There’s no doubt in my mind that Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers is not only the most exciting player in the NHL today, he’s the best player in the game. That said, there’s also no doubt in my mind that the sensational McDavid shouldn’t win the 2018 Hart Memorial Trophy as the league’s MVP.
That’s up for debate of course, and there’s plenty of that going on right now as the regular season winds down. You can find items about different Hart candidates, including Nikita Kucherov, Evgeni Malkin and Taylor Hall here and here and here. McDavid is also in the middle of that conversation, as he should be, but from where I sit — based on how I assessed candidates for the award when I held a vote with the Professional Hockey Writers Association – he won’t be taking home the Hart for a second year in a row.
The Hart is presented annually to the “player judged most valuable to his team” during the regular season by PHWA voters. How those who vote interpret that rather open-ended description is the source of the debate this year, just as in years past. Some argue you can’t have an MVP from a team that doesn’t make the playoffs (Mario Lemieux did it in 1988). While there is a caveat for me when it comes to that, I generally give roughly equal weight to what the player has done and what his team has done when casting a ballot.
When I look at both of those aspects, McDavid, as sensational as he has been while hogging highlight reels yet again, comes up a bit short this season. As fans are painfully aware, the Oilers haven’t been playoff contenders at any point this season. They’re not only going to miss the post-season after racking up 103 points a year ago, they’re going to miss by a $5 cab ride. They’re not even close. As of today, they’re 17 points out. That matters.
Does a player’s team have to make the playoffs for him to win the Hart? For me, no. That’s where the caveat comes in. If a player is absolutely dominant, as Lemieux was in 1988, he can win. Mario had 168 points and won the Art Ross Trophy by a 19-point margin over Wayne Gretzky. Lemieux finished with 292 votes. Grant Fuhr of the Oilers was second at 106 and the Great One was a relatively distant third with 73 votes. Unlike this edition of the Oilers, the Penguins were playoff contenders, but missed.
Like I said off the top, I think McDavid is the most exciting and the best player in the NHL today, and likely will be for the better part of the next decade or so. The Oilers would be flat-out screwed without him. They wouldn’t have made the playoffs without him last season and they’d be dead-last without him this season. That said, McDavid hasn’t produced at such a dominant level that you can ignore where the Oilers are in the standings.
McDavid, who has 89 points with 10 games remaining, is tied with Nathan MacKinnon of Colorado and Malkin, four points back of Kucherov, who has 93 with Tampa Bay. He might yet win the Art Ross Trophy for a second straight year, but he’s going to have to stay hot to do it. McDavid is rolling with 7-8-15 in his last 10 games and he was also red-hot in his last 10 games a year ago with 5-13-18, so he’s capable of catching Kucherov.
Might McDavid edge Kucherov for the scoring title? Sure. Does that represent a dominant enough individual performance to make up for where the Oilers are in the standings? For me, no. That doesn’t mean McDavid won’t get a lot of votes. Art Ross Trophy or not, I won’t be a bit surprised if McDavid finishes in the top three in Hart voting – for the first time, we’ll see publicly how PHWA voters cast their ballots for awards.
It’ll also be interesting to see how the players vote for their MVP with the Ted Lindsay Award, which McDavid won last year to go with the Hart. I actually think he might have a better shot at that than he does with the Hart. We’ll find out soon enough.
WHILE I’M AT IT . . .
- Ty Rattie is the kind of underdog people like to cheer for, and I count myself in that group, but it’s going to take at least the rest of the season to see if he might be a match for McDavid on the top line. I have my doubts. Rattie, who is now 25, was a brilliant offensive player with Portland in the WHL in the two seasons after his draft year, but that hasn’t translated to the NHL so far. He’s off to a good start here with two goals in two games – one an empty-netter and another from behind the goal line – but it’ll obviously take more than that. What gives Rattie a chance is that he can and will shoot the puck. He also looks quicker when I compare him to his WHL clips. He’ll never get a better chance to prove he belongs than right now.
- After a well-documented less-than-stellar start to the season, Cam Talbot has returned to the form we saw from him last season. In his last 10 appearances, Talbot has six wins and he’s been better than his seasonal .908 save-percentage in seven of those games and .920 or better in five games. He was .919 overall last season.