Since its inception in 1924, the National Hockey League’s Hart Memorial Trophy has been awarded every year to the player considered to be the most valuable to his team. It is voted on by the members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.
It was originally called simply the Hart Trophy. Dr. David Hart was the father of Cecil Hart, who coached the Montreal Canadiens to two Stanley Cup championships. The elder Hart gifted the first trophy to the NHL, and it was named in his honor.
The first player to win the Hart Trophy was Frank Nighbor of the Ottawa Senators.
To find the first Detroit Red Wing to take home the prize, you have to go all the way back to the 1939-40 season, when defenseman Ebbie Goodfellow won it.
Ironically, Goodfellow began his career as a center, and was originally part of a high-scoring line along with Herbie Lewis and Larry Aurie.
But Goodfellow, an ultimate team player, figured he could be of even more value to the Wings as a defenseman. After making the switch, he indeed proved to be one of the best in the NHL.
As team captain, he had come close to winning the award before, when he finished third in the voting in the 1936-37 season. The Red Wings were a perennial powerhouse during Goodfellow’s career in Detroit, going to four Stanley Cup finals and winning three of them. A durable, three-time All-Star, he led the league in games played five times. The Wings lost in the semi-final round to the Toronto Maple Leafs the year Goodfellow won the Hart.
Goodfellow was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1963 as a defenseman.
Center Sid Abel was the Red Wings’ second Hart Trophy recipient following a great 1948-49 season. “Old Bootnose” led the NHL with 28 goals that year, and also totaled 26 assists. His 54 points tied Ted Lindsay for most on the Wings. He scored three more goals with three assists in the playoffs, but Detroit got swept by Toronto in the finals. Abel, along with Lindsay and young Gordie Howe, formed the original “Production Line” that propelled the Wings to multiple Stanley Cups. Abel, Lindsay, and Howe are all in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
The third Red Wing to win Hart Trophy honors was, of course, Howe. His shelf eventually collected a total of six such awards. That was the most ever until Wayne Gretzky came along.
Howe’s first came when he was only 23 years old, following the 1951-52 season in which the Wings won the Cup. He won his final Hart Trophy in 1962-63, which was also the last year he led the NHL in points (86). Detroit made it to the Stanley Cup finals in ’63, but lost to the Maple Leafs.
The last Red Wing to win the Hart Trophy was Sergei Fedorov after the 1993-94 campaign. He totaled 39.92% of the vote that year, well ahead of runner-up Dominik Hasek of Buffalo, who collected 17.70%. It was the first year of coach Scotty Bowman, who’s Wings lost in the quarter-finals to the San Jose Sharks. The 24-year-old Fedorov was already one of the best players in the world that season, with a career-high 56 goals and 120 points, second only to Gretzky. He also won the NHL’s Frank J. Selke Trophy and the Lester B. Pearson Award that year. Fedorov is one of the newest members of the Hall of Fame.
That makes nine times that a Red Wing has won the prestigious Hart Trophy, which ties them with the Edmonton Oilers for the third-most-often. For those keeping count, a Canadiens player has won it 16 times, followed by the Boston Bruins (12 times).
Do the Red Wings have any potential Hart Trophy winners on the horizon?