The Hart Trophy has been a hot topic around the NHL for the better part of this entire season. It seems like there’s a new name added to the list of potential nominees each week. While reporters everywhere have dug into all the reasons why certain players should win, I’ve decided to look at the consistency of these players throughout the year in regards to offensive production and game-winning goals.
While yes, the Hart Trophy is awarded to the player most valuable to his team, there has been a lot said about voters going off a recency bias. “What have you done for me lately,” is why Corey Perry was awarded the Trophy in 2011 when Daniel Sedin led the league in points and the Canucks to its first Stanley Cup Final appearance in 17 years.
Let’s take a look:
There’s obviously an overwhelming amount of numbers listed above so it wouldn’t help much without breaking down each player and their case for the Hart Trophy. I added Connor McDavid to the list simply because of where he is in the points race. I do however believe that McDavid should not receive consideration for the Hart Trophy. It’s understandable that he’s the most valuable player for the Oilers and many like to ask, “where would the Oilers be without him?” But let’s face it, the Oilers are currently tied for 25th in the NHL. Without McDavid they’d be what, six spots lower? While McDavid is a great player and will win many more Hart Trophies throughout his career, this year he hasn’t done enough to be considered the most valuable to his team. The other five truly have a case in my opinion. Kucherov and Malkin have exploded offensively this year while playing for two offensively star-studded lineups. The other three, Kopitar, Hall and Barkov all have a similar case to be made.
First, let’s take a look at Kucherov and Malkin before delving into the other three that, for the same reason, are all in it as well.
A case for Kucherov:
Kucherov has led the league in points for almost the entire season. Since opening night when he was paired with Steve Stamkos and Vladislav Namestnikov, his line has led the high-powered Lightning offense. In his first 20 games of the season, Kucherov posted 17 goals and 33 points while scoring the GWG four times. Since then, he has slowed down and posted under a P/GP in two 10-game increments. Since then he has since posted 30 points in his last 21 GP with 3 GWGs.
A case against Kucherov:
Playing for the highest scoring team in the league definitely helps. Playing alongside Stamkos also helps as well. But more importantly, Kucherov tailed off throughout the middle portion of the season, allowing many other players to catch up and join the Hart and Art Ross conversation. It’s easy to say that Kucherov probably wouldn’t be the leader in points had MacKinnon not missed 8 games.
A quick rebuttal: It’s hard for any player to post explosive numbers for an entire season so he was bound to go through a rough stretch (for his standards) eventually.
A case for Malkin:
Malkin is probably the most underrated NHL superstar ever. He rarely gets the respect he deserves and was even left off the Top 100 NHL players list last year. But this season, at the age of 31, Malkin has exploded to lead the Pens back to the top of its division after starting the season extremely inconsistent. While yes, other star players do play for the Pens, Malkin has led the charge offensively and leads the team with 7 GWGs. He’s also only had one 10-game stretch where he did not post a P/GP.
A case against Malkin:
As we’ve seen throughout the past decade, Pittsburgh often times has lost one of Malkin or Crosby for extended periods and has remained afloat throughout the process. Malkin has 41 goals which should not be downplayed and neither should his 91 points currently tied for second in the league with MacKinnon. In fact, I’d go as far as saying Malkin should be runner-up for the Hart but doing less (in terms of P/GP and GWG) with more star power has Malkin trailing behind MacKinnon for the Hart.
A quick rebuttal:
The Pens probably would not be leading the Metropolitan if Malkin went down with an injury. (Albeit they’d still be comfortably in a playoff spot).
A case for Kopitar, Hall and Barkov:
Once again, these three will be discussed together as they all have a similar case for the Trophy. All three players currently lead their respective clubs in points and are posting career numbers. The Kings, Panthers and Devils are all either in or just outside of a playoff spot. In fact, it looks as if one of New Jersey or Florida may miss, so that may remove one of these players from contention. But besides that, Hall and Kopitar are currently leading second place on their clubs by a wide margin. Taylor Hall (who literally everyone is rooting for to make the playoffs) just came off a personal 26-game point streak where his offensive numbers kept the Devils in the thick of things. Kopitar meanwhile has had a resurgence after posting career low numbers last year. And as for Barkov, him and his linemates are willing the Panthers back into the playoffs after being dead in the water at the All-Star break.
A case against Kopitar, Hall and Barkov:
All three are a case of recency bias when it comes to Hart Trophy discussions. For Hall, his name started to appear as his point streak was extended (even though he’s tailed off just a bit since). Kopitar entered the discussion after many members of the media noticed that just like in New Jersey, there seems to be a large gap between first and second place in total points in LA. Meanwhile, Barkov joined the fray after the Panthers charged back into a playoff spot. While all three have a case for the Hart, it’s just not enough to win by posting career numbers when you’re 7th, 15th and 19th respectively in total points.
Looking at the chart above, each player has played well all season but it’s their recent stretches that have entered them into the Hart Trophy discussion.
A quick rebuttal: All three of these teams would not be in the playoffs without these players.
A case for MacKinnon
Now while I think the best kept secret in the NHL right now is that MacKinnon is on his way to winning to winning the Hart Trophy, I’ll still make a case for the young centerman and why I believe he’s a shoe-in for the MVP.
First, his production. MacKinnon currently has 91 points in 65 GP. This is good for a 1.4 P/GP pace, something the NHL has not seen in a long time. In fact, had MacKinnon not gotten hurt for eight games, he’d be on pace for 115 points – which has been achieved just three times since the 2005 lockout. MacKinnon is far and beyond the most productive player in the league offensively this season.
Aside from this, MacKinnon’s primary-point production, which I discussed HERE are the best the NHL has seen since the 2013 lockout. But when looking at the chart above, the most obvious reason for why MacKinnon should win the award is his consistency. MacKinnon started the season slow before he was paired with Landeskog and Rantanen together on the 11th game of the season. Since then, MacKinnon has posted just one 10-game stretch under a P/GP pace (8 points) and has posted at least one GWG in each 10-game increment. (He’s currently tied for the league lead with 11 total).
A case against MacKinnon:
Mikko Rantanen has flown way under the radar this season with his 79 points in 71 GP.
A quick rebuttal:
In the eight games without MacKinnon, Rantanen posted 0 goals and six assists.
To conclude, MacKinnon is going to win this award. I don’t think there’s any reason to believe otherwise. Willing the Avs back into playoff contention after a record-breaking bad season last year is one thing. But doing it with a 1.4 P/GP pace (which will probably increase), while posting offensive numbers the league hasn’t seen in many years and posting 11 GWG (12 is the most in the NHL since 2001) is another. But beyond all of that, it’s his consistent play all season that makes him the worthiest of all the potential nominees. MacKinnon started the season slow but over his last 55 GP he has consistently produced offensively and totaled 37 Goals, 49 assists, and 86 points.
(All stats and pictures from NHL.com)