There have been many great stories throughout the NHL this year. Connor McDavid broke the 100-point plateau for the second straight season. Nikita Kucherov established himself among the elite in the world. Taylor Hall put the New Jersey Devils on his back and carried them into the playoffs. Anze Kopitar posted his best statistical season while bringing the Los Angeles Kings back to the playoffs. Claude Giroux topped 100 points for the first time in his career. Each and every one of these players deserves to be in the conversation for the league MVP. None of these players should win that honor.
The 2018 Hart Trophy should go to none other than Nathan MacKinnon. In any other year, any of the previously mentioned players could have easily walked away with the award. They all had seasons that rival some of the past winners. Unfortunately for all of them, MacKinnon stood above the rest.
First off, we have to take a look at what the Hart Trophy represents. The most valuable player. Value of a hockey player is extremely hard to determine. The Hart has gone to the highest scoring player many times, but that doesn’t mean that getting the most points in a season makes you a shoe-in. Some say that you can’t win the award if your team doesn’t make the playoffs. The only case to disprove this is when Mario Lemieux won the award in 1988 despite his Pittsburgh Penguins not advancing to the playoffs. Lemieux finished the 1987-88 regular season with 168 points in 77 games, though.
I believe that value to a hockey team can come in many forms. Of course, it helps to contribute on the score sheet, but it also goes far beyond that. MacKinnon was the driving force for this Avalanche team, even on the nights that he didn’t find the back of the net. Especially after the Avalanche traded away Matt Duchene who finished second on the team in scoring last season, MacKinnon single-handedly willed this team up the standings.
I also believe that the Hart Trophy should take the players supporting cast into consideration. Kucherov is fortunate enough to play on one of the best teams in hockey. He had a two-time Rocket Richard winner in Steven Stamkos on his line for much of the season. Kopitar and Giroux also played on teams with quite a bit more scoring depth than MacKinnon did. The only other player in consideration that played on a comparable team is Taylor Hall.
Hall did have an outstanding season, there’s no debating that. He did, however, have a slightly easier schedule than MacKinnon. While playing in the Metropolitan Division does put you up against teams like the Capitals and Penguins, a large part of Hall’s season was also played against the Hurricanes, Islanders and Rangers. The worst team in the Central Division was the Chicago Blackhawks.
MacKinnon put up a 97 point season which was good enough for fifth in league scoring this season. He also played the fewest games of anybody on that list and had a points-per-game average of 1.31. That number is second only to McDavid who finished with 1.32. If MacKinnon would have been able to play a full season, it’s possible that he would have challenged McDavid for the scoring title. He did all this while never sacrificing his responsibilities in his defensive zone, which as a young center in the NHL is impressive on its own.
In a year that was full of Hart Trophy caliber seasons, Nathan MacKinnon stood above the competition. He was able to bring the worst team from the 2016-17 season back to the playoffs and helped speed up the Colorado Avalanche rebuild. He is everything that the Hart Trophy represents and should walk away with the honors in June.