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The Hart Trophy has had some strange moments

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The NHL’s MVP award has had a few moments over the years

The finalists for this year’s Hart Trophy were announced today. Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl, Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon and the New York Rangers’ Artemi Panarin were the three top vote-getters for the NHL’s MVP award, which is chosen by members of the hockey writers’ association. The winner will be announced during the conference finals of the upcoming playoffs.

Draisaitl is favoured to win the Hart for the first time after piling up 110 points in 71 games to run away with the scoring title by 13 points over Connor McDavid. Draisaitl’s teammate wasn’t a finalist for the Hart despite being the consensus best player in hockey. The last time two teammates finished in the top three in voting was 2001, when Pittsburgh’s Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr did it.

The Hart was first awarded after the 1923-24 season — only a few years after the NHL itself was born. So it has a long and interesting history. Here are a few more fun Hart-facts, and some interesting stuff related to them.

Wayne Gretzky owns the all-time record for most Hart Trophies with nine. Gordie Howe is second with six, followed by (somewhat surprisingly) Eddie Shore with four. A bunch of guys have three.

Gretzky won an incredible eight in a row from 1980-87. Those all came with Edmonton, and he added his ninth (and final) Hart in ’89, for his first season with Los Angeles. Two things prevented the Great One from winning 10 in a row: a knee injury that cost him 16 games in his final season with the Oilers, and Mario Lemieux. Despite the missed time, Gretzky still finished second in the 1987-88 scoring race with 149 points. He also led the league in points per game with 2.33.

But Lemieux’s raw numbers were too big for voters to ignore: 70 goals and 168 points in a relatively healthy (very healthy by Lemieux’s standards) 77 games. So he won the first of his three Harts. But Lemieux acknowledged who the best player in the game was when he said: “The only reason Gretzky did not win the Hart is because he was hurt.” Also, maybe the voters got bored with Gretzky, because he actually finished third in the voting. Edmonton goalie Grant Fuhr was second.

The next year, Lemieux had 85 goals and 199 points — and didn’t win the Hart. Those are absurd numbers. Only Gretzky and Brett Hull have ever scored more goals in a season, and only Gretzky has notched more points. And yet, Gretzky won the vote that year with a relatively modest (for him, anyway) 54 goals and 168 points. That was the Great One’s first season in L.A. after his seismic trade from Edmonton, and he helped the Kings improve from a 68-point team the year before to 91 points — fourth overall in the NHL. Pittsburgh finished with 87 points. So the narrative winds were at Gretzky’s back.

Phil Esposito broke the single-season goals and points records — and didn’t win the Hart. In 1970-71, Esposito set new records with 76 goals and 152 points. But he finished second in the Hart vote to Boston teammate Bobby Orr, who had 37 and 139. This may have been the correct choice because Orr’s numbers were not of this world for a defenceman. But still, tough beat for Espo. He hid finish his career with two Harts, though.

No one has ever won the Hart unanimously, but Lemieux came as close as possible. He fell one vote shy in 1993. That’s the year he won the scoring title by 12 points despite missing two months in the middle of the season while he underwent treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It’s one of the greatest (and most heartwarming) achievements in sports history, making Lemieux one of the easiest Hart picks ever. And yet some guy voted for Pat Lafontaine, the runner-up in the scoring race. The Buffalo star finished third for the Hart, behind Toronto’s Doug Gilmour.

Alex Ovechkin is the active leader in Hart Trophies with three. He won those in 2008, ’09 and ’13. Sidney Crosby is the only other active player with multiple Harts. He’s won two, in 2007 and ’14. Crosby is also tied with Jaromir Jagr and Jean Beliveau for the most runner-up finishes with four.

Only three Hart winners who are eligible for the Hockey Hall of Fame haven’t gotten in. They are Tom Anderson (1942), Al Rollins (1954) and José Théodore (2002). Rollins’ victory has to be the strangest. He posted an ugly 12-47-7 record and 3.21 goals-against average. Those are not MVP-calibre stats by any stretch. But Rollins edged star Detroit defenceman Red Kelly in an extremely close race (and also beat Rocket Richard and Gordie Howe) because enough voters figured Rollins was the only thing keeping his awful Chicago Black Hawks team from complete oblivion. He played all but four games and Chicago lost them all. One of his backups had a 9.00 GAA. The other’s was 5.50. Rollins’ teammates gave him almost no help: they scored less than two goals per game and gave up nearly 3.5 — easily the worst in the league in both departments. So Rollins played bravely. Even admirably. But it mostly seems like the voters just felt bad for him.

Thanks to my CBC Sports teammate and massive hockey nerd aficionado Rob Pizzo for helping me compile this stuff. He makes fun and informative hockey videos, and the latest are one-minute previews of the upcoming NHL playoff matchups. You can watch Leafs vs. JacketsOilers vs. Blackhawks, the four-team Western round-robin and the Eastern round-robin right now. The rest will be published on CBCSports.ca in the coming days.

Alex Ovechkin with the Hart Trophy in 2009. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Edmonton’s CFL team is changing its name

The club abruptly announced this afternoon that it “has made the decision to discontinue the use of the word ‘Eskimo’ in the team’s name.” It had been in use for more than 100 years, but the franchise said in a press release that “views regarding the team name are shifting. While many fans are deeply committed to keeping the name, others are increasingly uncomfortable with the moniker.”

Pressure to drop the name increased recently after the Washington NFL team indicated it would retire its name, which many consider an Indigenous slur. Initially, Edmonton appeared insistent on keeping its name, pointing to studies it had conducted that showed “no consensus” among Inuit communities for whether it should be changed. But some sponsors later threatened to cut ties with the team if it didn’t commit to a name change.

Until a new name is picked, Edmonton will call itself the EE Football Team and/or the Edmonton Football Team. Read more about the dropping of the old name here.

Quickly…

The Banjo Bowl has moved off the field. The CFL’s best rivalry — between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Saskatchewan Roughriders — normally peaks with an annual pair of back-to-back regular-season contests: the Labour Day (weekend) Classic in Regina and the Banjo Bowl rematch in Winnipeg. With the season still on hold due to the pandemic, fans of those teams might not be breaking out the hollowed-out watermelons or the honey dill sauce at all this year. But the rivalry is carrying on away from the gridiron.

Both the Saskatchewan and Manitoba governments are aggressively bidding to host the CFL’s games if it decides to play a shortened season. The league still hasn’t officially chosen to do that, but it’s currently negotiating with the players’ union on a deal that would make it possible. The CFL has imposed a deadline of this Thursday to reach an agreement. Read more about that here, and more about the outside obstacles facing the potential host cities here.

The NHL and the NBA both reported encouraging results from their latest round of testing. The NHL said yesterday that COVID-19 testing from the first five days of formal training camps (July 13-17) returned only two positive results. That’s out of 2,618 tests involving more than 800 players. The NBA reported zero positive results from the 346 players tested over the last seven days at its “campus” inside Disney World. Looks like both leagues are in good shape to restart as scheduled next week.

Alyssa Nakken made baseball history. She became the first woman to coach in an on-field capacity during a major-league game when she took over as the San Francisco Giants’ first-base coach during an exhibition contest last night. Nakken was hired by new Giants manager Gabe Kapler back in the winter, when she became the first woman to land a full-time coaching job in the majors. She played softball in college before joining the Giants as an intern in 2014. 

Toronto FC advanced to the next round of the MLS is Back Tournament — but it’s unlikely another Canadian team will join them. Today’s 0-0 draw between Toronto and New England gave both teams a 1-0-2 record and ensured they’ll both advance to the 16-team knockout stage. TFC can finish no worse than second in the group, and still possibly first. The top two teams in each group move on, plus the four best third-place teams. The other two Canadian teams — Montreal and Vancouver — are both 0-2-0 and in last place in their respective groups. Montreal plays its final match tonight. Vancouver’s is Thursday. Both teams need to win and get help. FiveThirtyEight’s projection system gives Montreal a 30 per cent chance of advancing and Vancouver only 4 per cent. Read more about Toronto’s draw with New England and watch highlights here.

Some A-listers are helping the National Women’s Soccer League expand to Los Angeles. Actress Natalie Portman is one of the main front-facing people in a star-studded group bringing the team, tentatively named Angel City, into the NWSL for the 2022 season. It will be the 11th club in the league, which currently has nine and is adding one in Louisville next year. Also involved in the ownership group are actresses Eva Longoria, Jennifer Garner, America Ferrera and Uzo Aduba (Crazy Eyes from Orange is the New Black) The lead investor is Serena Williams’ husband, who co-founded Reddit. Read more about the new NWSL team here.

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