Johnson: Anaheim Ducks captain Getzlaf should be firmly in the Hart Trophy conversation
Former Calgary Hitmen star does it all for one of the NHL’s top teams
The trick is in convincing people to divert their gaze from Pittsburgh long enough to consider.
“I definitely think he belongs in the hunt,” Ryan Getzlaf’s old boss, Brian Burke, is saying from the shimmering, sunswept vistas of Boca Rotan, Fla., site of the NHL GMs meetings. “This is a dominating player. He has a bad temper, a high skill level and a big body. That’s a good combination for a hockey player.
“We’ve watched his leadership skills develop over the years. He’s been fortunate enough to have not only good role models, but great role models, Hall of Fame role models. Scotty (Niedermayer), Chris Pronger and Teemu (Selanne). All different styles, too. So it’s no accident that he’s good in that area. He learned from, watched, the best. And that kind of example rubs off.
“Scores goals, distributes the puck, wins faceoffs and he’s got a mean streak.
“I mean, what else is there?”
Not a thing. That pretty much runs the table.
The Great Getzie. An authentic Hart Trophy candidate this season. Worthy of having his credentials trumpeted even in, yes, a Sidney-saturated world.
“Obviously that’s a discussion I want to be in,” acknowledges Getzlaf of any MVP talk. “That’s a pretty big tip of the cap, to be in that kind of company.
“You know what, though? This part of the season is all about that push to the playoffs. Those individual awards, they come with team success. We’re going to try and finish at the top of the league if we can. Obviously that was a goal we set at the start of the season and we’re trying to focus on that.”
The Getzlaf resume, along with the influence, the impact, is ever-growing, constantly evolving. Stanley Cup champion six springtimes ago. Double Olympic gold medallist. This year, only 20 points away from his career high of 91, set in 2008-2009, prior to Wednesday’s game in Calgary. He’s already hit watershed marks in goals for a season, 29, and game-winners, seven.
But now he brings so much, so very much, more than; over and above physical God-given gifts; beyond mere statistics. A captain, a focal point, a fulcrum. Galaxies removed from the super-skilled but often-idling junior superstar of his four Calgary Hitmen years, when, to be honest, at times he seemed slightly bored by the chasm between he and the multitudes; when everything seemed a bit too easy.
“The last couple years,” says the ageless, evergreen Teemu Selanne, everyone’s epitome of the consummate pro, “Getzie has taken a huge step forward as a leader and as an athlete. He wants to do things right. Obviously won the Stanley Cup his first year. Now he wants to win one as a leader. It’s been great to watch him getting better and he’s turning into a man.
“No real weaknesses. I always say he can be as good as he wants to be and now he really wants to be the difference. We try to be a good example for the younger guys. Because a lot of times young guys don’t know how much it takes; they don’t know to do the right things. Things come quite easily. But the step to the NHL is the biggest, hardest thing to do. It comes with experience. Obviously watching other players helps, but still it has to come from inside. That’s what Getzie’s doing right now. He’s a totally different person, a total different athlete than a few years ago.
“I haven’t seen a better player this year.”
The Finnish Flash’s compelling PR pitch aside, here, for the fence-sitters, are a few tangible submissions on the Getzlaf Hart candidacy:
* third in points (71, prior to Wednesday night).
* second in even-strength points (53)
* fifth in plus-minus (+28).
* fifth in average ice-time among forwards (21:17)
* second among forwards in blocked shots among forwards (71).
Getzlaf’s shooting more, idling less. He’s playing here out West, with the crappy travel and nightly in a conference that houses the best teams in the league, on a group fighting for a President’s Trophy finish in hockey’s most unforgiving division.
“How good he is speaks a lot to the culture (in Anaheim),” says Al Coates, a part of the Calgary Flames’ 1989 and the Ducks’ 2008 championship management teams. “It worked out really well for him and for the Ducks, where he was drafted. The people around him permitted him no shortcuts. Over the years, he’s just matured and developed, matured and developed, to be the calibre of player he is. You can go back and say ‘Yeah, he was always that good.’ And he was. It was always there. But I think it took his own determination and the environment, the direction that surrounded him, to enable him to play on the Olympic stage and have somebody like you asking me does he deserve MVP consideration.
“Absolutely. He’s a great player.
“And the magic that he has with Perry is something you can’t ignore. To the credit of Bryan Murray and, at the time, Tim Murray, to move up in the draft and get another first-round pick to take Perry, after the chemistry they’d shown since North Dakota and the World Juniors, has been, well, something special.”
Sidney Crosby’s the odds-on-favourite, of course. With a slew of candidates (Toews, Kane, Tampa goalie Ben Bishop, Toronto sniper Phil Kessel, et al) in hot pursuit.
Ryan Getzlaf may not, as he claims, have thought much about the Hart Trophy and where he fits into the 2013-2014 conversation as we pound down the NHL regular-season backstretch. But other people have. And more will. At the very least, should. If they have a lick of sense.
“You take Crosby out of the mix,” lauds Ducks’ coach Bruce Boudreau, “and I’d think Ryan would be the choice. Or right up there.
“He’s been everything to us. First-unit penalty killer, first-unit power play. You need something done, he’s the guy. When he wants to play — which is most of the time these days — he’s very good.”
Maybe, for argument’s sake, even the best. For those, at least, willing to avert their gaze from Pittsburgh long enough to consider.
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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