Sidney Crosby, the youngest scoring champion in the history of North American professional sports, and two goaltenders, Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils and Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks, who led their teams to division titles are the nominees for the Hart Memorial Trophy, awarded to the NHL player most valuable to his team during the regular season.
Get used to thinking of Crosby, 19, this way. He's the first teenager to lead a professional league in scoring. At the same age, Tiger Woods, the first name you'd think of to challenge this assertion, was beating college students and part-time golfers. Willie Mays was 20 when he broke into the major leagues. Bob Feller went 9-7 at age 19. Most basketball and football players are over 20 when they enter the pros and the few exceptions haven't come close to Crosby's accomplishment.
Crosby led the NHL with 120 points, automatically winning the Art Ross Trophy, and 84 assists. Thirteen of his 36 goals came on power plays and four were game-winners. He finished plus-10.
Crosby was also nominated by his fellow players for the Lester B. Pearson Award, for most outstanding player in the regular season. The winners of both awards will be announced on Thursday, June 14, during the 2007 NHL Awards Television Special at the historic Elgin Theatre in Toronto (CBC, 8:30 p.m., ET).
But his biggest accomplishment may have been in taking the leadership of the Pittsburgh Penguins and rallying them to season-ending battle for the Atlantic Division lead. The Penguins were the third-worst club in the Eastern Conference in earlier December and finished strongly to tie the Devils in the last few weeks, before finishing second, only two points back.
"The turnaround we had is impressive," Crosby said. "It says a lot about the guys and the organization."
Crosby was the No. 1 pick of the 2005 Entry Draft, after a storied junior career. Crosby waged a neck-and-neck battle a year ago with Washington Capitals forward Alexander Ovechkin, finishing second to the Russian star in balloting for the 2006 Calder Memorial Trophy that goes to the NHL rookie of the year.
While Ovechkin remains a top young NHL player, Crosby emerged from this season a superstar. While his skills are obvious, there are always questions about a player's heart and commitment. Crosby answered that by playing the last six weeks of the season on a broken foot, injured when he blocked a shot.
"Obviously, I want to play for a long time, and, at the same time I want to help my team," he said. "You have to make sure you understand what's going on. I talked to the doctor and the trainers and made sure that if I was to play through it, it wasn't something that would bother me for a long period of time or always going to be nagging."
This year, maybe it's the Heart Trophy.
Which wouldn't eliminate either of Crosby's rivals.
The NHL has been in business for 89 years and has been playing 80-plus game schedules for over 30 years. In that time, no goalie has won more games than the 48 victories Brodeur posted this past season. And, Luongo was only one victory behind Brodeur, tying the record Bernie Parent sent in 1974.
Brodeur, 35, led the NHL with 12 shutouts and ranked third with a 2.18 goals-against average and .922 save percentage.
"I think it was an exciting season for myself," Brodeur said. "I had a lot of success. We had a good team and I was part of it."
Brodeur led the NHL by playing in 78 games and by stopping 2,011 shots. His 2,182 shots against were eight behind league-leader Kiprusoff and 13 ahead of Luongo. Thanks to Brodeur's high level of play, the Devils were able to win the Atlantic Division.
Brodeur won back-to-back Vezina Trophies in 2003 and 2004 and was the runner-up in 1997, 1998 and 2006. He was third in 2001. In 13 seasons, Brodeur, the Devils' first-round pick, 20th overall, in the 1990 draft, has a 494-263-105 record. His 152 consecutive postseason games for Devils is an NHL record. Brodeur won the Stanley Cup in 1995, 2000 and 2003.
Luongo, 28, arrived in Vancouver last June in a blockbuster trade with Lukas Krajicek for Todd Bertuzzi, Alex Auld and Bryan Allen. Luongo was 47-22-6 with a 2.29 GAA and a .921 save percentage.
More importantly, Vancouver went 32-8-6 after Dec. 6 to capture the Northwest Division title. The Canucks set team records with 49 wins and 105 points. He also helped coach Alain Vigneault to a Jack Adams Award nomination as the NHL's best coach.
"Roberto is the foundation that we're going to build around," Vigneault said. "He's got the culture that both (GM) Dave (Nonis) and I want. He's got the passion and the work ethic. He's what we’re going to build this team around."
Luongo never played in a Stanley Cup Playoff game in his first six NHL seasons with the New York Islanders and Florida Panthers. Thus, while many thought he was among the League's elite goalies, there was no way to know how he would handle the pressure of a divisional race. He passed with flying colors.
Luongo explained the secret of his success to the Vancouver Province.
"I hate losing, no matter what I do," Luongo said. "It’s not only hockey. I am a very competitive guy. Losing is not something that I enjoy. Obviously, I take it hard. It takes me a while to get over it."