It’s the summer doldrums but the hockey beat marches on. BetMGM has recently released their odds for the Hart Trophy though these odds will surely move throughout the season.
Here’s a quick look at some of the biggest names on the board and why each of them could have a strong case.
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers – 5.00
The Case For: He’s the best offensive player in the league who became just the second player to win the Hart Trophy unanimously. Since entering the league, McDavid’s 1.41 P/GP ranks first, more than 10 percent better than Nikita Kucherov (1.22), who ranks second. The Pacific Division is not expected to be very good, so McDavid will get plenty of chances to keep padding his stats, just as he did in the North Division last season.
The Case Against: Despite a busy offseason, it’s debatable whether the Oilers are any better. They needed big seasons from Mike Smith and Darnell Nurse to make the playoffs and it’s an award that has skewed towards players on playoff teams. McDavid should be the favorite, but the chances of him winning will also depend on team performance and injury luck. Don’t forget about Leon Draisaitl, too, who is an elite player and a former Hart Trophy winner who could siphon votes away from McDavid.
Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche – 6.00
The Case For: If there’s anybody who can challenge McDavid’s ability to pull off elite moves at top speed, it’s definitely MacKinnon. He could be a slightly better value bet partly because the Avs are expected to be a stronger team than the Oilers, and it’s well-documented how motivated and serious MacKinnon is about constantly pushing the envelope. He’s come close, finishing second and third in Hart Trophy voting in the past two seasons – could the third time be the charm?
The Case Against: There isn’t a whole lot, other than that the competition will be tough and the Avs lost key depth during the offseason. His chances are better if the Avs keep their top line intact with Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog, but if they are forced to split them up to balance out the offense, it could hurt MacKinnon’s production.
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs – 8.00
The Case For: He scored an incredible 41 goals in just 52 games, and like McDavid and MacKinnon, the best has probably yet to come. When Ovechkin won back-to-back Hart Trophies in 2008 and 2009, he was the league leader in goals scored in both seasons.
The Case Against: It’s the analytics crowd’s favorite word: regression. Not only did the North Division offer paltry competition, Matthews’ shooting percentage at 18.5 percent was slightly higher than his career average of 16.2 percent. The competition will be tougher and Mitch Marner may steal a few votes because of his two-way impact (Matthews doesn’t kill penalties).
Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning – 9.00
The Case For: Kucherov was dominant in the playoffs and didn’t show any rust. The Hart Trophy doesn’t really favor any one forward position; three of the past six winners have been wingers, including Kucherov, Taylor Hall and Patrick Kane.
The Case Against: Brayden Point (17.00, a better value bet) makes a strong case as the Lighting’s best player. He’s been a model of consistency and has managed to stay healthy for most of his career, missing just seven games in his past four seasons. But the Lightning have also figured out that blitzing through the regular season doesn’t guarantee playoff success, and at times may take their foot off the pedal so individual awards may not be their top priority.
Artemi Panarin, New York Rangers – 13.00
The Case For: Panarin is the rare winger who can really carry a team. Over the past two seasons, he ranks third with 1.38 P/GP, behind only McDavid and Draisaitl. All due respect to Colin Blackwell, but if Panarin gets a better winger on the opposite side – perhaps an improved Kappo Kakko? – it might be able to juice his numbers a little more. Gerard Gallant’s more aggressive, assertive style may also be a boon for the Rangers offense.
The Case Against: Are the Rangers a better squad than last year? Panarin actually averaged more points per game last season (1.381) than his 95-point campaign in 2019-20 (1.377) when he finished third in Hart Trophy voting, but the Rangers’ performance was so abysmal Panarin’s scoring prowess barely registered, not to mention the games he missed due to injury.
Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins – 19.00
The Case For: I’ve been of the mind that Marchand has been the Bruins’ best player over the past couple seasons, and the departure of David Krejci might force them to lean even more on the Perfection Line. Marchand finished in the top-10 in Hart Trophy voting for three straight seasons and tied with MacKinnon with six second-place votes. Over the past five seasons, Marchand ranks third (!) with 426 points. He’s due to get some attention for his play rather than his antics.
The Case Against: It’s odd, but Marchand’s ability to defy the age curve – there aren’t many who become elite on offense after turning 30 – is also a case against him. Father Time is undefeated, and it remains to be seen if Marchand’s play will slow down over time or just drop off the map. He’s also a difficult sell as an MVP because he’s such a pest, and Patrice Bergeron (36.00) and David Pastrnak (13.00) often get better press.
Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers – 26.00
The Case For: He’s an excellent two-way forward who just had arguably his best season ever. It’s a contract year for Barkov and the Panthers have bolstered their offense by adding Sam Reinhart.
The Case Against: Are the Panthers legitimately good? Their defense lacks quality depth and goaltending is a big question mark with Sergei Bobrovsky, and if Barkov is too busy covering up their defensive mistakes, it leaves very little time to put up the offensive stats necessary to get Hart Trophy votes. Pavel Datsyuk was a Selke favorite who put up 90-point seasons and he’s revered among league circles, but only finished as high as fourth in Hart Trophy voting.
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins – 36.00
The Case For: I really like the value proposition. The Pens roster hasn’t changed much, but with Evgeni Malkin’s status uncertain to start the season, look for Crosby to carry the team on his back yet again. He’s capable of doing it and he’s really transformed into a much stronger two-way player, which hasn’t gone unnoticed.
The Case Against: Crosby’s offense hasn’t declined so much as there’s been just such a huge influx of talent into the league. He’s more efficient, but his numbers just aren’t eye-catching anymore, and he doesn’t have the strongest supporting cast outside Jake Guentzel.
Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals – 36.00
The Case For: Ovechkin is still one of the league’s best scorers, and he made no qualms about going after Gretzky’s record. Everyone wants to see it, so don’t be surprised if the Caps just keep feeding him pucks, and Ovechkin has been unstoppable on the power play even though everyone knows that one-timer is coming.
The Case Against: Because Ovechkin’s play can be so one-dimensional, his case for the Hart will also depend on his goal scoring. He has never won the Hart Trophy without also winning the Rocket Richard and he scored just 24 goals last season.
Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks – 36.00
The Case For: The Canucks offense looks vastly improved and Pettersson is one of the most dynamic offensive players in the league. His ability to create offensive chances out of nothing and his one-timer from the power play is elite and he finished 16th in Hart Trophy voting in just his second season in the league.
The Case Against: Pettersson’s contract standoff means that he may miss training camp or the start of the season. That will put him behind the eight-ball from the start and past history has shown that missing camp could have a negative impact on player performance. The Canucks were on an upward trajectory but took a huge step back last season and remain only a playoff hopeful. Pettersson will need to be healthy and re-establish the chemistry he had with Brock Boeser and J.T. Miller, who also has to improve after a dismal showing.