Frozen Pool Forensics: Analyzing Hart Trophy Candidates

by Chris Liggio on May 25, 2018

Last week we covered the candidates for the Selke Trophy along with some names that needed their piece. In the same fashion this week we are taking a look at the named candidates for the Hart Trophy, awarded to the player who is most valuable to their squad’s success, along with a couple names that could use some acknowledgement despite not making the cut. To start, we look to Nova Scotia’s second-most loved son next to Sidney Crosby. We’ve all waited some time for this youngster to ascend to the elite territory and 2017-18 is hopefully but one of many productive seasons to come.

 

Nathan MacKinnon

Everyone knew the talent and ability was there but the three years following his rookie campaign were disappointing. Though much of those mediocre seasons can be attested to the meager Avalanche squad he found himself on, this is a player that was expected to carry a franchise coming out of the draft. Improvement of the squad overall, a second season with coach Jared Bednar, and elevation of his own game led to career marks for the Halifax Mooseheads alum. Scoring 97 points total (39G, 58A), MacKinnon was an elite fantasy option for owners lucky enough to snag him in drafts. MacKinnon’s fading fantasy hope over the years allowed him to go in the 13th round in my redraft league and, to say the least, the owner was quite pleased with his investment.

A career season in shots for MacKinnon with 284 put him amongst the tops in the league. MacKinnon led the league in goals created per game at 0.50, tied for first with Brayden Point with 12 game winning goals, and was second to Connor McDavid by 0.01 in points per game (1.31). Colorado is not the deepest of squads at forward, relying heavily on the top unit (MacKinnon/Mikko Rantanen/Gabriel Landeskog) to provide the offense. The top line’s combined 243 points is the main reason they found themselves in the playoffs. Beyond them and Tyson Barrie, no other Avalanche player produced any astounding offensive numbers. Regardless this team had ten players with ten goals or more in 2017-18 so the future is bright. MacKinnon deserves heavy consideration regardless of the team’s first-round exit.

 

Taylor Hall

Much like MacKinnon above, Taylor Hall also needs heavy consideration for MVP hardware because the Devils would not have made the postseason without his career year. Any of us who owned Hall for his 80-point campaign in 2013-14 have always held out hope he’d produce in the same light again someday. Hall definitely still has a chip on his shoulder after being shipped out of Edmonton for Adam Larsson and his dominant 93-point campaign proves it. Unlike Colorado, where Rantanen was a strong complementary scorer to MacKinnon, the next best scorer on the Devils was Nico Hischier with 41 fewer points (52). Hall’s 37 power-play points alone would have made him fifth in scoring on the team, to put it in perspective how vital he was. I could go on and on about advanced stats regarding Hall’s season but his strong contention for the Hart is rooted solidly in his uncontested importance to the team. No other candidate had as weak a supporting cast as Hall in my opinion. Therefore because of this and his 26-game point streak spanning two months, he makes for a favorite if you ask me.

 

Anze Kopitar

What a fine treat to be covering Kopitar for the second week in a row for an entirely different nomination. The fact he is in MVP talks alongside best defensive forward consideration cements his place in the league as one of the most if not the most complete player. Kopitar bested Dustin Brown by 31 points overall in scoring in 2017-18 and managed a career season where the Los Angeles Kings only had Jeff Carter for 27 total games. Kopitar and Brown were the only two forwards to score more than 50 points speaking to the importance of his 92 points scored. Much like Hall, subtract Kopitar’s production and this team does not sniff the postseason. The Jesenice native was tenth overall in goals created per game at 0.42 and eighth in total goals created with 34.2. Not that we need more proof that Kopitar was essential to the Kings in 2017-18 but the man certainly needs more attention than he receives being out West. Los Angeles is a city much like Manhattan in that the people only real care when you’re winning. Though the Kings went nowhere in their first-round exit, the people of Los Angeles should truly appreciate what they have in Kopitar. They may never see another more complete player come through their system.

 

Blake Wheeler

When will Blake Wheeler be unanimously considered as one of the best in the game today? Since 2011-12, he’s been of the league’s best forwards and seemingly gets better with age as he scored 91 points in 2017-18 at 31 years old. This is on top of changing his position to center when Mark Scheifele went down long term not missing a beat. This year’s goals and assists make for 373 total points over the past five seasons. Though assist-heavy, he’s given owners at least 20 goals every year since 2013-14 with his points per game above .75 every time since 2011-12. Wheeler, alongside the likes of the Penguins core forwards, Kopitar, Ovechkin, and Getzlaf are proving that although the game is getting younger and younger, do not count out the greybeards. 2017-18 saw him receive his highest offensive zone starting percentage since 2011-12 which resulted in his career high 3.3 pts/60. His eye popping 40 power-play points would have been good for eighth overall in team scoring. Wheeler is the poster child for youth and their potential overshadowing consistent proven options. Do not fall into this mindset when it comes time to draft. Though he may not take home the Hart because of all the scoring options in Winnipeg, the American winger certainly needs to be heavily considered.

 

Phil Kessel

In reality, it’s Evgeni Malkin who should be covered but I owned him last season when he went down in playoff championships and can never forgive him. Maybe it’s because of the whole being American thing but my goodness Kessel’s season really seems to generate no discussion. By far the best campaign of his career to this point, Phil the Thrill was a force in western Pennsylvania as a “complementary” player. Removed from the star spotlight of Toronto, Kessel has flourished without the pressure all on him. Seeing a carousel of players beside him at even strength, he was deployment proof as far as point production producing 3.6 pts/60. Much can be credited to his absurd 42 power play points (12 goals) that would alone put him seventh overall in team scoring. Long heralded for his deadly release, Kessel is one of the more underrated passers in the NHL, with him routinely potting more assist totals then goals. With 211 points in 246 regular season games and 54 points in 62 playoff games donning a Penguins uniform, he’s been exactly what Jim Rutherford expected when he made the trade for the sniper. With two Stanley Cups already in three years and the recent information regarding him playing this entire campaign through injury, one really should tip their hat to his greatness.

 

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