The Hart gets awarded to the player “judged to be the most valuable to his team” and is voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association. Last year, writers almost unilaterally ruled out the notion that a player can win this award even if his team is not in the playoffs. From what I’ve heard and read this year, it seems like they’re sticking by this self-imposed rule. Every year the definition of the trophy and what it truly means to be “valuable to his team” is argued. So it’s time to debate this once again.
For a majority of the season, all bets have been on Nikita Kucherov to win the Hart trophy. Kucherov is on a historic pace, already tallying 117 points with nine games left to play. Judging by hockey writers’ latest opinions and barring anything out of the ordinary happening in the next two weeks, the Hart is entirely his to lose. But is he being rewarded for the points he’s putting up or because he truly is the most valuable player to his team?
Kucherov has 35 goals and 82 assists (117 points) in 73 games played. He’s scored 45 (38.5%) of those points on the power play. The next highest scoring Lightning player is Brayden Point with 87 points, making the difference between them 30 points. According to Dobber’s Frozen Tools, Kucherov has played 13.68% of even strength with Tyler Johnson and Brayden Point, 4.01% with J.T. Miller and Steven Stamkos, and 1.79% with Yanni Gourde and Point. In total, he’s played on 75 different line combinations this year (this includes all time on ice at even strength with any combination of forwards).
Since January, many have argued Patrick Kane or Connor McDavid should be given Hart consideration, as long as they drag their teams to the playoffs. In recent weeks, others are now arguing Sidney Crosby should also be in the conversation with them.
Patrick Kane has 41 goals and 60 assists (101 points) in 71 games played. Of these points, 29 (28.7%) have been on the power play. Kane obviously leads his team in scoring, but he does so with 29 more points than the next player. Jonathan Toews comes second on the team with 72 points.
The argument many use against Kane being a Hart candidate (aside from the Blackhawks possibly finishing out of a playoff spot) is the idea that he’s played with two other largely-producing players. Alex DeBrincat and Jonathan Toews, Chicago’s two other power forwards, have played alongside Kane for various parts of the season. However, Kane has yet to play on a truly consistent line. He’s split his time among a slue of forwards since the start of his season (and also his career) as well as playing as low as the third line. Kane’s played 5.69% of even strength with Jonathan Toews and Drake Caggiula, 4.03% with Artem Anisimov and Dylan Strome, and 3.68% with Alex DeBrincat and Strome. Kane has played on a combination of 121 lines this year during even strength. Additionally, the Blackhawks have only won one game in which Kane did not record a single point.
If the Oilers make the playoffs (which is looking less and less likely), McDavid might also be considered for the Hart. McDavid has 36 goals and 69 assists (105 points) in 69 games played – 32 points (30.5%) have been on the power play. The next highest scoring player on his team is Leon Draisaitl with 91 points. The difference between them is only 14 points. McDavid has played 6.75% of even strength with Leon Draisaitl and Alex Chiasson, 4.38% with Draisaitl and Zack Kassian, and 2.32% with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Ty Rattie. He’s played on 141 different line combinations this season. The glaring difference between McDavid and Kane is that McDavid has Draisaitl right along side with him.
Sidney Crosby’s name has come up a lot recently for the Hart. The Penguins are currently in a playoff position so as long as that holds, it could be a possibility that he gets the nod. Crosby has 33 goals, 60 assists for a total of 93 points in 71 games played. This season, 26 points (28%) have been scored on the power play. Phil Kessel is the next highest point-getter on the Penguins with 73 points, making their difference 20 points.
Crosby has played . Out of the possible candidates listed, Crosby has had the second most line consistency with 115 different line combinations after Kucherov’s 75.
There are also arguments to be made for the Hart to go to Johnny Gaudreau, Nathan MacKinnon, Ben Bishop, or Jordan Binnington, but it’s unlikely any of these players will or could come close to beating any of the others listed above.
In the end, it’s important to think about where each of these players’ teams would be without them. Without Kucherov, would the Lightning be as big of a powerhouse as they are this season? Without Kane, would the Blackhawks be in the wildcard bubble? Without McDavid, would the Oilers be… where they are? Without Crosby would the Penguins be hanging onto a playoff spot? Of these hypotheticals, which is the most drastic difference? There’s your Hart Trophy winner.