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Why The Hart Trophy Race Could Come Down To The Final Night

The Hart Trophy race is wide open.

This year’s race for the NHL’s Most Valuable Player is going to come down to far more than any one specific statistic. Crowning a Hart Trophy winner will come down to the angle that each player is viewed from. Whether the focus be on goals, plus/minus, points, team success, or any other singular attribute, several players are making a case to be coronated as the best player of the 2017-18 season.

Connor McDavid

The Repeat 

Young stud captain of the Edmonton Oilers Connor McDavid is setting the score sheet on fire again this season. He is leading his team in goals, assists, points, plus/minus, time on ice among forwards, and takeaways. Among the league’s top 15 scorers, he is third in goals and assists, second in plus/minus, and first in goals. McDavid is also contributing the most offensive point shares, which measures how many points in the standings the player is responsible for due to his offense.

Looking at what he means to his team, McDavid almost doubles the next highest Oiler scorer and has played on a line with whomever has walked in the revolving door of forwards in Edmonton. Even one of his new line-mates Ty Rattie has commented on how versatile the young reigning MVP is: 

“You could put my dad on his line and he’d put up 100 points”

The final argument in favor of McDavid is what he has meant to the Oilers this year in terms of putting games in the win column:

Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Why McDavid Won’t Win

The last time a player won the Hart Trophy and didn’t enjoy even a game in the postseason was Mario Lemieux in 1988. Almost three decades later, the case is compelling for it to happen again. Lemieux’s Penguins, however, were only a few points out of a spot, while McDavid’s Oilers are about 15 points out. While the argument is brief, it is one with 30 years of support behind it. 

Nikita Kucherov

Shooting For Hardware

Nikita Kucherov fits the mold for “highest scorer not named McDavid.” He plays on a playoff team and would be the highest scorer if we only consider players on a playoff-bound team. He holds a solid plus/minus and plays on the third best team in the NHL, and the two teams better than his don’t hold a guy within 14 points of him. While there are no advanced arguments beyond points and goals that jump off the paper, there certainly wouldn’t be a riot if he won.

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Why Kucherov Won’t Win

Enter All-Star forward and two-time Rocket Richard winner Steven Stamkos. Kucherov has been playing on his wing almost all season. While it may seem like a classic chicken-or-the-egg scenario, Stamkos has hardware to back up his goal scoring without Kucherov’s talent on his line. It is no surprise that the center has factored in to almost 60% of Kucherov’s points. Stamkos also ranks seventh in the NHL with 86 points, to add to the argument even more.

In the opposite situation of McDavid, Kucherov is playing with a premier player in the NHL. In Stamkos, Kuch has a guy who can cover him on defense, bury his passes, and send pucks for easy goals.. It seems almost unfair for the Russian winger and the Canadian superstar to be allowed on the same line. For this reason and this reason alone, Kucherov should not be considered the NHL’s most valuable player. 

Evegni Malkin

A Second Hart For Malkin

Evgeni Malkin is no stranger to the Hart trophy, winning the award following the 2011-2012 season. At third in points and second in goals, Malkin is making a strong case for himself for MVP, even though he’s on the same team as Sydney Crosby. Unlike Kucherov, Malkin is not playing on a line with another premier scorer, as he does not traditionally play next to Crosby or Phil Kessel, both tied for the 10th most points in the league.

Malkin is also shooting at blistering 18.8% shooting percentage. Couple his point and goal totals with another solid plus/minus at +16, as well as the highest offensive point shares of anybody not wearing McDavid on the back of their jersey, and the argument starts to come together. 

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Why He Won’t Win

Malkin is still going to face the argument of playing with too much talent. While he is first in power-play goals, he commonly plays with Kessel and Crosby on those units. It is a weaker argument than that against Kucherov, but he does still have premier NHL talent surrounding him for 14 of his goals.

Nathan MacKinnon

An Avalanche of A Season

The Colorado Avalanche have bounced back from a nightmare season and find themselves in a playoff race just a year later. More about that and the fact that they’ve proved me wrong here. Leading them through the darkness and into the light is none other than center Nathan MacKinnon. The stats show his worth: fifth in points and goals, third in offensive win shares, and all in six to nine games less than the players ahead of him on the table of top scorers. From a point-per-game perspective, MacKinnon is second. It shouldn’t be overlooked that he took a young team with so many young pieces from the NHL’s basement to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Why He Won’t Win

MacKinnon could face the argument that playing with another top scorer in Mikko Rantanen pads the stats, but unlike Stamkos, Rantanen is not considered to be an established superstar just yet. However, even if voters decide to look at statistics on a point-per-game basis, MacKinnon is behind one more superstar. 

Brad Marchand 

The Broken Case for Hart

Brad Marchand has been elite when he wants to be, and an antagonist when he shouldn’t be. If Marchand had played in as many games as his fellow top scorers, he would be first in points and third in goals and assists. He already is first in plus/minus, shot percentage, and second in defensive point shares among top scorers. The case is there for the Bruin to take home his first ever Hart. 

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Why Marchand Won’t Win

Marchand has missed too many games due to injuries and suspensions. He’s played at least seven less games than every other player in the top 15 in scoring. If per-game numbers trump totals, Marchand slots in as the best candidate. It seems likely, however, that he just hasn’t been in the lineup enough to factor in to the race.  Unfortunately, it looks like a storybook season for Marchand and the Bruins will result in more team success than personal success. If the dirty plays can disappear, it isn’t unthinkable that Marchand may have as good a chance as any to win the award next season.

Final Result

With only a few games left in the season, Connor McDavid should repeat due to his individual performance. Voters should be able to look past the team’s poor season, and award McDavid for truly having the best season in the NHL

It is disappointing to see what could have been for Brad Marchand. With the Bruins having a chance to be the Eastern Conference’s best team, Marchand’s scoring numbers, plus/minus, and win shares would have made him the front runner. As the season comes to an end, it will be interesting to see who the final three candidates will be, and who will be standing with the trophy at this year’s NHL award ceremony. 

Edited by Joe Sparacio.

When awarded the Hart Trophy in 1988, Mario Lemieux had how many points?
Created 3/30/18
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