Things have been a little weird around the NHL this season… actually, they’ve been a lot weird. Of course, we’re all aware of the big storylines. Vegas is doing the exact opposite of what everyone thought they’d do, Colorado is on pace to almost double their wins from last season, the Oilers and Habs have floundered and although they’ve cooled off lately the Tampa Bay Lightning are proving to be a legitimate Cup contender just a year after missing the playoffs.
Now usually by the all-star break, there is usually a group of two or three players who are clear-cut favourites for the Hart Trophy, but this year it’s different. You could honestly make the case for close to ten players to win the annual award, which is exactly what I’m about to do.
A red-hot start to the season propelled Nikita Kucherov to the top of the NHL’s scoring leaderboard and although the Lightning have cooled off, Kucherov is still producing at a strong rate.
Nobody on the Lightning produces more primary points than Kucherov, which again, speaks to how important he is to one of the NHL’s best offenses.
He forces turnovers and is responsible with the puck on his stick and that’s shown in his +10 give/take away differential thus far.
One specific area that propelled Tampa early this year was their powerplay. Not only has he produced with the man advantage, his 22 powerplay points are second only to Steven Stamkos, but he’s been a big reason why they’ve been able to go on the power play as much as they have. His 17 penalties drawn is a lot first on the Lightning.
The case against Kucherov would be how many good players the Lightning have had this year. You could argue that while he is crucial, the likes of Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, and even Andrei Vasilevsky are just as important.
MILE HIGH PRODUCTION
The Av’s are red hot right now and Nathan MacKinnon has been leading the charge. Over the teams, current 9-1 run, the Nova Scotia product has put up 8 goals, 11 assists and thrown 42 shots on net.
As the year has continued, he’s also crawled closer and closer to Nikita Kucherov for first in the NHL’s point race. He now has 59 points in 46 games. One other stat that helps MacKinnon’s case is his 7 game-winning goals, which is tied for tops in the NHL.
While Jonathan Bernier and Mikko Rantanen have both played massive roles, it’s safe to say Colorado wouldn’t be experiencing this turnaround without #29.
THE BEAST FROM BROOKLYN
While most of the love around the Islanders has gone to rookie sensation Mathew Barzal, and deservedly so, not enough attention has been given to John Tavares.
Tavares is third in the NHL in goals and fifth in points. His production has been exceptional. He’s relied on in all facets of the ice and in all scenarios as well, which only adds to his case for being named the league’s MVP. He leads the teams forwards in 5v5 and 5v4 ice time and sits third in shorthanded time on ice. He also faces the toughest competition among Islanders forwards.
My final point on Tavares is that he makes players around him better. I know Anders Lee and Josh Bailey have both had stints with #91 in the past, but this year he’s helped them each hit new highs. Lee is second only to Alex Ovechkin in the goal-scoring race. Bailey has 12 goals through the first half of the season and is no doubt going to crush his former career high of 16.
BUT THERE’S MORE!
- You can’t ignore the role that Taylor Hall has played in New Jersey’s success this season. Although they’ve cooled off lately, the 18 point gap between him and the team’s second-leading scorer is the largest among all NHL teams. He’s the heart and soul of the Devils.
- The Boston Bruins have been another great story this year. Two of their longest serving players, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, have been huge reasons for their success. Both look like they’ll score over 30 goals this year and they could both easily become Hart Trophy winners with strong second halves.
- Early in the year, Mark Scheifele was leading the Jets, but since he went down with an injury Captain Blake Wheeler has taken over. His 54 points is good for fifth in the NHL and in the ten games, since Scheifele went down, Wheeler has put up 12 points and averaged over 19 minutes in seven of those games.
- You can’t ignore Alex Ovechkin in this conversation either. His 29 goals puts him in first in the NHL and work out to about 20% of the Capitals total output. That’s just insane. He’s scored one in every five of his teams’ goals. That screams MVP candidate. It also looks like he might hit 50 goals again, which only helps his case.