Hey, Connor McDavid.
Can a player whose team has been out of the playoff race for as long as the Edmonton Oilers have still be considered a viable Hart Trophy candidate?
“Obviously I can’t really answer that. I mean, umm… Just, uh… I don’t really know what to say about it. Yeah. I don’t know.”
It is simply not in McDavid’s DNA to lobby — or even present the skinniest shred of evidence that he perhaps could be seen to be lobbying — on behalf of his own self interests. The guy celebrates teammates’ goals with 10 times the zeal that he celebrates his own. This is simply who he is: an uber-modest superstar.
So the Hart Trophy debate — most pointedly, whether a player whose team sailed into the iceberg as hard and as early as the Oilers did — will have to carry on without McDavid’s participation. Even if the way he’s playing right now could influence it more than any words possibly could.
“To be honest I don’t know what the debate is,” last year’s Hart winner said. “There are a lot of different players in the question, all in for different reasons, from people who are in different situations. It’s not up to me to decide.”
The truth is, it is up to me (and about 174 of my colleagues) to decide.
Full disclosure: I am the president of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, and over the past few days a small group (including TSN’s Frank Seravalli, and Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston and Elliotte Friedman) have spent much time fine-tuning the voting list of PHWA Members — and invited broadcasters.
The PHWA votes on the Hart, Norris, Calder, Selke and Lady Byng, as well as the Masterton and end of season All-Star teams. And if you take the time to research the results, the record shows that our level of unbiased accuracy is exceptionally high.
When it comes to this year’s Hart Trophy however, the Oilers’ failure as a team has thrown the Hart Trophy field wide open. Voters rank five choices on each award, and I can’t recall a season like this one, where we’re starting from a list of legitimate contenders that is seven or eight players long.
But what if the Oilers were a 100-point team? Imagine if, instead of having the 31st-ranked power play in the NHL, they were, say, 10th?
McDavid would have perhaps 12 more points. He would be on the verge of winning the Art Ross Trophy with 120 points — the highest total since Sidney Crosby’s 120 points in 2006-07.
Instead, he’s been playing meaningless games since mid-January and dominating his way to a six-point lead in the scoring race.
With 80 even strength points to second place Nathan MacKinnon’s 62, McDavid is keeping himself on the Hart radar. Seventeen points south of the playoffs, his team is costing him votes.
Meanwhile, Taylor Hall has less points in New Jersey, but has single-handedly dragged a Devils team that was dead last in the East last season, into the final wildcard spot.
MacKinnon’s Avs were even worse last season: 30th place in the NHL with just 48 points. He’s been the reason why Colorado is currently one point out of a wildcard spot with a game in hand on Anaheim.
Whether or not the Devils and Avalanche make the playoffs, both will almost certainly play meaningful games through the final weekend of the regular season. Which takes us back 30 years to when the last Hart Trophy winner came from a non-playoff team: Mario Lemieux, whose Penguins missed by a point.
A respected hockey voice tweeted this week of McDavid, “On a bad team, he’d have to lap the field. Hasn’t done that.”
OK. But define “lapping the field.”
McDavid’s 80 even strength points is 18 more than MacKinnon. If he finishes with 30 per cent more even strength points than anyone else in the NHL, does that constitute “lapping the field?”
Since Feb. 1, the unofficial beginning of the stretch run when the nearing playoffs cause everyone to turn their game up a notch, McDavid has dominated the NHL with 48 points (40 at even strength). Next is Evgeni Malkin (38 points, 29 ES).
He may not be “lapping” Malkin, with ‘only’ 26 per cent more points in that period than the Penguins star. But for most everyone else, McDavid has scored 33 per cent (or better) more than every other player in the NHL since Feb. 1.
So, has he lapped the field during the stretch run, when goals are the most difficult to produce?
On Feb. 1 he was 10 points behind Tampa’s Nikita Kucherov, ranked 13th in the Art Ross Trophy race. Today, he is six points ahead.
If he wins the scoring title by, say, 10 points in an era where scoring is so difficult, that would be roughly 10 per cent more points than the No. 2 scorer. That certainly doesn’t constitute “lapping” that player, but what about the field?
Look, it is subjective. That is why the PHWA maintains a large voting list comprised from all markets, as well as including television experts like Friedman, Renaud Lavoie, Jim Hughson, Darren Dreger and more.
The debate is fun, and in the end, there is no right or wrong.
Who am I voting for?
This year you can find out when we make the ballots public — the day after the Awards show in June.