Never before has such a historic hockey moment been almost lost in the transactional shuffle. But so it went on Wednesday in Las Vegas, that on the very evening the Vegas Golden Knights unveiled their expansion roster, the next hockey legend quietly accepted his first Hart Trophy.
Connor McDavid, the National Hockey League’s only 100-point player in 2016-17 — and hockey’s next iconic superstar — was awarded his first Hart Trophy as “the player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team.”
In voting conducted by members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association, McDavid received 147 of a possible 167 first place votes. He had 1,604 voting points, finishing well ahead of Sidney Crosby (1,104) and Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (469).
“I’m so proud to play in Edmonton, so proud to be an Oiler, and so proud to play with the guys,” he said, after thanking family and Oilers management.
On a might where McDavid made off with the Ted Lindsay and Art Ross Trophies as well, the Hart was fittingly presented by former Oilers great Wayne Gretzky.
“It’s amazing to receive this (award) from Wayne, the greatest player of all time,” McDavid said.
At just 20 yeas-old, McDavid is clearly the fastest player in hockey today, with vision and high-speed skills that likely also rank at the very top of the NHL. It was never about ‘if’ McDavid would win the Hart, but more about ‘when,’ and in the spirit of the city where the awards ceremony took place, you’d get long odds if you were to bet that this Hart was to be his last.
Offensively speaking, McDavid’s NHL isn’t the same league that Wayne Gretzky stepped into back in 1979-80, a season in which eight separate players topped 100 points. Or Mario Lemieux’s NHL in 1984, or Sidney Crosby in 2005.
The game today is not as conducive to collecting the gaudy numbers that Gretzky and Lemieux posted, with the 400-goal seasons posted by Gretzky’s Oilers, the 350 goals by Lemieux’s Penguins, and the 278 regular season goals scored by the Stanley Cup champion Penguins this season. The Edmonton Oilers scored just 243 goals this past season, which put McDavid — the youngest captain in NHL history — in on a whopping 41.2 per cent of Edmonton’s offence.
The great players all remained great however, despite the changing hockey environment. The best players were always the best among their peers, whether their teams were winning 7-4 or 3-2, and that made McDavid a runaway choice for the Hart by the voting members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.
And also by the rest of the players as well.
The NHL Awards Show opened with the Ted Lindsay Award, presented annually “to the most outstanding player in the NHL,” as voted by fellow members of the NHL Players’ Association. McDavid defeated finalists Crosby and Brent Burns to collect that Award, officially his first bit of NHL hardware.
Then they put his face on the cover of NHL18, the video game flagship for hockey today.
McDavid, who like Gretzky and Crosby wins the Hart in his second NHL season, took his place in the queue Wednesday. In his first full, 82-game season (after losing 37 games to that broken collarbone in his rookie season), McDavid had precisely 30 goals and 70 assists — nice round numbers for those inclined to memorize hockey stats.
But with recognition comes expectation, and the game will now look to its swiftest player to help turn up the offensive profile during his career. A 100-point season in his sophomore season is a place to start, but he’ll need some help.
In the past 10 seasons, a player has accumulated 100 or more points only 14 times. If that seems slim, consider this: only eight players are in that group, with Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin reaching triple figures three times each, and Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Patrick Kane, Nicklas Backstrom and McDavid each reaching the 100-point plateau once.
When he accepted the Ted Lindsay Award, McDavid thanked his NHLPA brethren.
“To be up for this award with two unbelievable players (Crosby and Burns) makes it even that much more special,” he said. “It’s a treat to be able to play against you guys each and every night.”
They’re chasing him now. They likely will be for a long time to come.