The NHL regular season comes to an end next weekend and it’s time to look at candidates for the Hart Trophy, given annually to the NHL MVP. Here are six worthy candidates followed by how I’d rank them…
Connor McDavid (Edmonton): Hockey’s brightest young star would invoke the name of Gretzky even if he didn’t play for the Oilers. McDavid has The Great One’s ability to vault to the top of the points leaders through his passing—his 63 assists are the NHL’s best and the reason McDavid has a league-leading 91 points. At 20-years-old, he’s leading Edmonton back into the playoffs.
Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh): Winner of two previous Hart Trophies and runner-up last year, Crosby’s 43 goals lead the league and he also has 41 assists. Going in his favor is that the Penguins have enjoyed another great year and it’s due to their offense, which has scored more than anyone else, while the defense ranks 18th. Working against Crosby is that he does get to play each night with Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel.
Patrick Kane (Chicago): Last year’s MVP, Kane’s numbers of 34 goals/53 assists are notably down from 2016’s stat line of 46/60. He’s still clearly the best player on a top five offense and on a team that took over a close division race and pulled away from Minnesota down the stretch.
Sergei Bobrovsky (Columbus): The goaltender who has lifted the Blue Jackets into the conversation with Pittsburgh and Washington in that brutal Metropolitan Division. Bobrovsky’s 93.5% save rate and his 1.97 goals-against-average are both atop the NHL. It’s most definitely worth noting that Columbus allows more shots on goal than the league average, so Bobrovsky does this in spite of being consistently exposed.
Brad Marchand (Boston): An out-of-nowhere candidate, Marchand’s 38 goals and 45 assists leave him only one point behind Crosby, and Marchand doesn’t play with a cast of stars each night to take the pressure off. The flaws in his candidacy is that you can argue that emerging 20-year-old David Pastrnak is just as valuable to the Bruins and that any discussion of Marchand as MVP certainly has to be contingent on the team fighting their way into the playoffs.
Nikita Kucherov (Tampa Bay): Speaking of playoff contingencies—if the season ended today, the Lightning would be out and any discussion of Kucherov and his 38 goals/42 assists would be off the table. But let’s say Tampa makes it in—they’re only three points behind Boston for the final spot and have a game in hand. Then we’re looking at one of the league’s top scorers who pretty much carried a team that missed Steven Stamkos and goaltender Ben Bishop for long stretches of time, into the postseason. That’s a credible MVP case.
The smart money in Las Vegas has McDavid as the (+120) betting favorite to win the award. As for myself, I believe this is a goaltenders’s league in the same way most people perceive the NFL as a quarterback’s league. When a goalie like Bobrovsky plays as well as he does in spite of being as exposed as he is—and his team is one of the league’s best—that shouts MVP to me.
So my ballot for the Hart Trophy would look as follows
5–Kucherov (moves up to second if Tampa makes playoffs)