Making a Case For Each Hart Trophy Frontrunner

Photo By Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Photo Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

With the NHL season nearing its conclusion and the Trade Deadline less than a week away, it’s time to look at some players who have a legitimate shot of capturing the Hart Trophy. Given annually to the league’s most valuable player (MVP), these four have stood out above the rest. In this article, I’ll make a case for one of Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon, Toronto’s Auston Matthews, Edmonton’s Connor McDavid, and Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov to walk away holding this prestigious award.

First up is MacKinnon. Selected first overall by the Colorado Avalanche in the 2013 NHL Draft, the Nova Scotia native has already earned a number of accolades. He won the Calder Memorial Trophy as a rookie with 24 goals and 63 points. He followed that up by being one of three finalists for the Hart Trophy in 2017-18’, winning the Lady Byng Trophy in 2019-20’ and, finally, captaining the Avalanche to the Stanley Cup in 2022.

MacKinnon’s breakout season of 2017-18’ was good, but nothing compared to this season. That year, he finished fifth in league scoring with 97 points. In 62 games this season, his 101 points are second in the NHL, while he ranks third in assists and sixth in goals. He also has a hand in over 40 percent of the goals his team scores, something that should be taken into consideration when deciding the MVP.

Next, there’s Matthews. Another top draft pick like MacKinnon, the Arizona native, burst onto the scene literally by scoring four goals in his Toronto Maple Leafs debut. That gave him a leg up on the competition, as he cruised to victory in the Calder Trophy race, with 40 goals and 69 points to lead all rookies. Injuries limited his effectiveness in 2017-18, but he still broke the 30-goal mark for a second season. That wasn’t his peak though, as the young American scored a career high of 37 goals in 2018-19’ and finished with 47 goals the following season. Matthews won the Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard Trophy, with 41 goals in the shortened 56-game season in 2021, before scoring 60 goals and capturing both the Hart and Ted Lindsay Award two years ago (2021-22’).

Constantly getting better every season, Matthews already has 53 goals in 59 games so far this year. If he continues on this pace, there’s little doubt that he’ll reach 70 goals, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished in quite a while. His 15 powerplay goals also put him in a three-way tie for second. The only knock against him is that he’s not the Leafs leading scorer, as William Nylander’s 83 points are four more than Matthews’ 79.

Another player who has a case to take home the Hart Trophy is McDavid. Yet another first-overall draft pick, a fractured clavicle, cost him 37 games and, likely, the Calder Trophy. He still tallied 48 points in 45 games, a preview of what was to come for the Ontario native. The following season, he led the league with 100 points and won the first of what would be many Art Ross Trophies, Hart Trophies, and Ted Lindsay Awards. After signing an extension with the Oilers for eight years and $100 million, he again won the Art Ross Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award. In 2018-19’, he had a career-high of 116 points but fell short of winning a third straight scoring title and finished third in Hart Trophy voting. The abbreviated 2021 season saw him capture the Art Ross and Hart Trophy, along with the Ted Lindsay Award. He won the Art Ross with 123 points in 2021-22’, then followed things up with an insane 153 points on 64 goals and 89 assists last season (2022-23’). That earned him the Rocket Richard, Art Ross, and Hart Trophy, plus the Ted Lindsay Award.

This season has been challenging for both McDavid and the Oilers, as both struggled the first couple of months. Since December, however, they have been on a roll, with their captain leading the way. He leads the league in assists, with 73, and has 95 points which is good for third. He’s also had a hand in nearly 50 percent of the Oilers goals this season, important to note considering where this team was a few months ago.

Finally, there’s Kucherov. Different from the other three, he was selected in the second round of the 2011 NHL Draft. After starting the 2013-14 season in the American Hockey League (AHL), he quickly made the leap up to the NHL and made an impact, scoring on the first shot of his first shift. His breakout season came in 2014-15’, as the Russian winger finished with 65 points and tied Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty for the league’s plus-minus lead at plus-38. He was a beast in the postseason though, tallying 22 points in the 2015 playoffs and adding 19 points in 17 playoff games the following year. In 2018-19’, he had 128 points, winning the Art Ross Trophy, Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award. He also won the Stanley Cup in both the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

Never fully satisfied with himself, Kucherov worked his tail off this past offseason after the Lightning experienced a first round exit for the first time in three seasons at the hands of the Maple Leafs last April. The results have been astounding, as his 105 points lead the league. He is second in the NHL, with 67 assists as well. More than that, his 38 goals tie him with Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak for fourth in the league. That’s a testament to his willingness to shoot the puck more. He’s also had a hand in exactly 50 percent of the goals the Lightning have scored this season, underscoring how important he is to his team’s playoff hopes.

Who’s going to take home the Hart Trophy as league MVP? I personally would choose Kucherov, as he’s led the NHL in scoring for much of this season and is top five in goals, assists and points. All of these four have a case though, so tune in to the NHL Awards Show this summer.

Lauren Burg

Lauren Burg is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer for “Inside the Rink.” A lifelong Tampa Bay Area resident, she graduated from the University of South Florida’s world-renowned journalism program in December 2009. While in college, she discovered hockey and the Tampa Bay Lightning. She quickly became a passionate fan, attending many games over the years. She also experienced an All-Star game in 2018, numerous road games, and, most recently, the Bolts back-to-back Stanley Cup championships. Since graduating college, she’s been working hard to combine her two loves, writing and hockey, hoping to one day make that her full-time career. In her free time, she enjoys attending sporting events (both home & road when possible), taking photos, and traveling.

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