There's not a better way to interpret the Hart Trophy for me than to think of who was the most valuable player to their team. To simply say "the most valuable player in the league" doesn't mean anything, because if they're good they have negative values to far more teams than they have positive values...so the MVP concept should be grounded in who was most valuable to their team. Each of my picks were vital contributors to teams that would not have been successful without them, and for me that's about as close to high value as you can get.
My choices and reasoning after the jump.
1st Place - Mike Smith
2nd Place - Evgeni Malkin
3rd Place - Henrik Lundqvist
But Ben, you say, what about the time you picked Lundqvist over Smith for the Vezina? Well, I still think Lundqvist was the best goaltender this past year (by a very slim margin), but Smith was undoubtedly more important to the Coyotes than Lundqvist to the Rangers...and I don't say that lightly. The New York Rangers were not a drastically better team than the Phoenix Coyotes on the ice in regards to possession (NYR Road Fenwick Close - 48.17%, PHX - 48.20%), but they did provide a bit more goal support and were far better at reducing shots-against at 5v5 (27.6 SA/60 versus 31.2 SA/60 for Phoenix). Those figures drastically drive up Smith's importance for the 'Yotes, and for me bump Lundqvist below Malkin as well. Jonathan Quick doesn't enter the discussion for me because the team outside the net was, and has been, good enough to win with even average goaltending. It's worth noting, though, that like Lundqvist he carried the Los Angeles Kings early in the season (in the Rangers' case, they played some bad hockey, in the Kings' case they were terribly unlucky).
And what's more to say about Malkin than the fact that, despite injuries to their best player and their best defenceman, and mediocre goaltending on the back end, the Pittsburgh Penguins were still a remarkable team on the scoresheet and by the numbers? The triumvirate of Malkin, James Neal, and Jordan Staal carried that team, and Malkin was the most prolific. There's an efficiency argument there, too; Malkin was 12th in TOI among NHL forwards, and played fewer games (75) than any of the top 20 point scorers behind him, despite finishing with 12 more points than anyone else. Yes, he got a lot of powerplay time, and yes he got some cush minutes (65% zone starts), but nobody else made more of those kind of minutes, or somehow filled the offensive void of Sidney Crosby, or helped James Neal score 40 goals while scoring 50 of your own.
Yet for all of that amazing play, there's no argument in the world that can convince me that the Coyotes would have accomplished what they did without Mike Smith. He was between the pipes for 38 of the 'Yotes 42 wins, and faced the second-worst 5v5 shots-against in the league. Tom Awad's GVT has Smith holding the edge over Jonathan Quick as the most valuable, as well. And if the above wasn't a convincing-enough argument, how about this:
Lundqvist 2011-12 Cap Hit: $6.875m
Malkin 2011-12 Cap Hit: $8.7m
Smith 2011-12 Cap Hit: $2m
Now that's value.
P.S. If I placed more emphasis on cap hit, Quick might've nudged ahead of Lundqvist here. His $1.8m cap hit was lower than all of them.