Mon. Jul 4th, 2022

How much do individual awards actually mean to professional hockey players?

If you were to ask Auston Matthews — who won the Hart Trophy and the Ted Lindsay Award on Tuesday night — if he’d turn in both trophies for a Stanley Cup, he’d probably quickly say yes. If you asked Connor McDavid if he’d throw away his Art Ross Trophy win for a lap around the ice with hockey’s ultimate prize, he likely wouldn’t hesitate when responding ‘of course’. That’s how important holding that team trophy is to these individuals; both recognize how hard it is to win.

For Canadian teams, it’s even harder.

While awards night is great and individual achievements are nice rewards for dedication and hard work, they probably mean very little in the grand scheme of what these two players are ultimately trying to achieve. The debate over who should have won probably means nothing to either player; there are bigger things at stake.

Can This Year’s Award Winners Lead Canada Back to the Cup?

Perhaps neither player is thinking about Canada when they envision success for their respective teams. Maybe they should. Sadly, in what has long been pegged as Canada’s game, no Canadian team has won the NHL’s grand prize in 30 years.

The last Canadian team to come close to the Stanley Cup was the Montreal Canadiens. They went from the Final in 2021 to the worst team in the NHL the following season. Many believe the latter was more reflective of how talented that team actually is. Their most recent Cup win was in 1993, which brings back fond memories for legend Denis Savard — who also happens to think Matthews and McDavid give Canada their best chance to win the Stanley Cup again.

Connor McDavid & Austin Matthews Hart Trophy Debate
Connor McDavid, Austin Matthews (The Hockey Writers)

The Canadiens team of the previous two seasons didn’t have what the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers do — the best of the best. And, what makes players like Matthews and McDavid the best, isn’t necessarily the fact they can take home hardware for a 60-goal season or repeatedly land at the top of the NHL’s leaderboard in scoring. It’s that both want to use their individual greatness to usher their organizations through the playoffs and win.

Stanley Cup Success: Great Players Attract Great Players

Savard knows exactly how hard it is to win the Stanley Cup. While speaking with Betway Insider, the Hall-of-Famer said, “It’s the ultimate goal for any player to get to the final buzzer and to raise it up. It’s something that can never be taken away from you and something that as I watch the playoffs right now, it brings back a lot of great memories.” He seems to believe Matthews and McDavid can have that moment, share it with their teammates, and provide Canadians with an incredible feeling.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Matthews, Marner, Bunting & Campbell

Savard explained, “Toronto is not far off, they possibly could do it next year, or in the next two, (or) three years. They have a great leader, a great player in (Auston) Matthews, and many other stars.” He pegged the Oilers as the other team to watch and added: “The best player in the world, Connor McDavid, is with the Edmonton Oilers; and, sooner or later, if they surround him (and) get him more help, there’s a chance that they could go on and win a few Cups in a row. That’s how good he is.”

Denis Savard Chicago Blackhawks
Denis Savard, Chicago Blackhawks, Dec. 1988 (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images)

While U.S.-based teams outnumber Canadian teams by more than a 3-1 margin, and while other teams often rely on good weather or tax breaks, Savard also believes great players attract other great players and that suggests award winners might attract talented players who want to play with those award winners. Edmonton and Toronto have the two best from this past season.

Canada Wins If McDavid and Matthews Win

The byproduct of Matthews and McDavid helping their respective teams win it all is that Canada, once again, gets to hoist Lord Stanley. For that reason, Savard told Betway he isn’t worried about the future of Canada in the NHL. “You look at all the Canadian teams right now, Edmonton is close, Calgary’s close, Toronto is very, very capable of winning it in the next two or three years. I think they’ve learned a lot over the last two years. It’s a learning process.”

Perhaps part of the learning process is in recognizing what it means for both players to get Canada back to the top of the NHL mountain. While Matthews is a U.S.-born player, the hope for Maple Leafs fans is that he wants to win it for his team and for the country in which that team resides. The last time that franchise raised the trophy was in 1967 and that should be motivation for one of the game’s most talented stars. For McDavid, as a Canadian, he knows what it means to attach a win for Canada to his already impressive resume.

This summer will be a busy one for both the Maple Leafs and the Oilers. And, no doubt, both Matthews and McDavid will be in the discussion again for the NHL’s most coveted trophies. Make no mistake, instead of individual recognition, what they’ll be shooting for is team success. Both have a chance to make winning (and winning in Canada) part of their legacies — a part that means so much more than a debate over how many votes each got for an individual award.

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