A Hart Trophy-winning season is usually defined by a player who has an outstanding season across the board, including a solid plus-minus rating.
NHL betting lines have labeled the five frontrunners favored to win the 2022-23 Hart Trophy. Other than Nathan MacKinnon, each favorite has won the award in recent seasons. Of those four winners, Connor McDavid, who has 2022-23 NHL odds of +300, had the best plus-minus in a Hart Trophy-winning campaign, a plus-27 in 2017.
While plus-27 is a solid rating, it pales in comparison to the five Hart Trophy winners since 1990 with the best plus-minuses. Of the five players on the list, only Mario Lemieux won the Hart Trophy more than once.
Chris Pronger, Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg, excluding Jose Theodore’s 2002 MVP season, achieved their Hart Trophy campaigns and accompanying high plus-minus ratings in successive seasons.
5. Joe Sakic (2000-01)
It’s no coincidence Sakic’s only Hart Trophy campaign, in 2000-01, coincided with the Colorado Avalanche winning the Stanley Cup. He fell two points shy of his career-best that season, finishing with 118 points in 82 games, including a career-best 54 goals.
The only other time Sakic broke the 50-goal barrier was during his other Stanley Cup-winning year, 1995-96. Sakic had a career-best 120 points that season but only finished with a plus-14.
Sakic’s plus-45 in 2000-01 was easily his best plus-minus rating. Sakic finished at plus-30 the season prior, his second-best plus-minus rating.
4. Sergei Federov (1993-94)
Sergei Federov was known for his silky smooth skills and ability to turn the tide of a game through patches of inspired play.
The Russian superstar’s only taste of Hart Trophy glory came in 1993-94, the same season he produced a staggering plus-48. He eclipsed that rating once, finishing at plus-49 two seasons after, in 1995-96. The Red Wings won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1997 and 1998. Federov finished those regular seasons with a plus-29 and plus-10, respectively.
During his Hart Trophy-winning campaign, Federov finished with a career-best in goals (56) assists (64) and points (120). But, like when a player notches bundles of points, a cause-and-effect relationship yielded his exceptionally high plus-minus rating.
3. Chris Pronger (1999-2000)
In 1999-2000, Chris Pronger became the first defenseman to win the Hart Trophy since Bobby Orr in 1971-92. He accomplished the feat emphatically, finishing with an eye-opening plus-52. Pronger anchored the blueline of the best defense in the NHL that season, and the Blues conceded 165 goals, 14 less than the second-best defensive team, the Philadelphia Flyers.
St. Louis was also powerful offensively, finishing the season with 248 goals, the third most in the NHL. The Blues finished the season with an NHL-most 114 points but lost to the Sharks in the opening round, experiencing firsthand the curse of winning the Presidents’ Trophy.
Pronger’s plus-52 was the highest of his career. He finished the 1999-2000 campaign with 62 points, a small discrepancy compared to his outrageously high plus-minus.
2. Peter Forsberg (2002-03)
Peter Forsberg was a force to be reckoned with for the duration of his esteemed 17-year career. But like teammate Sakic, 1995-96 was his best season in terms of offensive production. The dynamic duo set the league alight in the Avalanche’s inaugural year in Colorado. In just his second season in the league, Forsberg scored 116 points and lifted the Stanley Cup.
The season that earned him his only Hart Trophy came six years later, two seasons after Sakic won the coveted individual honor. In 2002-03, Forsberg enjoyed a career-best plus-52, a rating he never came close to emulating.
The doggedly tough Swede, like Sakic, had his second-best offensive output in his Hart Trophy-winning campaign, finishing with 106 points in 75 games. He also won the award after being forced to take the entire 2001-02 campaign off due to the compounding effect of previous injuries.
Forsberg’s infamous, sobering demise came directly on the back of earning the NHL’s MVP award. Debilitating injuries compounded, and an issue with his feet persisted, preventing him from ever returning to the eminent heights of 2002-03.
1. Mario Lemieux (1992-93)
The prolific season Mario Lemieux enjoyed in 1992-93 will forever go down as arguably the best of all time. While Wayne Gretzky proponents will vehemently protest, there is supporting evidence behind the polarizing claim. Lemieux notched 160 points in just 60 games, scoring at a rate of 2.67 points per game. That ludicrous points per game tally has only been bettered twice, both of which – in 1984 and 1986 – by the Great One.
However, Lemieux was on pace for 219 points had he played all 82 games. Gretzky notched 215 points in 1985-86, a record that may never be broken. Lemieux finished that celebrated, lionized campaign with a plus-55, the best plus-minus of his storied career. In only 60 games, it equates to an almost plus-1 per game rate.
Lemieux’s plus-55 season immediately followed the Pens’ back-to-back Stanley Cups. Three seasons later, Lemieux won the Hart Trophy again, this time with a wildly inferior plus-10, a low enough rating to land him on the list of Hart Trophy winners since 1990 with the worst plus-minuses.
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