that would look on this year's team. The problem was Forsberg, against all odds, managed to stay healthy long enough to lead the league with 106 points that season.
Beyond that one aberration, however, it's been a wasteland for the Canucks. Pavel Bure had back-to-back 60-goal seasons in the early '90s but wasn't particularly close in the MVP voting. Alex Mogilny had a monster season in '95-'96 but it came on a mediocre team. The player with the most impressive credentials might have been unforgettable goalie Gary Smith who single-handedly carried the Canucks into the playoffs in '74-'75. Alas, most voters were barely aware Vancouver had a team in the NHL in the mid-'70s.
This brings us around to the current season where you may have noticed the Canucks have a player, that would be Roberto Luongo, who merits consideration for the game's highest individual award. If you were going by the official definition, in fact - "the player judged to be the most valuable to his team" - it's hard to conceive of a more suitable candidate.
But over time, the award's criteria has come to include other considerations - team success, personal history - while being weighted heavily towards high-scoring forwards. Since '74, just one defenceman - Chris Pronger in 2000 - and two goalies - Jose Theodore (!) in '02 and Dominik Hasek in '97 and '98 - have carted off the hardware.
So what does this say about Luongo's chances this season? Does he have a legitimate shot at the Hart or is he simply one of those regional stories which doesn't resonate beyond B.C.? Well, in an attempt to answer that question, we polled 20 members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association - the august assembly which votes on the award - and asked for their top three MVP picks on the season thus far.
Our panel includes 10 voters from the East and 10 from the West with 13 coming from American teams and seven from Canadian. Granted, the methodology isn't exactly fool-proof but it's a fair representation of the actual voters and when you come right down to it, pollsters predict our next prime minister on far flimsier data.
Now, it will come as no surprise that Luongo isn't the leading vote-getter. But the amount of support he did receive might surprise you. Based on three points for a first-place vote, two for second, and one for third, the Canucks goalie finished a strong third behind Sidney Crosby and Martin Brodeur.
Actually, Crosby, Brodeur and Luongo were the only players who recorded more than four points, meaning, unless something funny happens between now and the end of the season, Luongo can count on being one of the three Hart finalists.