We are getting into the exciting part of the year for hockey fans. The trade deadline has passed, teams are entering the final 16-20 games of their season, and the NHL playoff race is in full swing. Since we are nearing the end of the regular season, people have started to throw around names for the end of year awards.
Usually, when it comes to the Hart Trophy for the league MVP, we talk about the players that might be able to upset either Sidney Crosby or Connor McDavid. This year is a little different. Nikita Kucherov is lighting the league on fire, Taylor Hall is making the Edmonton Oilers look more foolish every game and Evgeni Malkin is on nearly a 2 point per game pace since the start of 2018. There are a number of worthy candidates that should be in the Hart discussion, but it’s getting absurd how little respect Colorado Avalanche superstar Nathan MacKinnon is getting.
Maybe it’s because he was pretty bad last season. Maybe it’s because he missed three weeks due to injury. Likely it’s because he plays in Colorado so the masses aren’t really paying attention to Avalanche games.
22. With Patrice Bergeron’s injury, could the Hart Trophy come down to Taylor Hall and Eric Staal?
That is thought #22 in Elliotte Friedman’s 31 Thoughts for February 28. It’s crazy for Friedman to separate those two out from the discussion and dismiss what MacKinnon has been doing. But he’s not alone.
Over the past two weeks, The Hockey News has made separate cases for both Hall and Staal to win the Hart. TSN lists Hall and Kucherov as the favorites. Then there’s NBC Sports - the official broadcast network of the NHL - that lists Hall, Blake Wheeler, Anze Kopitar, Aleksander Barkov and Tuuka Rask as MVP candidates....really?
Sure, he’s missed 8 games this season due to injury, but that just makes what Nathan MacKinnon is doing even more impressive.
The Case for MacKinnon
Fifty-five games into the season, MacKinnon has already set a career high for both goals (31) and points (76). The 22-year old sits in the top-10 in the NHL in both categories - while playing at last five less games than anyone else on the list. On a point per game basis, MacKinnon’s 1.36 is much better than second place Nikita Kucherov (1.30) at the top of the league, and it’s looking like he’s only going to expand the gap.
MacKinnon sits second in the league with 61 primary points - 2 ahead of Nikita Kucherov who has played 7 more games. When you look at a per game basis, no one comes close to MacKinnon’s production. At 3.35 MacKinnon’s primary points per 60 minutes rate is the highest in the league - by a wide margin - and he is generating shot attempts at a rate that trails only Alex Ovechkin. MacKinnon isn’t just having a breakout offensive season, he is outproducing all of the best players in hockey.
What’s most impressive is that MacKinnon isn’t relying on the powerplay. He is one of only three players in the NHL with a 5v5 P/60 greater than 3 - Brad Marchand and Mathew Barzal being the other two.
Nathan MacKinnon is outproducing all of the other Hart trophy “favorites”, and it’s really not even close.
In terms of impact on his team, MacKinnon’s 76 points account for a whopping 38% of his team’s 195 goals this season. When you take out the games he missed with the injury, that number jumps to 42%. The Avalanche have become one of the highest scoring teams in the Western Conference, and MacKinnon is the reason why.
Despite his production, the votes still aren’t coming. Just this morning, NHL.com released their 3⁄4 season voting for the Hart Trophy. Nikita Kucherov led the way with 13 first place votes, with Patrice Bergeron and Evgeni Malkin behind him. MacKinnon didn’t even crack the top-5. It’s hard to explain why he isn’t getting the respect his play deserves.
Is it because the Avalanche aren’t at the top of their division?
Is it that the NHL awards have begun to be given to players more for lifetime achievement than they are for single-season performance?
Is it that NHL media members simply aren’t paying attention?
Whatever the reason, Nathan MacKinnon’s breakthrough season is getting downplayed.
MacKinnon aside, the Colorado Avalanche are one of the best stories in hockey this season. One year after the worst season in modern NHL history, they are a legitimate postseason threat. With 19 games left to play, the Avalanche sit only one point out of the second Wildcard position - with a game in hand. If MacKinnon is able to drag Colorado into the playoffs, he’s going to force voters to take notice.
It might have taken longer than expected, but Nathan MacKinnon has turned himself into one of the best players in the NHL. He is leading his team beyond expectations and plays with an excitement level that has turned Colorado Avalanche games into must-watch hockey.
It’s time everyone starts paying attention.