The case for the 2018 NHL MVP, otherwise known as the quest for the Hart Trophy, is an interesting one. Several players such as Brad Marchand (Boston Bruins), Nathan MacKinnon (Colorado Avalanche), Taylor Hall (New Jersey Devils) and Nikita Kucherov (Tampa Bay Lightning) have all made strong arguments for winning the MVP this season. However, the strongest case might arguably be held by the current holder of the Hart, Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers. The evidence is substantial and appears to be pointing squarely at McDavid winning the award for 2017-18.
For years, sports fans have debated whether the award for “MVP” is truly one that should be bestowed upon its most “valuable” or most “outstanding” player. To clarify, the most ‘outstanding’ player would be the athlete with the greatest talent and ability, as well as the statistics to support his/her claim. On the contrary, the most “valuable” player might not necessarily stand atop the statistical mountain. Rather, his/her contributions would be the primary reason why the team (which the athlete represents) has succeeded during the past year. Of course, it is a given that the most “valuable” player would have at least comparable statistics to the most “outstanding.” However, should “outstanding” and “valuable” be interpreted as one in the same for Hart Trophy purposes?
Let’s examine the facts.
Keep to the Code?
For the NHL, there has been an unwritten code of rules that apply to Hart Trophy voting. While not explicitly listed as qualifying criteria, most voters in the Professional Hockey Writers Association feel that a candidate’s team must make the playoffs, the player must not have missed a significant number of games, and that there can’t be another superstar on the same team (per Rob Vollman, in his special for ESPN.)
The first criteria would seemingly disqualify McDavid. However, the remaining two disqualify most of the other leading contenders, as well. Therefore, this could be a contest that comes down to the statistics. Should that be the case, McDavid makes one that is second to none.
On Tuesday night, McDavid scored his 40th goal of the season. In doing so, he became the first Oilers player to hit the milestone since Petr Klima in 1990-91. He also passed the 100-point mark by adding two assists to give him 102 points. Both are career highs for McDavid. Not to mention, he has five games still to play.
Those are impressive statistics in and of themselves. However, they become more significant when put into the context of the 2018 MVP race. He extended his league-scoring lead over Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov by six points. He tied Kucherov with a league-leading 30 multi-point games. He has 13 points in his last five games and leads the league in even-strength points.
Some will argue that McDavid’s statistics, while deserving, are not enough to allow him to retain possession of the Hart Trophy in 2018. The Oilers have been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. They are a sub-.500 team, and are currently 17 points out of a playoff spot.
The Case for McDavid
Last year, McDavid won MVP with a league-best 100 points as he led the Oilers to second place in the Pacific Division. This season, he has been just as amazing and his speed has made him unstoppable at times. However, the Oilers have been a major disappointment. The team has suffered a major drop-off in goaltending. Their defensemen have struggled mightily. Milan Lucic and Oscar Klefbom have underperformed.
Quite frankly, he is not to blame for those struggles. McDavid has played in a manner that is more than worthy of the trophy he won in 2017. While the Oilers have not impressed this season, their star has performed at an optimal level. Fellow contenders such as Marchand, MacKinnon, and Kucherov have as much benefit from a strong supporting cast, as McDavid has been hindered by one that has underachieved. If one were to swap places with McDavid, the MVP would not be close to being in question. It is this fact that separates him from his competition.
The PHWA is making its votes public this year. NHL fans will be able to see how the votes were cast. In no way should this article be interpreted as a knock to any of the other candidates. Each has had an MVP worthy season. However, the Hart Trophy recipient should be one where “outstanding” and “valuable” combine to honor the best player in the NHL. The complete case is for Connon McDavid. For these reasons, he should take home the Hart Trophy for the second straight season.
–Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor and National Columnist for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. He covers the NFL and the NHL. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC