As the season wound down, everyone and their mom offered their opinion on why or why not Corey Perry should even be considered for the Hart, let alone win. Our own resident curmudgeon, Daniel, did an unbelievable analysis of Puck Daddy's Greg Wyshinski's post on why Daniel Sedin will win the Hart (and Perry won't).
It's pretty obvious. I'm a total homer. Yet, I'm also a realist. I will be the first to admit when one of our players doesn't deserve the praise heaped upon him (cough, cough, Ryan Getzlaf this season, cough). Unfortunately, that same realism leads me to believe that it will be a warm day in the Yukon for Corey Perry to win the Hart Trophy this year.
Of course, my vote (if I had one) would be for Perry; however, I came to my conclusion a bit differently. Wysh and Daniel traded stats, and as I've said before, stats aren't my thing. His impending Rocket Richard trophy cannot be ignored, but there is more to Perry than just scoring. His journey to an MVP quality player isn't just about this season; it's a about his evolution as an NHL-er and his career (so far).
Over the past year and a half-ish, Perry has played a hell of a lot of hockey. Lets get into our Way-Back Machine and look at the summer before the 2009-10 season (yes, it hurts bring that black hole up, but work with me). Perry and Getzlaf were invited to Team Canada's Olympic workout/combine/moose races to audition for a spot on the team. Getzlaf DID NOT skate during this time, because he was still recovering from late off-season sports hernia surgery. He was pretty much a shoo-in for the team anyway, no big deal. Perry, considered a long shot for the Olympic team, was the first to admit that this workout helped his game get off to a fantastic start to the regular season.
That quick start (including a 20+ game point streak) for a mediocre Ducks team secured him a spot on Team Canada for the upcoming Olympics. He had a pretty good Olympics for a guy who many thought was only there because Getzlaf was. In '09-'10, it was all about Getzlaf. You could not talk about Corey Perry without mentioning his "twin," Ryan Getzlaf, in the same breath. Not that that was something new. Those two came up through the system together. When the Ducks won The Cup, Perry was part of the "Kid Line" that was more about Dustin Penner and Getzlaf than it was the semi-mulleted Perry.
Perry's seemingly perpetual position in Getzlaf's shadow was further amplified when Getzlaf was out a majority of the second half of '09-'10 with the nagging high ankle sprain. Perry's production tanked. He was living up to the scouting report that his success is tied to Getzlaf. It's not hard to agree. (Seemingly Ducks' management felt the same when Brian Burke signed both to similar deals a few years prior.) Without Getzlaf, and the lack of contribution from Perry, the Ducks were sent golfing way earlier than they should have been.
While the other Ducks' Olympians Saku Koivu, Teemu Selanne, Lubomir Visnovsky, and Bobby Ryan grabbed their clubs and headed to Pelican Hill, Perry jumped on a plane and headed to Germany as a member of Team Canada for World Championships. Team Canada, missing ALL of its Olympians except for Perry, was dropped in the quarterfinals by Russia. I don't think many Ducks fans were paying attention to Perry though, as the off-season drama being played out was over Bobby Ryan's contract. Bobby Ryan, yet another heralded player that Perry shares a line with.
Here's the thing. Up until the last quarter of this season, Getzlaf and Ryan were the marquee players. Sure, Perry was touted as a part of what some consider to be the best top line in hockey (if they played in the East), but it wasn't like ESPN The Magazine was clamoring to have an article on Perry. Getzlaf and Ryan were easier to market, not just by the NHL, but the Ducks, too. Getzlaf is the young captain who catapulted on the scene with his fierce play and superior hands. Ryan is the quintessential AMERICAN boy next door, with size, sick puck handling, and a compelling backstory. With their video at the NHL Awards, they cemented their marketability as likeable (for the most part) and relatable guys - which is great for selling the game.
Perry, on the other hand, is almost the polar opposite. We've noted on here that Perry tends to look uncomfortable when with the media or the fans. As more reporters wanted to talk to him this season, Perry has loosened up a bit (as in, he started to pronounce his words clearly). Still, he seems to be aloof anywhere but on the ice. The few times I've been face to face with him, he's been quiet and barely able to hold eye contact for longer than a second with me. For those of you that have met me in person, I'm not really all that intimidating, at least I think I'm not. I tried to get him to laugh, or at least smile, and I'd get a quick smirk and a low "hah."
I honestly believe that when he's not on the ice, he's uncomfortable in his own skin, dealing with the other part of the job as a pro-athlete, but he pushes through to give back to the fans that really adore him. I can't help but appreciate that. I moved a lot as a kid, which meant a lot of new schools. I know what it's like to be surrounded by people you don't know, trying to fit into the mold. Anaheim is a good place for Corey. The media isn't polarizing here like it is up in Canada. His sudden rise in stature has allowed him to mature (and possibly cope?) at his own pace, as he transitioned into a fledgling superstar.
Back to the off-season. As the drama unfolded with Bobby and his contract, Perry was out playing in a lot of charity hockey games. I can't imagine that's difficult to do, but he was still skating and staying active. As he came into Training Camp, he seemed to have not lost a step, where the other guys were working to get back into game shape. I'll admit, at this point, going into the regular season, the most I could say about Perry was that his on ice play was dickish; he took a lot of stupid penalties, and he could only score when set up by Getzlaf. I wasn't exactly proven wrong by the first handful of games in the Ducks' 2010-11 season. The most press Perry got was for fighting Mr. Lady Bing, Pavel Daytsuk.
Then something happened, and I still have yet to pinpoint what caused such a breakout. Perry was still being Perry on the ice, but he was smart about it. He was taking punishment in front of the net, but majorly cut down on the post-whistle shenanigans that resulted in the horribly timed offensive zone penalties. He stuck his chin out just a little bit further to get the calls, but again, because Corey Perry is Corey Perry, the officials looked away more often than not, or it resulted in calling him for the infraction instead. Then there is the scoring, and not just when he's on the ice with Getzlaf and Ryan. I was SHOCKED when he was first put on the penalty kill. I thought it was a suicide mission that a desperate Carlyle was trying out to see if anything would work. (I found out later it was a Mike Foligno thing.) If anyone says they saw this coming AND WORKING, I call BS.
Nothing could be more telling of Perry's evolution as a player than the time when Getzlaf was lost for a chunk of games. Up to that point, Perry had been Josh Duhamel (my dream man) hot. Like usual, Getzlaf contributed to a large portion to Perry's success with all those assists, but not as much as prior seasons. Some attributed this to Perry's breaking away and finding his own identity, or others, like me, attributed it to Getzlaf being lazy and Perry picking up the slack. Bobby was his usual streaky self, even though there was a time that he was neck and neck with Perry for goals. When Teemu wasn't scoring on the power play, Corey was.
Through out the ups and downs of the Ducks' first half, Perry's play remained constant. For that, he earned himself a spot on the All-Star Game roster. Perry doesn't exactly generate happy feelings with most NHL GM's, and likely, the same goes for the top brass at the NHL, which pick the final ASG roster spots. His play could not be ignored, no matter how much those outside of Anaheim wanted to. He was still a prick on the ice, but he was carrying the team. The only relief that the NHL had, marketing wise, was the surging by Steven Stamkos and heroics of Tim Thomas. Those two were taking over the media void left by the concussed Sidney Crosby and the lackluster Alex Ovechkin. Perry again remained in the shadow, and I'm sure he didn't mind.
Lack of rest over the All-Star break didn't negatively impact Perry in the second half. He continued to be solid, and really garnered the respect of more lifetime Ducks fans (especially me.) The media still wasn't there at that point because Stamkos still had a stranglehold over the goal-scoring total, and one of the creepy Sedin twins led the league in points. Perry would continue to make strides, slowly chipping away at Stamkos' lead.
When it was announced that Getzlaf was ready to return to the ice, I had only one concern. Perry was playing lights out; would having Getzlaf back cut into his success? As I've said before, I wasn't thrilled with Getzlaf prior to the injury. He just wasn't having a strong year. I didn't want this to rub off onto Perry, who found a niche with a line centered by Bobby. I am so happy to be wrong. Having Getzlaf back injected another offensive boost into Perry.
As his goal and point totals shot up, and the Ducks' success tended to follow suit, I realized that Corey Perry is finally becoming Corey Perry, period. No longer is he the after thought to the Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan Show. He was what Saku Koivu was at the end of the '09-'10 season, the team's MVP. He put the team on his back and carried it into contention in one of the tightest playoff races in NHL history.
Sure, the Ducks benefitted from the offensive play of Getzlaf, Ryan, Selanne and Visnovsky, but it was Perry that broke away from the pack. He took the punishment, he never took a play off, he was a leader. You could tell that he was elated, too. For a guy that's scored a lot of goals, the smiles and goal celebrations lead fans to be as pumped up as the goal itself. He was having fun. I give a lot of credit to Teemu Selanne for being just as thrilled for Perry with each goal, as Perry was himself. How cool is that?
I get that the creepy Sedins and Ryan Kesler play on, by far, the best team in the NHL. With three players of that caliber, plus a deeeep defensive corps, how can you not expect success? I'm pretty sure that Vancouver was picked by most to win The Cup, or at least face Philly in the finals. When your team is unbelievably skilled and expected to win everything, it has become the norm that your 'faces of the organization' would be in contention for the top awards.
To me, winning the Hart Trophy for MVP of the league is more about what the team would be like without the guy nominated for the award. In the Canucks case, they'd still be pretty damn good if Sedin One, Sedin Two or Kesler were taken out of the lineup. The Ducks were expected to finish, at the highest, 9th place in the standings this season. That is 9th place with the assumption we'd have Ryan-Getzlaf-Perry all season. We didn't have Getzlaf for a while. Bobby was streaky and faced the gnarly, and ongoing, experiment as a center. Also, many thought that Teemu was fading into the sunset of his career and wouldn't contribute much (save a dry spell midseason-- that was totally wrong), and he missed a few games too. Perry played 82 of 82 games this season. The Ducks are in fourth place...FOURTH PLACE. To say that the Ducks would be in the same position without Perry is laughable.
Teemu was quoted earlier in the week that "if Perry doesn't win the Hart, it would be a crime." I would love to be as optimistic as Teemu. I believe it would be complete blasphemy if Corey wasn't nominated, but to win would be a long shot.
It's the messed up way of thinking amongst the NHL front office and the writers that makes this such a travesty. The best team is always going to be the best team. It's the ones that surprise you that should be recognized.
I don't think anyone is as shocked as I am that Perry has accomplished all that he has at 25 - a Stanley Cup, a Gold Medal, a World Juniors Gold Medal, a Memorial Cup, and now a Rocket Richard Trophy - Sidney Crosby, he is definitely not. I couldn't be more excited for him. Assuming he gets nominated, and I had the $340 for a ticket to the NHL awards, you better believe I'd be there to support Perry, because it's only Perry up for the award. Not Ryan. Not Getzlaf.
Welcome to the MVPerry bandwagon members of the media. We've been waiting for you all season.