Phil Kessel inexplicably shut out of Hart Trophy voting

The NHL Awards came and went Saturday night, and no Toronto Maple Leaf picked up hardware. That’s not a travesty, of course. There wasn’t a compelling argument for any Leaf to be nominated or win any awards, although the PHWA placed Dion Phaneuf 11th in Norris voting, Randy Carlyle came 7th in Jack Adams, and Sporting News bro Jesse Spector gave James Reimer a 5th place Hart Trophy vote.

Here’s where I’m particularly surprised: Phil Kessel, the fourth-leading scorer among players on teams that made the playoffs, did not get a single vote for the Hart Trophy. I thought going in that he had a case to be at least in the discussion, if not among the finalists,. He ought to have merited consideration for the top five most valuable players in the NHL, but he wasn’t.

Phil Kessel did not get a single vote for the Hart Trophy, left off of all 179 ballots cast.

Sean Leahy has the Twitpic for how the voting broke down. Pascal Dupuis, Evgeni Nabokov and even François Beauchemin were apparently more valuable to their rosters than Kessel, who was the catalyst on one of the NHL’s 6th-ranked offence and helped lead his team to its first playoff appearance since smart people thought Evgeni Nabokov was any good.

Those three are probably the most egregious examples, but Jeff Carter, who played on the second line of the team that was defending Stanley Cup champions, got a fifth-place vote. Ilya Kovalchuk, who spent a quarter of the season on the shelf and had a lower points per game and goals per game rate than Kessel, got a fourth place vote.

Three writers thought Chris Kunitz was worthy of being named among the top five most valuable players in the league. Kunitz had two more goals than Kessel and the same number of points… playing on the same line as Sidney Crosby. Kessel had more goals and even strength goals.

In late April I wrote this:

More importantly… where would the Leafs be without Kessel? The same place they are without James Reimer — out of the playoffs. Even in a season where it took him forever to get going, Kessel is still 6th in points and has 19 goals to his name. When I count scoring chances each night, he’s factoring in on four or five scoring chances, and is either taking or setting up every single chance the Leafs get when he’s on the ice. I can’t say that last bit about Henrik Sedin.

Kessel is a zone entry king, turning possession in the neutral zone into a burst of speed in the offensive zone that has a defender on its heels. He’s so strong at shooting off the rush, and when he doesn’t, he pulls up and has all kinds of space to work with, finding a trailer coming into the zone and rarely ever having to just dump the puck in and give up possession because he’s played his way into a spot he can’t play out of.

He’s a hard player to appreciate because he doesn’t latch onto the spotlight, give a lot of interviews, do a lot of commercials and isn’t particularly handsome (although he looks exactly like my friend Tony, and Tony is a real hit with the ladies). His star in Toronto has an asterisk next to it considering what the Leafs eventually gave up to trade for him. But Kessel can’t control that, all Kessel can do is play well when he’s on the ice. The Leafs have more unblocked shots with Kessel on the ice than any other player. At last check, the Leafs had more scoring chances with Kessel on the ice per 20 minutes than any other Leaf as well, and in the last two weeks I think it’s safe to say he’s cleared James van Riemsdyk in that regard.

I think the argument still holds up. Kessel caught fire in the postseason and put to bed any doubt that he couldn’t play in big games, or couldn’t play against the Boston Bruins.

It’s amazing that one of the league’s 10 best players can play in the league’s biggest market and have nobody recognize him for being kind of good. I can understand why an individual writer wouldn’t have Kessel in the top five—there were a lot of deserving candidates—but to have a player of his calibre left off all 179 while guys like Carter, Kovalchuk, Dupuis and Kunitz all break onto the board is hilarious.

Somewhat related, the Leafs Nation had a year-end nominees and voting in a few categories. We still haven’t unveiled the winners so that will happen tomorrow.

  • Kessel’s advanced statistics are not kind to his play. Kessel is consistently outshot by opposition. Kessel is certainly better then many of the leafs but his defensive lapses (though improving) and his poor Corsi limit his consideration. Now most sports writers don’t know Corsi, but they do look at +- which confirms that Kessel was outplayed.

    And for those that just “watch hockey” they know that Kessel is often hemmed in his own zone (which leads to the leafs getting outshot and outscored). And secondly, how Kessel shy’s away from contact along the side boards when the dman attempts to clear the pass from the zone. This further compounds his shot differential (or Kessel being hemmed in his own zone).

    So I think it is hard to make a case for Kessel being the MVP when he is outscored, outshot and is not only consistently hemmed in his own zone but is not defensively reliable nor willing to take a hit to make a play.

    That said, as a homer leaferfan how dare these analysts not nominee Kessel. He was phenomenal during the playoffs but that is small sample size and unfortunately not part of the consideration for Hart.

  • Well #1 leaferfan, I don’t worship at the altar of Advanced stats. I don’t need a flurry of numbers to tell that my eyes are lying to me and that the good hockey player I’m watching is not actually good. There is the flaw in these numbers because you can’t quantity a good player with advanced stats. If I believed them they told me last year that Kadri was washed up and that he needed to put on a rail out of town. Riddle me this, if you were shown a ream of stats on a player with no name, and who you never saw play the game, would you be able to tell us if he’s good or not? I’ve noticed he doesn’t go into the corners too, neither did I. What good is he, if he’s on the shelf with a head/shoulder/leg injury. What do your advanced stats say about that? He already has had one shoulder rebuilt and he is otherwise a player you can pencil in for 82 games a year. I get what you’re saying but it’s like critiquing Orr for not scoring 20 goals, thats not his game. Kessel’s game is speed, and his shot, his vision and his passes, few of those strengths can be used in the corner whilst on one’s butt. The bigger and yes tougher guys will go to the dirty areas because it is their strength and because very few players can do on the ice what Kessel does. Everyone who is butthurt over what the Leafs paid to get him need to get over it. Fast! Paying 2 1st’s and a second was Burkes call, not kessel’s.

  • Jeremy Ian

    Cam: advanced statistics are affecting this ritual because they are torquing the way sports media tell the story. The very journalists who cast their ballots are the ones who vest so much in the data they recite. Whether they’ve seen the player or the game at all is becoming beside the point. I think this is what leaferfan is getting at.

    For an example of this problem in baseball, see:

    Whether one likes to use data is different from how journalists use the data; most of them don’t know what they are really talking about — and Moneyball really messed things up that way — but they use/abuse them.

    You are right that overlooking Kessel shows up the limits of the process.

    The lesson is that Kessel needs the right line-mates for the reason whichonespink says. With someone who is paid to complement Kessel’s skills. Your analyses of Bozak explains a lot of why Kessel was shut out of the voting.

    • Jeremy Ian

      Just responding to your response to leaferfan… The point is, we are agreeing with you that it’s a bad oversight; the question is why there would it exist. leaferfan’s offering a theory. Forget it.

  • Jeremy Ian

    obviously, leafs dont get any respect in this league. i dont understand how he wasnt even considered let alone even getting a nomination. it’s bogus if you ask me. what does he have to do to get noticed around here? get freaking 100 pts a season to be considered decent.

    • Jeremy Ian

      People automatically assume Leafs players are either overrated, garbage, or both.

      There are people out there who think Phaneuf isn’t a true #1D-man. Those same people also think Kessel can’t be considered elite

  • Jeremy Ian

    I admit I was a tepid fan of Kessel for years…Then I asked myself, who would scare the bejeezuz out of me on a breakout, whether it be shooting or playmaking? I have a hard time coming up with a name better than Phast Phil.

    Another thing, if he is such a soft player, why doesn’t he pull a Gaborik every year, sit out? The guy has to be playing hurt, and still at a high level. Yet, he never whines, and give him a micro inch, he is gonna blow by you and make goalies whimper. The man shows up every game, and you know he is getting hacked all the time. I love the guy. He is a major warrior in his own way.

    Keon was usually the best player on every shift, I don’t recall him being “tough”. But just like him Phil just shows up with his boatload of talent, every damn game.

  • Back in Black

    It’s because Kessel is good, but he’s no Pascal Dupuis. Duh.

    Advanced stats are not the reason. Kessel has very good advanced stats in context with the rest of his team; over the past few years he’s maintained the best Corsi of any Leaf forward that doesn’t line up with Grabovski, and he plays against tough competition. He’s dragged down by a poor possession team, in particular the black hole at centre.

  • Back in Black

    Kessel is a great player but he was not leaf MVP and nor was Orr although some claim it. Reimer’s play helped considerably. Simply put if Kessel is being outplayed using +-, advanced stats or watching hockey then it is a hard to make the case as MVP. Sure we can talk about his lousy team mates etc but I think this story is a bit overblown here.

    • Back in Black

      “Simply put if Kessel is being outplayed using +-, advanced stats or watching hockey then it is a hard to make the case as MVP.”

      And if any of that were true, you’d be right. As it stands, he’s the only player in the top 10 scorers not to get a single vote. And that’s noteworthy, even if we all agree he didn’t deserve the trophy. Does anyone – anyone at all – think Chris Kunitz was the most valuable player on the Pittsburgh Penguins, or anywhere near as good as Kessel? He got three votes.

  • millzy09

    Some people here think that Cam’s piece is about Kessel winning the Hart or even being a finalist. What I take from it is that every writer gets to pick 1st through 5th….how on god’s green earth does Kessel not get even a single vote for 5th? I’m stunned.