The most prestigious of NHL Awards, the Hart Trophy is awarded to the player who is voted as the league’s most valuable player. While there are plenty of players who have thrown their names into this conversation, the odds will tell you that this is a two-man race at this point. However, there is still roughly a quarter of the regular season left to play. Injuries and poor play can always wreak havoc on these awards while an individual’s team performance can sometimes become a factor as well. Let’s run down the list of Hart Trophy candidates before I make my prediction on who will be the league’s MVP when this award is presented in June.
*All odds are courtesy of Bodog, via Oddshark as of February 1, 2017.
Connor McDavid (EDM: +120): 56 GP, 18 G, 43 A, +16, 1.09 PPG
McDavid could very well be a double award winner if he can hold onto his slim lead in the scoring race and thus take home the Art Ross Trophy as well. His Hart Trophy case is certainly a more subjective story and he has done plenty this season to merit league MVP honors. Unlike his rookie season a year ago, McDavid has managed to stay healthy to this point in the season, having played in all 56 games for the Oilers while tallying a league-high 61 points. There is little doubt that McDavid has established himself as the heartbeat of an Oilers franchise that is starving for success ever since their cinderella run to the Stanley Cup finals in the ’05/’06 season which ended in a game seven loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. Edmonton has missed the playoffs in ten straight seasons since but McDavid has his Oilers sitting in third place in the Pacific Division and six points clear of fourth place Los Angeles. If Edmonton were to earn a playoff berth and McDavid finishes the season as the league’s top point-getter it will wrap up this race as McDavid will be the 2017 Hart Trophy winner in just his first full season in the NHL.
Sidney Crosby (PIT: +180): 48 GP, 30 G, 30 A, +16, 1.25 PPG
When Crosby missed the first six games of the season with another concussion many were wondering whether we have seen the best of Crosby before he turned 30 years old. Well, let’s go ahead and put that discussion to rest. Crosby burst out of the gates to score six times in his first eight games and is currently leading in the league in goals scored (and the Rocket Richard trophy race) with 30 goals despite just 48 games played. While his goal scoring has cooled down some, Crosby sits just one point behind McDavid and could become a triple award winner if he manages to finish the season with the most goals, points, and this MVP award. The Penguins have dealt with several key injuries this season but currently sit tied for second place in the Eastern Conference and lead the NHL with 3.54 goals per game. Considering Crosby’s individual success combined with the success of his Penguins, one has to wonder if this would be a one-man race if McDavid weren’t carrying his Oilers to their best finish in a decade. Regardless, there is plenty of time for Crosby to assert himself as the league’s MVP over the final couple of months, especially if the Oilers were to flop and miss the playoffs for the 11th straight campaign.
Patrick Kane (CHI: +1000): 57 GP, 19 G, 39 A, +6, 1.02 PPG
Last season’s Hart and Art Ross Trophy winner, Kane becomes a passenger in this year’s race for the Hart Trophy while the Art Ross is very much still up for grabs. That has much more to do with the play of McDavid and Crosby than Kane’s own play as his 58 points are tied for fourth in the league and his 39 assists are third. The Blackhawks are once again set for a deep playoff run as they sit in second place in the Western Conference behind only the Minnesota Wild who have two games in hand. Kane has connected with linemates Artem Anisimov and Artemi Panarin to form of the most productive and dangerous lines you will find in the NHL. While his play and his totals remain elite, Kane will really have to turn on the burners to get into the same category as McDavid and Crosby when it comes to the Hart Trophy conversation.
Devan Dubnyk (MIN: +1000): 43 GP, 31-9-3, 1.99 GAA, .933 sv%, 5 SO
Dubnyk’s career turnaround remains one of the best stories in the game today. Since coming over to the Wild in a trade with the Coyotes in January, 2015 Dubnyk ranks first in goals against average, second in wins, second in save percentage, and second in shutouts. Not bad figures for a guy who was in the AHL prior to the trade. Dubnyk’s numbers are once again all over the leaderboard this season as he ranks first in goals against average, save percentage, and wins while his five shutouts are fourth best league-wide. Best of all is the fact that Dubnyk has the Wild sitting at the top of the Western Conference. What could hurt his chances at this award in particular is the fact that voters could look at the Wild and their 3.35 goals per game (fourth) as a equally large reason why Minnesota is pacing the West at this point. Regardless, there is no denying Dubnyk is (along with Braden Holtby) a top two goaltender in the league this season. The Hart Trophy looks like a long shot at this point, but I like his chances better than Kane and you never know what voters will do if the Wild capture the President’s Trophy and pace the league in points at season’s end.
Brent Burns (SJ: +1000): 57 GP, 24 G, 35 A, +17, 1.04 PPG
Burns has all but locked up the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman and is deservedly getting some Hart Trophy consideration as well. Burns has 14 more points than the league’s second-highest scoring defenseman Erik Karlsson and sits just two points back of Connor McDavid for the NHL scoring and Art Ross Trophy leads. Burns has been the heartbeat of a Sharks team that leads the Pacific Division with 73 points after a long playoff run last year that fell short in the Stanley Cup final. Burns is becoming quite a polarizing figure in the NHL as the man with the beard would likely be getting much more notoriety if he didn’t play out West in San Jose. However, the East Coast bias won’t prevent him from easily taking down this year’s Norris Trophy and if he can carry his team to a division title he may just have enough friends among voters to overtake both McDavid and Crosby for the league MVP.
Prediction: Connor McDavid (EDM) +120
While every name on this list is deserving of serious MVP consideration, the Hart Trophy is McDavid’s to lose right now. Not only he is currently leading the league in points as a teenager, but he is almost single-handedly carrying a franchise to their first playoff berth in ten years. The other four names on this list are receiving much more support from their supporting casts, but other than perhaps the steady play of Cam Talbot in goal for Edmonton McDavid is pretty much doing this thing on his own, or making the others around him better to put it more politely. McDavid has been just as good if not better than advertised since Edmonton took him first overall in the 2015 Entry Draft and this won’t be the only Hart Trophy conversation we hear his name in. You better get used to it as McDavid is about to earn one of many Hart Trophies as he continues his ascension to taking over as the world’s best hockey player.