What defines Most Valuable Player
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Corey Perry doesn't walk around the Honda Center with a pro wrestling belt hanging over his shoulder with the inscription, "Reigning Hart Trophy Winner."
Nor does he have a new license plate with the inscription, "M-V-P."
Really, you wouldn't know Corey Perry won the NHL MVP award last season if you saw him go about his business this past September at training camp.
"I'm just a normal person going out and doing my thing," Perry told ESPN.com during our camp stop in Orange County.
In typical Canadian hockey player fashion, getting Perry to talk about himself in individual terms is like trying to pull teeth. Perry never asked to get singled out; he was just trying to get his team into the playoffs last season when he went on a tear that forced the hockey world to notice. Try 19 goals in the final 19 regular-season games in March and April. Try a league-leading 11 game-winning goals, five of them down the stretch.
"It just seemed every night, at the end, it was going to be Corey Perry doing something," Ducks GM Bob Murray told ESPN.com. "You're wondering, 'When is this going to stop?' Well, it didn't stop. It was a well-deserved honor. I was surprised a kid out of Anaheim could win the league's most valuable player, but I'm glad they recognized what he did because it was truly outstanding."
And that's just it. Members of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association who vote on the Hart Trophy absolutely nailed it. In a season in which the best player on the planet, Sidney Crosby, was shaping up to have a career-best season before a season-ending concussion, and the second-best player in the league, former 65-goal man Alex Ovechkin, put up only 32 goals, the PHWA (full disclosure: we are a member) focused as much as ever on the Hart's true definition: most valuable player to his team.
No one is pretending, not in Anaheim or anywhere else, that the 26-year-old Perry is the best player in the NHL. That's not what the award signifies despite the stranglehold Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux had on it in their careers. No, what made Perry the perfect winner was that he was, far and above, the most valuable player in the NHL. No more, no less.
"If Sid was healthy and kept going the way he was going, it was obviously going to be his," said Perry. "But things happen and people do get hurt. It's hockey. It was a fun year for myself and I had a lot of help from guys in that dressing room."
Still, even his closest pals weren't sure he would actually win it until the moment it was finally announced in Las Vegas in June. A Duck won the Hart?
"When you play out here, it's not easy to get the recognition and stuff that you sometimes would," star linemate and good friend Ryan Getzlaf told ESPN.com. "Even being there at the awards and sitting there, a lot of us still didn't think Corey had a chance to win it. When his name was called, it was a tip [of the hat] to everybody and he deserved what he got."
Actually, make it two years in a row now that a West Coast dude has won the Hart, Perry following up on Vancouver's Henrik Sedin. The question now is whether this is an actual trend, the award opening itself up to a bigger group of players, with say a Pavel Datsyuk or a Jonathan Toews also nabbing a Hart Trophy at some point, or whether we're just waiting for a healthy Sidney Crosby and a refocused Alex Ovechkin to reclaim their grip on the award.
"It's a little different being out there on the West Coast," Perry answered. "TV focuses more on the East. But being out here and winning, it helps put hockey on the map and shows there's a lot of great hockey players out here. It does show we can play out here. It's not just all about the East."
After putting up 130 points (47-83) in 60 games in his final junior season with the OHL's London Knights in 2004-05, Perry quickly made his NHL ascension following a 19-game stint in the AHL in 2005-06.
And for the first few seasons in the NHL, Perry made a name for himself, not just for his offensive game, but also for his ability to drive opponents crazy with a hard-edged style. Perry has topped 100-plus penalty minutes for four seasons in a row now. He's got sandpaper to go along with those silky hands. It has allowed him to earn the space on the ice he needs to get to pucks in scoring areas.
Still, what happened last season caught most people by surprise. Back-to-back 70-plus-point seasons suggested a very good player, but the jump to a career-high 50 goals and 98 points was hardly in anyone's forecast.
"My confidence was high last year," said Perry. "The coaching staff also put me in good spots to succeed. When you have that combination, you're going to go out there and do things that maybe you didn't think you could do in this league."
And he did it with Getzlaf missing 15 games due to injuries. It's another reason why the Hart nod for Perry was just, even if completely unforeseen a year ago.
It's not that no one ever saw a player on this current Ducks roster winning the NHL MVP one day, it's that most people, even within the organization, would have placed their money on Getzlaf to be the first to pull it off. Including Perry himself.
Getzlaf was taken 19th overall by the Ducks in that infamous 2003 NHL draft, which produced several of today's stars. Perry went 28th overall. They came in as a pair, but it was always assumed Getzlaf would somehow reach that elite level before Perry. And when Getzlaf registered a career-high 91 points (25-66) in 2008-09, it seemed he was on the cusp. But injuries have since limited Getzlaf to 66 games two seasons ago and 67 games in 2010-11.
"This year, I'm looking forward to being healthy and starting the year off right," Getzlaf said.
This is where the Corey Perry/Hart Trophy tale could take an interesting turn if you're the Anaheim Ducks. Don't you just get the feeling Getzlaf saw what Perry pulled off last season and wants some of that action? It's the kind of healthy motivation that might just propel Getzlaf to his own greatness this season. Or at least that's the belief, or hope, in these parts.
The Sedins nearly pulled it off; Daniel was the runner-up a year after Henrik won the Hart. Why not Getzlaf after Perry?
"We've talked about it," Perry said with a smile. "He said it's his turn. It's going to be fun if he can go out and do that, that's going to be great for our organization. It's going to be good for us getting into the playoffs."
Motivation or not, Perry's win has at least done one thing for Getzlaf: It has made the award more attainable. Your name doesn't have to be Crosby or Ovechkin to win it.
"It's one of those things where you definitely feel great for Corey and what he did last year," said Getzlaf. "It also makes it a little more real in the sense that it's actually in reach, and we're definitely going to try to put together a season this year to challenge that."
And no one would be happier for Getzlaf than Perry.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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