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The League of Extraordinary Statisticians: The Trophies

The League of Extraordinary Statisticians (LOES) is a weekly forum bringing together the top analytical minds in the hockey world to answer a variety of questions that straddle the line between stats analysis and something you might hear floating around section 304.  They have agreed to answer these questions in a few paragraphs or less, and with minimal formulae.  Because this is a forum, we'd encourage you to use the comments section to answer the questions yourselves, or to discuss or debate the answers given.

The LOES is not meant to represent the entire of the hockey stats community.  There are a number of people that either were too busy or too difficult to contact for the purposes of the forum.

After spending some time thinking about "underrated" players, it's time to get to the ones we need little time to recognize as the best.

You will see quite a bit more consensus here, not many feathers being ruffled.  I'll see what I can do...

This week's question: If you had to choose one all-time NHL player apiece for a "lifetime" Hart, Norris, Vezina, Selke, and/or Masterton Trophy, who would you choose?  If need be, please explain.

Hart Trophy - Wayne Gretzky.  He is the best player in history who had the highest peak value.

Norris Trophy - Bobby Orr.  Best defenceman ever and had highest peak value.  Nobody likely thinks this is a questionable pick even though his peak was clearly not as long as some more recent defencemen.

Vezina Trophy - Dominik Hasek.  Best goalie ever and had highest peak value.  I think some people might argue this pick given that his NHL peak was not as long as some other goalies.  Which is a bit strange when contrasted with defencemen.

Selke Trophy - Craig Ramsay.  I think I made my case earlier when discussing an underrated historical player.

Masterton Trophy - Mario Lemieux.  Nobody else comes back from cancer and wins the Hart Trophy and scoring title.

- Greg Ballentine, The Puck Stops Here at Kukla's Korner

The MVP in the WHA was named after Gordie Howe.  I think that it's the players, not the executives, that should be given that honor.  I would give you the obvious names (Howe, Orr, Plante), but let me pull a Palin and tell you about something else that we've talked about in our blog: have a team legend present the Stanley Cup.  Why is Gary Bettman involved?  He gets booed every time.  It's embarrassing.  Wouldn't it have been better to have Bobby Hull or Tony Esposito present the Cup to the Hawks?

- Tom Tango, and author of The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball

Norris is easy: Bobby Orr. (I trust that doesn't need explanation)

Masterton: PASS

Hart is tougher, but I'll go Gretzky.  (That probably doesn't need explanation either)

Vezina is also tough; goalies like Hasek and Parent were absolutely dominant, but not for nearly as long as someone like Patrick Roy, so I guess I have to go with Roy.

Selke: I'd need to study this.  My first thought is Gainey, but I should probably study this before opining.

- Rob Vollman, Hockey Prospectus

The question depends on if we consider a "lifetime" trophy to be the peak level that a player achieved over several years, or do we give extra points for longevity.  For the Hart, the answer is Wayne Gretzky either way, although if we go by peak performance Dominik Hasek gives him a run for his money; by lifetime accomplishments Gordie Howe would be #2.  For the Norris, if we go by peak performance, the answer is Bobby Orr; this needs no further explanation.  If we are going by total career achievements, then Raymond Bourque gets the nod, with Nicklas Lidstrom second.  For the Vezina, by peak performance Hasek runs away with it, but if we go by career achievements Patrick Roy wins.

By the way, you'll notice I restricted myself to players from the last 60 years; this is because the game was so different before then that comparisons are more or less impossible.

- Tom Awad, Hockey Prospectus

All right, this is going to be brief, mostly.  I'm leaning on all-time Goals Versus Threshold (GVT) to back me up here.  Lifetime awards: 

Hart Trophy - Wayne Gretzky

Norris Trophy - Bobby Orr (short career, but incomparable peak)

Vezina Trophy - Patrick Roy

That leaves the lifetime Selke Trophy.  Echoing Greg Ballentine's under-appreciated player from last week, my pick is former Sabres left wing and current Thrashers head coach Craig Ramsay.  Ramsay won the Selke only once, in 1984-85 -- ironically, his final season -- but rates at 96 defensive GVT over his 14-season career, better overall and per-season than multiple Selke winners Bob Gainey, Guy Carbonneau, Jere Lehtinen, Michael Peca, Rod Brind'Amour and Pavel Datsyuk.

- Timo Seppa, Hockey Prospectus

Hart Trophy - This one drives me nuts.  In fact, I can't stand the way this one is awarded each season.  From the league's own page on the Hart:

"The Hart Memorial Trophy is an annual award given to the player judged to be the most valuable to his team."

The award should go to the player most valuable to his team, it's a great award.  Valuable players are worth recognizing.  So why does the award so rarely go to the player most valuable to his team?  Ah, well there it is, right on the NHL site:

"The winner is selected in a poll of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association in all NHL cities at the end of the regular season."

Now it makes sense.  Look, either award the Hart to the best player and call it the League MVP or change the wording to the most outstanding player.  Stop giving the award and not following the definition of the award.  I abstain until I can get a ruling on this.  Force me to make a selection and it's Wayne Gretzky based on the way the PHWA votes and it's Dominik Hasek based on the wording of the actual award.

Norris Trophy - Bobby Orr.

Vezina Trophy - The Contrarian Goaltender has picked up the Dominik Hasek cause and run with it and I can't say I disagree with him.  Hasek was so much better than any other goalie in the league at the time, including Patrick Roy, that he should be discussed as the greatest goaltender of all time, not just of the 90s.  I could make a fairly convincing argument that he's one of the greatest players ever to set foot on NHL ice.

Selke Trophy - Doug Gilmour came into the league as a plus player at age 20 and was taking tough assignments not long after that.

- Derek Zona, The Copper & Blue

So it's nearly unanimous that Gretzky holds the "lifetime" Hart, and the same for Orr.  It is really hard to argue with these two, and I think Tom Awad raises a very good point: do we evaluate a player's career by long-term performance or the intensity of the peak years?  Awad uses Hasek as an illustrative point; Hasek's seasons from 1993-94 through 1998-99 contained some of the best and most important performances in league history.  The Buffalo Sabres would not have even dreamed of getting to the Cup Finals without him; his backups' save percentage was about 25 points worse than Hasek's.  Honestly, if you include his career in the Czech leagues, his peak is only muddied by forces beyond his control (which, incidentally, makes Gretzky lucky).

Mario Lemieux only gets a mention in the Masterton conversation, but his per-year GVT was actually higher than Gretzky's.

The Roy-Hasek debate burns brightly, as much the result of the difference in 1980s/early-1990s and mid- to late-1990s league performance as anything else.

By the way, I absolutely love Tom Tango's suggestion, although I shudder to think at how hysterical Roenick would have been had he been the guy selected to give the Cup to Jonathan Toews.  On the bright side, we could have been saved from the awkward, non-comforting Milbury gesture that followed.

No poll this go-around, as the responses are so close, but let's play a little Devil's advocate: who else can we put into the conversation for these trophies?  In what ways would Gretzky not be deserving of the Hart, likewise for Orr and the others?  Who are we leaving out (Hakan Loob Fan Club, you have the floor)?  Anybody else frustrated like Derek Zona about the Hart Trophy, or any of the others?