Only one player in the last 32 years won the Hart Trophy despite having a negative plus-minus total. Five others finished their award-winning campaigns with subpar single-digit positives.
NHL odds for the Hart Trophy were recently released for the upcoming campaign. One of the five favorites holds the unenviable statistic of being the player with the worst plus-minus in any Hart Trophy-winning campaign since 1990. That same player, Leon Draisaitl, is the only one on the list who hasn’t yet won a Stanley Cup.
Unsurprisingly, none of the players on the list below won the Stanley Cup the same year as putting up such inferior plus-minus totals.
A Hart Trophy-winning season is personified by all-around dominance, including a player’s ability to be on the ice disproportionately more when his team scores than when they’re scored against.
However, when determining the Hart Trophy winner, plus-minus proficiency has always played second fiddle to other key determining factors. While an irrefutably important statistic, the influence of plus-minus is somewhat diminished when considering the role of special teams.
Those who are an asset on the power play, almost a prerequisite for any Hart Trophy winner, are negatively impacted by not getting credited with a plus when their team scores with the man advantage. Equally yet opposingly, players who are scored against while penalty killing aren’t credited with a minus.
Aside from the special teams’ caveat, plus-minus still bears weight and importance and is taken into NHL odds’ considerations.
Just ask NHL coaches and general managers looking to strengthen their squads. Rarely will they select players with a woeful plus-minus history unless the individual in question was pulled down with a sinking ship, plying his trade for a terrible defensive team.
That’s not the case for these five superstars, who endured the worst plus-minus seasons of any Hart Trophy winners since 1990.
5. Mario Lemieux (1995-96) and Sidney Crosby (2006-07)
Let’s start by clearly recognizing that Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby are two of the best hockey players of all time. Nobody in their right mind would dare refute that fact.
Their joint fifth-lowest plus-minus Hart Trophy-winning campaigns is just one of innumerable parallels one can draw between the Pens’ legends.
Lemieux won the 1995-96 Hart Trophy, his third and final MVP award, on the back of 69 goals and 161 points in 70 games. However, his relatively low plus-10 was more due to his team’s inability to play solid defense. Despite finishing the season with the fourth-best record, the Pens conceded the seventh-most goals.
Lemieux had only played 22 games – due to a herniated muscle in his back in 1993-94 before missing the full 1994-95 season to recover from cancer – in the two seasons prior to that MVP-winning campaign. He had much larger fish to fry than worrying about a mediocre plus-10 rating.
Crosby came onto the scene in 2005-06 and won his first Hart Trophy just a season later. Putting that into context, I’m sure Crosby wasn’t too dejected by his comparatively low plus-10. The 2006-07 Pens were decent defensively (14th best in terms of goals against) and finished 10th overall.
4. Corey Perry (2010-11)
In 2010-11, a career-best 98 points coupled with 104 penalty minutes was good enough to secure Corey Perry’s one and only Hart Trophy. It was also the only time Perry scored 50 goals in a season.
His best plus-minus season came in 2013-14, when he obtained a plus-32. Of his 17 seasons thus far, only five finished in the red where plus-minus is concerned. The playoff specialist has never had particularly outstanding plus-minus numbers with only six double-digit plus-minus seasons.
3. Alex Ovechkin (2008-09)
Ovechkin won his second successive Hart Trophy in 2008-09 – the first to accomplish the feat since Dominik Hasek in 1997 and 1998 – leading the Washington Capitals to a fourth-best NHL record.
He scored 56 goals and added 54 helpers, finishing with 110 points in 79 games. The Caps lost in the second round of the playoffs to Pittsburgh, the eventual Stanley Cup champions.
Ovechkin’s career plus-minus numbers are all over the map, as varied as the man’s wardrobe selections. He enjoyed a career-best plus-45 in 2009-10, the season after his back-to-back Hart Trophies.
Henrik Sedin won the Hart Trophy that season. Ovechkin’s worst plus-minus season occurred in 2013-14, when he finished with an abysmal minus-35. The Caps missed the playoffs that year for just the third time on Ovechkin’s 17-year watch.
2. Alex Ovechkin (2012-13)
In terms of plus-minus, the worst of Ovechkin’s three MVP campaigns came in 2012-13. He finished at plus-2. If the Caps conceded three more goals with him on the ice, he would have crossed into the dark realm where only one other MVP winner has dwelled since 1990.
However, due to an abbreviated lockout-delayed 48-game season, an emboldened asterisk accompanies his subpar minus-2 2012-13 performance.
1. Leon Draisaitl (2019-20)
Leon Draisaitl dwells alone as the only player to endure an overall negative plus-minus in a Hart Trophy-winning campaign. The Oilers’ playmaker scored 43 goals and added 57 helpers, notching 110 points in 71 games to win the trophy in 2019-20.
In his defense, Draisaitl scored 44 power-play points, the most in the NHL, none of which contributed to his overall plus-minus rating. The power-play specialist was significantly hampered by having his offensive contribution with the man advantage discounted in terms of plus-minus.
Draisaitl’s minus-7 is the worst plus-minus of any MVP since 1959-60 when records started being kept. No other MVP has crossed into the dark side and it’s unlikely another player whose plus-minus finishes in the red will ever again be dubbed as the league’s most valuable player.
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