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Kane, Kucherov and McDavid selected as Ted Lindsay Award finalists – who wins?

The players have spoken, and Patrick Kane, Nikita Kucherov and Connor McDavid are their top-three picks for the NHL's most outstanding player. But who stands above the rest and wins the Ted Lindsay Award?

It’s been said that the Ted Lindsay Award, formerly known as the Lester B. Pearson Award, is the most meaningful award in the game. The reason? Instead of the media selecting the winner, and instead of GMs or coaches voting on the award, this is an honor given to the winner by his peers. It’s the hardware handed out to the league’s most outstanding player, as judged by members of the NHL Players Association.

With the Chicago Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane, Tampa Bay Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov and Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid finishing as so-called finalists, two thirds of the group is awfully familiar with the award. Kane and McDavid have both won the award previously, with the former capturing the 2015-16 Lindsay and the latter winning the trophy in each of the past two seasons. Kucherov, however, is seeking for his first Lindsay.

Will he get it? Will Kane add another? Or does McDavid complete the three-peat? Here’s the case for each candidate:

Defense wasn’t the Blackhawks’ strong suit this season. In fact, the only team that allowed more goals against was the league-worst Ottawa Senators, who were scored on 301 times, 10 more than Chicago’s 291 goals against. This is to say that the Blackhawks remained in the wild-card hunt solely because of their offense, of which Kane was the undeniable leader.

In 81 games this season, Kane scored 44 goals, hitting the 40-goal plateau for the second time in his career, and his 110-point season set a new career high, eclipsing his previous best, 106 points, which was set during his Hart Trophy and Art Ross Trophy-winning 2015-16 campaign. (He also won the Lindsay that season.) However, what’s especially remarkable is the chasm between Kane and the rest of the Blackhawks’ roster in terms of statistical output. Chicago’s next-highest scorer, Jonathan Toews, registered 81 points this season. That’s 29 fewer than Kane, who was also 34 points ahead of Alex DeBrincat, who finished third with 76 points for the Blackhawks this season.

Putting Kane’s totals into context solidifies his case. His 44 goals were 16.5 percent of Chicago’s full season total, the fifth-highest mark in the NHL. Kane finished third among all players with a point on 41.2 percent of his team’s goals. And at 5-on-5, Kane scored 14.2 percent of all Blackhawks goals and picked up a point on 36.1 percent, totals that ranked 10th and third in the league, respectively. Add in Kane’s absurd skill level and the magic he works with the puck and it’s no wonder the players voted him into the top three.

Even though it felt like it, Kucherov’s Art Ross Trophy-winning season didn’t see him dominate the scoring race from start to finish. When you look back, he didn’t actually take the scoring lead until after the holiday break, slipping into first place on Dec. 27. The thing is that he didn’t relinquish top spot for a second after he took it. When all was said and done, of the 186 days that the regular season spanned, Kucherov led the league in scoring for 101, or slightly less than 55 percent of the campaign.

But it’s not about how long Kucherov led, it’s about the margin by which he won the scoring crown. His 128 points were eight more than the next-best scorer, McDavid, and the Lightning star’s total is the 19th highest in the past 30 seasons. Better yet, it is the highest single-season point total of the post-lockout era, besting Joe Thornton’s 125-point campaign in 2005-06, and the highest in league history since Jaromir Jagr’s 149 points back in 1995-96. It was a dream season for Kucherov.

His percentages aren’t as convincing as those of Kane or McDavid (more on that below), however. Kucherov finished tied with teammate Brayden Point for percentage of team goals (12.9) and only slightly higher than Elias Pettersson, Jack Eichel and Kyle Connor. The Bolts winger’s 11.7 percent contribution of 5-on-5 goals ranked 23rd in the NHL, behind Max Domi and Brock Nelson. Kucherov did finish with a point on 40.1 percent of Tampa Bay’s goals at all strengths (fourth in the NHL) and 33.5 at 5-on-5 (fifth), though.

Back-to-back-to-back? Even if the point total wasn’t there, McDavid would have the case for a three-peat. The description of the award – “most outstanding player” – basically puts McDavid in the running any season he touches the ice for 60-plus games. His offensive brilliance is second to none. He’s a legitimate game-changing talent and it appears as though he’s only getting better. Case in point: he followed up his league-best 100-point season in 2016-17 with a league-best 108 points in 2017-18 and then went out and scored 116 points this season.

McDavid’s point total really does put an exclamation point on his case. His 41 goals were tied for sixth-most in the NHL, his 75 assists were second-most in the NHL and his 116 points were fewer than only the 128 scored by Kucherov. It’s the impact McDavid had on the Oilers’ attack, how influential he was on their offense, that really puts Edmonton’s captain over the top here, though. He accounted for 17.9 percent of the Oilers’ total goals this season, the fourth-highest percentage of team goals in the NHL. He had a point on 50.7 percent of every goal Edmonton scored this season, as well, which is nearly five percent more than the next-best total by any player (teammate Leon Draisaitl finished at 45.9 percent) and more than nine percent higher than the next-best non-Oiler.

The real clincher, though? Of McDavid’s 116 points, all but 18 were primary points. Kucherov, by comparison, had 34 secondary points and Kane had 26. And when measured against their individual point totals, only 15.5 percent of McDavid’s scoring was of the secondary variety. Kucherov and Kane were both over 23 percent. Of players with at least 80 points, only Alex Ovechkin had secondary points account for a lower percentage of his total than McDavid. And when you measure those primary point rates against overall offensive contribution, McDavid stands out further. He either scored or had the first assist on 42.8 of Edmonton’s goals this season, the highest rate of primary points on team goals in the NHL. Kane ranked third at 31.5 percent. Kucherov was sixth at 29.5 percent.

Who are we to disagree with the players on this one? It’s their award and they pick the winner. So, if they’re going to vote for Kane, Kucherov and McDavid, then that’s the right top three. It helps that these are probably the three-best picks for any major award, though, and that's in large part because the players seemingly care little about which players make the playoffs. McDavid won the award last season despite the Oilers missing the playoff by 17 points, he’s a nominee again this season despite Edmonton finishing 11 points out of the final wild-card spot and he’ll be a nominee until the end of time so long as he continues to be a human highlight reel who puts up 100-point seasons, playoffs or not.

Here’s the thing: if you were to pick this based solely on which played had the best season, it’s Kucherov’s award to lose, right? But maybe the players tipped their hand a bit here. When the NHLPA Player Poll was released in March, the players voted overwhelmingly in favor of McDavid as the league’s best forward. His 63.6 percent of the vote is more than three and a half times the 17.2 percent Sidney Crosby received and more than 17 times Kucherov’s 3.7 percent. Kane didn’t land in the top-five in voting. It seems like the stage is set for McDavid to become the fourth player since the award’s introduction to win it in three consecutive seasons, joining Ovechkin (2007-08 to 2009-10), Wayne Gretzky (1981-82 to 1984-85) and Guy Lafleur (1975-76 to 1977-78).

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