“The Hart Memorial Trophy is an annual award given to the player judged to be the most valuable to his team.” That is the description of the Hart Trophy taken directly from NHL.com.
Louie DeBrusk took the words out of my mouth during the Sportsnet broadcast of the Oilers’ loss to Columbus. Arguments can be made for a number of players to win the award this year. Nathan Mackinnon is having a career year and is undoubtedly the leader on an Avalanche team that was the worst in the league last year and that could make the playoffs this year. Nikita Kucherov has been outstanding this season in leading the scoring race for the majority of the season on a dominant Tampa Bay team. Taylor Hall had a 26 game point streak and has 36 more points than his next closest teammate on a Devils team that appears poised to make the playoffs for the first time since losing in the Cup finals in 2012. Or how about Blake Wheeler who shifted to centre when Mark Scheifele was injured without the Jets missing a beat and who is widely regarded as one of the best captains in the league.
All of these players are on teams that either will make the playoffs or will be close to making it. Nowhere in the description of the award does it say anything about the player’s team needing to have made the playoffs. It doesn’t say “an award given to the best player on the best team”.
So what about Connor McDavid?
McDavid is leading the scoring race once again after being 12 points back of Kucherov on January 12th. He has scored 13 points in his last 5 games and 27 points in March to launch himself to a 6 point lead over Kucherov in the Art Ross Trophy race. Kucherov has 6 games left. He is not going to beat McDavid by 6 points in 6 games. McDavid will be the first player to win back-to-back Art Ross Trophies since Jaromir Jagr won 4 straight from 1998-2001.
He has 25 goals in his last 28 games since February 1. He sits 4 goals behind Alex Ovechkin for the league lead. If he can win the Art Ross AND the Rocket Richard Trophies, he should be a lock for the Hart. Oh yeah, and he’s only 4 behind Wheeler and Giroux for the league lead in assists. With 5 games left for McDavid, it isn’t inconceivable that he could win all 3 races at the pace he’s producing at.
McDavid has joined Sidney Crosby and Ovechkin as the only three players to score over 100 points in back-to-back seasons this century.
He has been in on 46.3% of his team’s total goals. Mackinnon has been in on 38.7%. Hall has been in on 38.1%. That comparison isn’t even close.
McDavid will also very likely be the first player since Henrik Sedin in 2010 to average a point per game at EVEN STRENGTH. He has 80 even strength points with 5 games to play.
He has done all of this without missing a game despite battling strep-throat and the flu throughout the month of November.
Jack Michaels sent out a tweet Tuesday with the teams’ win percentages when these players don’t get a point. The Oilers have a mere winning percentage of 0.182 when McDavid doesn’t get a point. The next closest percentage to that is Mackinnon’s Avalanche who have a win percentage of 0.368. Over a full season without McDavid, the Oilers would have 15 wins. 15!! That’s it. The Oilers have been bad this year, but they would be all-time bad without McDavid.
During the Columbus game, Mark Spector argued that McDavid shouldn’t win the Hart because the Oilers won’t make the playoffs. He said that without McDavid, the Oilers would still miss the playoffs. That logic would suggest that the team would have to miss the playoffs without that player in order to win the award. Colorado is not sitting in a playoff spot right now, and Mackinnon is a strong contender for the award. If Colorado does get in, they will make it by the skin of their teeth. If they make or miss the playoffs by 1 point, does that change Mackinnon’s impact on his team? No, it wouldn’t. I would argue that Tampa Bay would still make the playoffs without Kucherov, so is he really the most valuable player to his team? No. The team’s success does not impact the value of one player to his team.
There is no player more valuable to his team than McDavid. Period.
Therefore, he should win the award.
However, McDavid likely won’t win because the Oilers will miss the playoffs. They sit 22nd overall in the NHL standings. A player from a non-playoff team has only won the Hart Memorial Trophy 4 times, with the last of those being Mario Lemieux in 1988. McDavid’s numbers are far superior to those of his teammates because most of his teammates have not been good this year.
That just makes him all the more valuable.
If McDavid doesn’t win the Hart Memorial Trophy this year, the NHL needs to change the description of the award to include something about the winner’s team needing to have made the playoffs.