Sidney Crosby’s white-hot second half has him gaining ground on Patrick Kane in the MVP race. What do past Hart votes tell us about the recency bias and Crosby’s chances?
Cognitive biases have powerful effects on the mind. We may think we like Domino’s Pizza more than Pizza Hut because we ate Domino’s last night. We may believe season 5 of Game of Thrones trumps season 4 because we watched season 5 more recently. And, when voting on major awards in sports, some of us weight stretch-run brilliance heavier than we do early-season heroics.
Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, then, is a legitimate Hart Trophy contender, even though he trails the Chicago Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane by 16 points in the NHL scoring race. Crosby leads the league in goals and points sine Jan. 1. His Pittsburgh Penguins have won six straight games without their second-best player, Evgeni Malkin. Crosby has climbed to third in the season points race, and he’s a better two-way player than Kane.
But how will we remember Crosby when 2015-16 ends? Will he be the second-half world beater who couldn’t gain enough ground to overtake the year-long frontrunner? Or will Crosby’s second-half dominance plant the recency bias in voters’ heads, causing him to overtake Kane?
It’s too early to know how the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association, will vote on the Hart. But maybe we’ll find a clue by reviewing the past 10 Hart Trophy winners. How many were wire-to-wire elite? How many rode second-half surges? And how many held on tight, fading after a strong start?
Joe Thornton, 2005-06: WIRE TO WIRE
Thornton went bananas upon his trade from Boston to San Jose, sure, but he was producing at better than a point-per game clip with the Bruins through the end of November. His consistency was crucial, as he had stiff competition from Jaromir Jagr, who was also dominant wire to wire and actually snagged the Ted Lindsay Award (then the Lester B. Pearson) for MVP as voted by the players.
Sidney Crosby, 2006-07: WIRE TO WIRE
Crosby earned 91 first-place votes, and runner-up Roberto Luongo earned 25. It was Crosby in a walk, largely because he never stopped producing. Excluding the abbreviated three-game April, Crosby’s “least” productive month still yielded 10 goals and 20 points in 17 games. Crosby was too good to open the door for any late-charging MVP candidate.
Alex Ovechkin, 2007-08: WIRE TO WIRE
At least five goals in every month. Double-digit goals in four months. Never less than a point per game in any month. Too consistently good for anyone else to touch him. See a pattern emerging here?
Alex Ovechkin, 2008-09: WIRE TO WIRE
Ovie struggled in October, with just two goals and five points in eight games, but he was unstoppable for every other month.
Henrik Sedin, 2009-10: SECOND-HALF SURGE
Sedin’s Hart year was amazingly close. He won with a vote percentage of 25.89, trailed by Ovie at 24.15 and Crosby at 21.11. Ovechkin was great all year, but he was merely very good in March and April with eight goals and 20 points in 18 games. Sedin struggled in February but wrapped up the award largely on the strength of an insane December, January and March, in which he collected 74 points in 43 games. Still, Crosby exploded for 15 points in his final five games, so it’s hard to chalk Sedin’s win up to recency bias. He did his best work after the first two months of the season, but that’s about it.
Corey Perry, 2010-11: SECOND-HALF SURGE
Perry’s Hart marks our first notable case of recency bias. The man ripped off 15 goals in 14 March games. Daniel Sedin was great all season, but Perry’s scintillating stretch run helped him snatch the award away.
Evgeni Malkin, 2011-12: WIRE TO WIRE
Another slam-dunk MVP who stayed excellent all season. That said, ‘Geno’ was especially good in the second half.
Alex Ovechkin, 2012-13: SECOND-HALF SURGE
Ovie was horrible in January (the “October” of the shortened season) with two goals and three points in seven games, but he improved repeatedly from one month to the next. He peaked in April with 14 goals and 22 points in 13 games. Martin St-Louis won the scoring crown, and Sidney Crosby was arguably the league’s best player until sustaining a late-season injury, but Ovie’s late push snagged him the Hart. Recency bias at its finest.
Sidney Crosby, 2013-14: WIRE TO WIRE
Sid had zero bad months. He was the best player in the league all year. Open-and-shut case.
Carey Price, 2014-15: WIRE TO WIRE
Price posted a save percentage of .920 or better in every month save for a four-game April sample. He was excellent, but his consistently high floor played just as big a role in his Hart victory. The door was never open for someone to overtake him in the race.
Patrick Kane and Sidney Crosby, 2015-16: ???
The most common trait among MVPs over the past 10 seasons is wire-to-wire excellence. In other words, any player who stays dominant all year seems to cancel out a late-charging talent in voter eyes. We’ve seen a few exceptions, however. Perry was simply so good in the 2010-11 second half that voters couldn’t ignore him. We could make the case Crosby has been that good over the past three months, especially considering what the Pens have accomplished without Malkin in recent weeks. And Ovechkin’s 2012-13 win came because Crosby missed the end of the season and no one else was as hot. There’s certainly no hotter player than Crosby right now.
The ultimate question is whether we can consider Kane dominant wire to wire. He ran circles around the league with 73 points in 53 games before the all-star break. Since then: 19 points in 20 games. It’s a clear drop-off for Kane, who has always been a better first-half performer, but it’s not like his game has tanked.
If the season ends today: the guess here is Kane’s body of work still shines enough to earn him the award. But Crosby has made things close enough for the next few weeks to really matter. If Kane produces at his post-break clip of 0.95 points per game in Chicago’s final nine games, he’ll finish with 101 points. If Crosby hums along to his post-break tune of 1.46 in Pittsburgh’s final 10 games, he’ll finish at 91. Couple that with a far weaker supporting cast and a more sound all-around game, and Crosby will have a genuine case to steal the hardware out from under Kane.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin