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Photo Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Off the Top of My Head

“There’s always next year. I’m going into my ninth year next year and I haven’t won shit, so I’m definitely motivated. It just sucks.” — Colorado forward Nathan MacKinnon after the Vegas Golden Knights eliminated the Avalanche in six games.

The easy shot here is to take another poke at Toronto broadcaster Sid Seixeiro, who opined after the Edmonton Oilers were swept by the Winnipeg Jets “Connor McDavid’s not going to put up with this much longer,” and apply it to MacKinnon. Might he want out of Denver after eight years of winning zippity-do-da? I think not. Unhappy at being beaten by the Golden Knights? Sure. Unhappy playing in the Mile High City? I haven’t heard that.

Eastern media, particularly some people based in Toronto, where the Maple Leafs haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1967, take great delight every off-season in speculating that McDavid might want out of Edmonton because of the team’s lack of success. Of course, the Oilers’ failure to become legitimate contenders is real, but the speculation has been bogus. During McDavid’s six seasons in Edmonton, the Oilers have made the playoffs three times. They went two rounds deep in 2016-17, got bounced by Chicago in the play-in round two seasons ago and got swept in the first round by the Jets this season.

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The reality is the NHL is a tough league to win in. There are 31 teams, and there’s a handful of powerhouses and another group of outfits capable of winning if the cards fall the right way in any given season. There’s one Stanley Cup. While that should be Captain Obvious stuff, apparently it isn’t. Mario Lemieux, as one example, waited five seasons in Pittsburgh just to make the playoffs. He won the Stanley Cup in his seventh season.

In his eight seasons, MacKinnon and the Avalanche have made the playoffs five times. They’ve been eliminated in the first round twice and lost in the second round three times. Of course, MacKinnon is frustrated, but that doesn’t mean he wants out of Colorado, which has looked primed to at least take a run at the SC final the last couple of seasons. Reminds me a bit of the San Jose Sharks. In a span of seven seasons from 2003-04 to 2010-11, they had six seasons of 100-plus points and another at 99 points. They never even made a SC final. Tough league.

Of the four teams remaining this post-season, there isn’t a single No. 1 seed left from the regular season. It’s the Golden Knights (2nd seed) against the Montreal Canadiens (4th) and Tampa Bay (3rd) against the New York Islanders (4th). There’s a lot of great players aside from McDavid and MacKinnon, both Hart Memorial Trophy finalists this season, who’ve been reduced to the role of spectators. I’m guessing the majority of them won’t be asking for a trade anytime soon.

WHILE I’M AT IT

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McDavid, MacKinnon and Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs are the three finalists for the Hart Trophy this season, but if this isn’t a one-man show for the silverware, awarded to the player judged most valuable to his team, I don’t know what is.

Voting, done by the Professional Hockey Writers Association, shouldn’t just result in a landslide win for McDavid, it should be unanimous in terms of first-place votes. If it isn’t, we should be asking whoever casts a first-place vote for anybody but McDavid – PHWA votes have been public since 2018 – to explain. 

When McDavid won his first Hart in 2017, he garnered 147 first-place votes. Sidney Crosby was a distant second with 14. McDavid had 105 points this season, 21 ahead of teammate and 2020 Hart Trophy winner Leon Draisaitl. Just counting McDavid’s 72 assists, he’d have finished second in scoring. He had a hand in an NHL record 57.38 per cent of Edmonton’s 183 goals and a league-best 1.88 PPG.

This is a one-horse race. Anybody who doesn’t have McDavid first on their Hart Memorial Trophy ballot is voting for the horse that finished 31 lengths behind Secretariat in the 1973 Belmont Stakes.

AND . . . 

  • Anybody else nervous about the possibility the Oilers will start next season with Ethan Bear, Adam Larsson and Evan Bouchard as their top-three defencemen on the right side? Larsson has played 603 regular season games and is a bonafide veteran, but Bear has only 132 and Bouchard is at 21. If you are of the mind defencemen aren’t finished products until they’ve got about 300 games under their belts, the Oilers are big-time short on experience on the right side. They need help over there.
  • I’m taking Vegas over Montreal in 6 games and Tampa Bay over the New York Islanders in 5 games.

Previously by Robin Brownlee