The Hart Trophy has been awarded to a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning before. Thge only guy to do an awards Triple Crown -- the Art Ross, the Hart Trophy and the Stanley Cup in one year -- since Wayne Gretzky 20 years ago. It was a worthy proclamation to give Martin St. Louis the Hart by acknowledging his two-way presence with the Lightning, his deft scoring touch and his contributiont o a Stanley Cup Champion. Next to Marty, the only true worthy candidate for the Hart was Jerome Ignila of the Calgary Flames (who led his team, by the way of the #8 seed in the west, to teh Stanley Cup final).
But what about now?
There are three forwards and two goaltenders who are up for the Hart. All players are the very reason why their teams are in contention. The netminders have proved it before -- carrying their teams on their backs. One honored for such undertakings, the other passed over in the past with thanks to where he was playing. The honored forwards are products of the New NHL. Two have been compared with Gretzky while the other is a throwback from days of yore.
So who deserves the Hart as it stands right now?
Lightning fans will quickly jump up for Vincent Lecavalier and if I was more of a homer, I'd be standing right besides them. Vinny is the reason the Lightning are contending at all. While offensive output from the lower lines has waned, while the goaltending has been so-so and the defense not much better, Vincent has raised his game to the level that was projected when he was drafted #1 in 1998.
So why do I think he isn't the guy who deserves the Hart?
No disrespect at all to Vinny but there is a guy he has played against who has consistently at a phenomenal level. No, not Kid Sid in Pittsburgh who has taken his projected throne as the Next One. This guy has been doing what he does for years... No, not Martin Brodeur in New Jersey who will have the Northeast Media push him into the final 3 for the Hart and probably will help secure him the Veniza too.
No, it's the guy I used to love to be frustrated by in divsion matchups. It's the guy who Lightning fans fondly bid adieu this last off season as he packed his suitcase and headed to the Pacific Northwest.
This should be Roberto Luongo's trophy to lose.
Brodeur's won his awards, Crosby will win his in time, and Lecavalier already has his ring... Heatly has a huge supporting cast around him and may be a Hart top-three candidate in the end (depending on if the Senators break their playoff frustrations or not).
And what of Luongo?
On a team that has struggled, he has posted a 2.26 Goals against average in 74 games this season. He faces an average of 28+ shots a night while his save percentage stands at .922. While Brodeur has faired better statistically than Luongo in New Jersey, Vancouver has been afflicted with injuries all season and yet they find themselves at the top of the division with thanks to Luongo.
As a Lightning fan, I know what Luongo can do. He may play with a weak defense in front of him but he gives your team a chance. The Devils have lulled teams into submission through the same style of play for more than a decade -- limiting shots -- giving their netminder an advantage. Martin Brodeur has started 4 more games than Luongo, and faced only 37 more shots than Luongo for the season. Can you say Martin Brodeur (or Crosby, or Lecavalier, or Heatly) are doing more for their teams than Roberto Luongo has done for the Canucks (and before them -- the Florida Panthers)?
Go ahead, cast your vote. Argue points in comments.. But from where I am sitting, one guys effort eclipses that of the other four... And rather clearly too.