The NHL top Prize for players, the Hart Trophy
The Hart Trophy is an award given to the players deemed most valuable to his team and its success. While that is the official definition of the award, very often it is awarded to simply the top point-getter despite other players being more valuable towards their team’s success. Although sometimes the award voters take that definition very seriously, most notably in 2018 when Taylor Hall was voted the winner and Nathan MacKinnon and Anze Kopitar voted as nominees, despite none of them finishing in the top three in points I think my list provides a good balance of the definition, and how they fared this year. So, let us dive in together.
There is a reason why Connor McDavid’s nickname is McJesus, it is because he is no doubt the best player in the National Hockey League. He has been since his sophomore year. His case for best player got extended this year as well in the fact that he recorded 105 points in only 56 games. He was on pace for 154 points in a regular 82-game schedule. Considering the most points in recent history was 128 points by Nikita Kucherov in 2018-19, that statistic becomes even more impressive. In fact, that 128-point season is the most points produced by a player since the 1995-96 season. McDavid would not only surpass that mark but exceed it by a pace of 26 points, which is plain madness.
Keep in mind, a comparison to another player’s peak, look at Sidney Crosby’. Crosby’s peak years were derailed by injuries, but his most points (playing in a full 82 games) were in the 2011-12 season, where he only played 22 games but had 37 points. Adjusted to 82 games, that would be 138 points. Considering that McDavid would have bested that projection by 16 points, I think this season should settle the debate on who is better between McDavid and Crosby. Not only did McDavid post these numbers at just age 24, but this is also the year where most players start the prime of their careers, so I expect him to exceed 160 points next year if he stays healthy.
In terms of value to his team, look no further than his team’s forward depth. Only two decent depth players after him, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. I will examine the Edmonton Oiler’s playoff struggles in an upcoming piece, but I am saying right now that McDavid should not receive any criticism as he is one of the only consistent members on that Oilers team.
To get into the core reasons on McDavid’s case for Hart are his point totals, his team’s total lack of help, and his ability to succeed despite the inconsistency of his teammates.
Earlier in the year, I had Patrick Kane winning the Hart, not for his scoring abilities (although those did help) but for playing like a superstar, despite virtually no help and putting the subpar Blackhawks into the playoff race. While Kane’s point totals ended up going down through the stretch, he still finished with 66 points in 56 games – good for 97 points in an 82-game season.
This is still very impressive for a winger who lost his number one center in Jonathan Toews, and another top center in Kirby Dach, for much of the season. Kane had virtually no help on the wings except for Alex DeBrincat. His output this year also benefited the team’s playoff hopes, as they were in it until the end stretch, despite losing two top centermen, having weak winger depth, a bottom-five defense, and an uncertain goalie tandem entering the season.
Despite all of this, the Hawks were not in the basement like many people predicted, including me. Chicago was in the playoff race for much of the year – all due to the play of three players – Kane, DeBrincat, and Kevin Lankinen. That is impressive. Kane represents the best case of the award’s description, despite his numbers being almost 40 points short of McDavid’s. If the Blackhawks made the playoffs, Kane would no doubt have my vote for the award.
The fact that the Nashville Predators were dead in the water approaching the trade deadline and yet made the playoffs with a stretch of 20-7-1 in their last 28 games speaks volumes on how the team switched around the season. There is one reason for that incredible run, Juuse Saros. In the last half of the season, Saros was the best goalie in the league, and if he had been that type of player all season, he would be winning the Vezina, no question.
The Predators have a fine team, but they are no longer a good team, as they have a lot of noticeable flaws mostly caused by bad contracts, but also inconsistencies to top players. There are, in fact, only three players who I would deem having a good season. Those would be top forward Filip Forsberg, a top five defender in the league in Roman Josi, and the breakout goaltender.
Saros finished the year with a .927 save percentage, which is particularly good but considering his start to the season had him with a save percentage below .900, his second half is the best run by a goaltender I have ever witnessed, and to do that with this Nashville team and not an elite squad like Vegas for example is extraordinary. If voters decided to vote for most valuable to the team, I do not see how Saros is not top five in voting just due to the second half of the season alone.
Maurice Richard. Bobby Hull. Guy Lafleur. Mike Bossy. Brett Hull. Alex Ovechkin. What do all of those names have in common? They are a few of the most accomplished scorers in NHL history. Soon Auston Matthews will join that conversation. Matthews recorded 66 points in 52 games this year which is on pace for 104 points in 82 games but the reason why he is on the Hart Ballot is because 41 of those points were goals and adjusted to a full season it ends up as 65 goals.
Only two players since the 1995-96 season have scored more than 60 in a season and both only did it once – Ovechkin had 65 in 2007-08 and Steven Stamkos had 60 in 2011-12. The fact that Matthews would have matched Ovechkin’s highest-scoring campaign at the young age of 23 just shows you how much potential Matthews has. One of the most valuable aspects of a great team is scoring.
Matthews has more than his fair share covered in that compartment. In terms of most valuable to his team, Matthews is no doubt a Top 10 player in the league and is the most talented on the Leafs. But I disagree about him being the most valuable player on the Leafs, and for that reason, I do not have him among the finalists. But award voters may choose to go with pure talent this season, in that case, then no question Matthews is a top candidate.
This is my dark horse pick for the Hart and for good reason – his skill is undeniable. This season I believe Barkov firmly planted himself as not only the best defensive player in the league but a top ten center in it as well. Barkov was no slouch offensively either as he finished the year with 58 points in 50 games good for an estimated 95 points in a full season.
That would be just shy of his best season to date when he had 96 points in 2018-19. Another thing working into Barkov’s case for the Hart is his role in the rising Panthers. Barkov is the key to the Panthers’ offense, as without him their center depth is bare, with Alexander Wennberg as the next best option. His worth to the team defensively is similar to a young Patrice Bergeron‘s impact on the Boston Bruins. In fact, the heart and soul relies solely on their shoulders despite the other talent around them.
An example of Barkov’s abilities was quite on display where he not only contained Tampa’s top talent in the playoffs reasonably well, but he also produced like he did all season despite it being against the best goalie in the NHL. Simply put Florida would not be where they are without Sasha Barkov. He should be included in any talk about the Hart Trophy.
Throughout history, there have been many great players who have won numerous Hart Trophies and I think McDavid will cement his status as a top-generation talent. I predict he will claim his second Hart, but these other candidates mentioned are worthy of some of the buzz as well.
Throughout the seasons, though there have been a lot of stars who have not won the Hart Trophy as well, Marcel Dionne, Pat Lafontaine, and Peter Stastny just to name a few. Let us just say, Nathan MacKinnon, never wins one, this does not mean that he is not a top player. It is because he is not the most valuable player on his team akin to Matthews. At the end of the day, this is just an opinion piece and I want to hear from you so comment below your thoughts!
That is the view from up North.