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Does Marchand really have a shot at the Hart Trophy?

Brad Marchand is tied for the league lead in goals and within striking distance of the top of the scoring race. But history has shown winning the Rocket and Art Ross don't guarantee the Hart.

Brad Marchand’s three-goal, four-point game on Monday night has him two points off the league scoring lead as he and the Bruins enter Wednesday's outing against the Calgary Flames. Meanwhile, his 35 goals, which include seven markers in his past six games, are enough to put him into a tie with Sidney Crosby in pursuit of the Rocket Richard Trophy.

And with Marchand inching his way up the respective scoring races as the season winds down, it’s enough to wonder if he shouldn’t be right in the thick of things when it comes to discussing the biggest piece of hardware handed out on awards night: the Hart Trophy, given to league MVP.

Up until recently, it wasn’t really a discussion worth having. Marchand was having a solid season, to be sure. One of the best of his career, in fact, which is saying something given he entered this season with most wondering if his career year in 2015-16 — he scored 37 goals and 61 points — was an anomaly or a sign that Marchand had really, truly, broken out as a consistent goal scorer for the Bruins. When Marchand notched his 61st point in his 61st game, matching the career-best mark he had set one season earlier, the answer was clear. And the tear he’s been on since matching his career-high points total has pushed him further into the Hart conversation.

At his current pace, Marchand would set career highs for the second straight season. His goal-scoring uptick in recent weeks has him on pace 42 tallies and his current scoring pace sets him up to finish the year with 88 points. That would blow his previous totals out of the water, and it could be enough to put him on top of the league in both goals and points. It should be made clear, too, that if Marchand has any designs on taking home the Hart this season, leading the league in one of the two categories — goals or points — is the only way he has a chance. That said, leading both categories is probably the only way he actually wins.

Marchand has had an incredibly impressive goal scoring season, and it’s that much more impressive given he’s lit the lamp as much he has on a team that has only 194 goals for this season. That’s the 11th best offense in the league, and Marchand has scored 18 percent of all of Boston’s goals. When it comes to the top five goal scorers in the league, none have accounted for a higher percentage of his team’s offense. Crosby’s 35 goals are 14.8 percent of Pittsburgh’s total and Evgeni Malkin’s 33 are 13.9 percent. Rookie Patrik Laine has scored 16 percent of Winnipeg’s goals with 33 tallies to his name, while Max Pacioretty’s 33 goals account for 17.5 percent of Montreal’s output. But even with so much offense coming from Marchand, goal scoring alone is rarely enough to win the Hart.

Over the past 30 years, only three players have been named league MVP when leading the league in goals but not points. Alex Ovechkin achieved the feat twice, winning the Hart in such a way in 2008-09 and 2012-13. Corey Perry managed to do so in 2010-11. And Brett Hull’s 86-goal year in 1990-91 was enough to land him MVP honors. That only three goal leaders who didn't have the points lead to match have won the Hart indicates why Marchand’s case rides so heavily on finishing atop the league scoring race, too.

When it comes to players who’ve led in both categories, only twice in 30 years has such a player not won the Hart. Most recent was Jarome Iginla in 2001-02, and he lost the Hart by only a hair to Jose Theodore, who had posted an outstanding season in goal for the Montreal Canadiens. The other example dates all the way back to 1988-89 when Mario Lemieux led the league in every major statistical category with 85 goals, 114 assists and 199 points only to lose the Hart to none other than Wayne Gretzky. And that could be the perfect comparison for this year’s award.

Lemieux was leaps and bounds ahead of Gretzky in the scoring race that season. 'Super Mario' scored 31 more goals, the two tied in assists and Lemieux came a single point from becoming only the second player in history to register 200 points in a campaign. (Gretzky had reached the mark four times.) When it came to voting, though, Lemieux lost in a big way. He had 18 first place votes to Gretzky’s 40. ‘The Great One’ took home the award with nearly 85 percent of the overall vote.

Translating that to present day, it makes one wonder how big the spread between Marchand and Crosby would have to be in order for the Bruins winger to win the Hart. Because the truth is when he’s pitted against Crosby, it’s tough to say voters are going to lean towards Marchand over the player who’s arguably the greatest the game has to offer. There are statistical arguments in Crosby’s favor, too, with his 1.19 points per game dwarfing Marchand’s solid 1.07 mark. What one could argue in Marchand’s favor, though, when it comes to a head-to-head with Crosby is their individual value to their team. When healthy, the Penguins without Crosby still have Malkin, Phil Kessel, Patric Hornqvist and Kris Letang, among others. The Bruins don’t boast quite the same level of talent. But that same argument works against Marchand, too. 

Everyone saw what happened to the Edmonton Oilers during the 2015-16 season when Connor McDavid left the lineup. Pegged to compete for a playoff spot, they finished in the league basement. Now, with McDavid healthy, he’s leading the league in scoring and propelling the Oilers to what will almost assuredly be their first playoff berth in a decade. Marchand has great value to the Bruins, but few would suggest he’s more valuable to his team than McDavid is in Edmonton.

There is one argument against Marchand that doesn’t hold any water, though. Some will suggest his style of play and agitating nature, let’s call it, makes him undeserving of one the most prestigious individual awards. But while he didn’t win the award, Ovechkin came within a handful of votes of a third-straight Hart in 2009-10. What makes that notable is that Ovechkin was suspended not once, but twice that season. Still, he only narrowly lost to Henrik Sedin. Marchand has himself gotten into trouble with the Department of Player Safety this season, but he has not been suspended. That shouldn't be held against him when it comes to award consideration, unless we're talking about the Lady Byng.

However, what's disappointing for Marchand in what has been a dream season is he's going to need more than a continuation of his current pace to lock up the Hart. Rather, he’s going to need to blow the competition out of the water. Anything short of a five-plus point gap between he and second place in the scoring race and Marchand’s chances at the Hart are likely slim. And even if he manages to widen the gap in the Art Ross race, Marchand might have a better chance of joining Iginla and Lemieux than he does taking the stage in Vegas when the awards are handed out.

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