A Look at the Top Contenders For NHL MVP

We are in the home stretch of the NHL regular season. We take a look at who is in position to win the Hart Trophy.
March 16, 2017, 3:10pm
Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports

With three weeks remaining in the NHL regular season, it's nearly impossible to change minds when it comes to awards voting. More than 80 percent of games have been played, which means voters have been inundated for months with statistics, highlights and enough information that it would take a finish like the one Corey Perry had in 2011 (19 goals in 16 games) to steal a Hart Trophy in the homestretch.

That's good. That's how it should be. Recency bias is bad, as is the human tendency to get bored of something and then become distracted by new, shiny things that take our attention away from … sorry, I was looking at Brad Marchand's stats over the past three weeks. What were we talking about again?

The tendency is to lean toward the player who leads the league in scoring, although that trend has been upended a bit in recent years. Five of the first seven Hart winners after the season-long lockout of 2004-05 won the Art Ross Trophy, but only two of four Hart winners since the 2013 lockout (God, this league locks out the players a lot) went to the points leader.

Read More: A Preemptive Defense of NHL Team Analytics

Entering Thursday's games, six players are within five points of the league lead. Brent Burns, who also has a strong case as a defenseman, is six points back. One point behind Burns is Nikita Kucherov, who has lugged the Tampa Bay Lightning into playoff contention with Steven Stamkos out for nearly the entire season.

It actually feels like a race, for once. So who deserves to win? As of today, here is how the candidates rank:

HONORABLE MENTION

Brent Burns (San Jose Sharks) and Nikita Kucherov (Tampa Bay Lightning)

We already mentioned them, but this is where we mention them honorably.

Burns has a good chance at being a 30-goal, point-per-game defenseman—the first since Mike Green in 2008-09 for the Washington Capitals. While Green somehow only finished second in Norris Trophy voting that season, Burns should take home that award in June. But the Sharks are so good from top to bottom, Burns doesn't carry the same value (yes, this is subjective, so this is how I look at it) as someone doing as well on a worse team.

Kucherov is in that Perry area, where a strong final three weeks that pushes the Lightning into the playoffs can get him the award, or at the very least make him a finalist. He's third in points per game and has anchored a team besieged by injuries.

Malkin might not have been on the NHL's top 100 list, but he's certainly one of the best players this year. Photo by Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

6. Evgeni Malkin (Pittsburgh Penguins)

Stats: 62 games, 33 goals, 39 assists, 72 points

Mr. 101 wasn't named one of the NHL's top 100 players of all-time, but he's a hot three weeks away from winning a third scoring title and maybe even a second Hart Trophy. He has played the fewest games of anyone near the top of the scoring charts, so his point totals are more impressive than most.

Alas, Malkin has three things working against him:

1. He shares the spotlight with Sidney Crosby, who has near identical numbers.

2. He's not Canadian (Perry stole the Hart in 2011 from Henrik Sedin, a Swede).

3. He's on a very deep team that is in the mix for the Presidents' Trophy.

5. Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins)

Stats: 63 games, 35 goals, 39 assists, 74 points

It's just another typical season for Crosby, although this will likely be the third straight year in which he fails to crack 90 points. Weirdly enough, he has broken 90 points once in the past seven seasons because of injuries, a lockout, and the NHL doing next to nothing to increase scoring in recent years.

Alas, Crosby has three things working against him:

1. He shares the spotlight with Malkin, who has near identical numbers.

2. After scoring 26 goals over his first 32 games, he has just nine goals over his past 31. So even though this is a season-long award, his most recent numbers are the ones that will stick with voters.

3. See Malkin, Evgeni, item No. 3.

4. Patrick Kane (Chicago Blackhawks)

Stats: 69 games, 31 goals, 45 assists, 76 points

He's the reigning Hart winner and he's once again leading the league in scoring on a team that's a contender for the Stanley Cup. He's also closing strong, with 16 goals and 27 points in his past 17 games.

Alas, Kane has three things working against him:

1. He will finish with about 20 fewer points than his MVP season a year ago, which makes his 2016-17 look unimpressive in comparison, fair or not.

2. He probably won't lead the league in goals or assists.

3. He doesn't mean as much to his team's success as other guys in contention.

3. Nicklas Backstrom (Washington Capitals)

Stats: 69 games, 21 goals, 50 assists, 71 points

Usually, Backstrom gets overshadowed by Alex Ovechkin, because the goal-scorer always trumps the play-maker. But with Ovechkin sitting on just 28 goals, the door is open for Backstrom to get some Hart attention. It's like when Steve Carrell left The Office and Ed Helms became the guy, or when Natalie Merchant left the 9,999 other Maniacs for a solo career.

Alas, Backstrom has three things working against him:

1. He won't lead the league in goals.

2. He (probably) won't lead the league in assists.

3. He's on a very deep team that has the inside track at the Presidents' Trophy.

Brad Marchand's recent scoring run might net him the Hart Trophy. Photo by Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

2. Brad Marchand (Boston Bruins)

Stats: 70 games, 36 goals, 40 assists, 76 points

Here's your modern version of Perry. He's Canadian, scores a lot of goals, and is kind of a dick on the ice. He's also lugging a so-so Bruins team to the playoffs for the first time since 2014. He has a chance to lead the league in goals, points and game-winning goals, and that's almost always a Hart-winning trifecta.

Alas, Marchand has three things working against him:

1. He has virtually identical numbers to Crosby, who has played seven fewer games.

2. In terms of carrying a team to the playoffs, his numbers aren't impressive as Connor McDavid, and his team is better on the whole than McDavid's Edmonton Oilers.

3. He has the reputation of a rat, and that will turn off some voters.

1. Connor McDavid (Edmonton Oilers)

Stats: 69 games, 24 goals, 52 assists, 76 points

Until Kane's surge, McDavid had been alone on top of the scoring charts for most of the season. He has transformed the NHL's worst team over the past decade into a playoff lock, and has done it with a supporting cast that, at best, you can call average.

Alas, McDavid has three things working against him:

1. He plays for Edmonton, a team that gets on national American television less often than Star Wars marathons. Edmonton may as well be a magical land adjacent to Narnia for most U.S.-based voters.

2. McDavid Fatigue™, which is plaguing some people who have grown weary of him being the clear-cut favorite for so long..

3. I don't have a third thing, so allow me to use this space to say McDavid should still win this thing. He deserves it.

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