Hart Trophy Roundtable: Who is the NHL's MVP in 2022?

Who should win the NHL’s Hart trophy? Elliotte Friedman says it’s a 4-horse race that has no clear winner just yet. Plus, what will happen with Robin Lehner and the Vegas Golden Knights?

The toughest award to consider this season is the Hart Trophy. There are so many great candidates.

We'll start with Auston Matthews, the league's first 60-goal scorer in a decade who finished with the best goals per game mark of the salary cap era. There's a developing two-way element to his game that expands his case beyond the counting stats, too.

How about Johnny Gaudreau? The leading scorer on the best Pacific Division team is having one of the best offensive seasons in Flames history, drives the top line in the game, and is 11 points clear of anyone else in even strength scoring.

Igor Shesterkin? He's got the Vezina all locked up and elevates the Rangers to a level much higher than their underlying numbers might suggest. The question around his candidacy may be more about workload, or the general feeling about giving the MVP award to a goalie -- especially in a season with so many deserving skaters.

Connor McDavid has become something of a forgotten man here, but he's having another outstanding year. The Oilers captain is just six points back of Nikita Kucherov's 128 total from the 2018-19 season, which stands as the highest-scoring season of the cap era. By points per game rate, McDavid's 1.54 this season is fourth-best among all players in the cap era to play ore half a season.

So who should win and how will the voting ultimately shake out?

To get some idea, we canvassed a few people for their thoughts on the award this season. Former player coach and GM, Craig MacTavish, former scout Jason Bukala, and Sportsnet contributors Justin Bourne and Shayna Goldman all weigh in on who they'd pick for the award today, and why.

And be sure to share your thoughts below...

Craig MacTavish: Auston Matthews

It's been the year of the superstar in 2021-22 where the stars have delivered and made this year a deep pool for the PHWA to decide the Hart Trophy winner. I don't anticipate anything near the unanimous choice of Connor McDavid last year. I do however feel Auston Matthews will separate himself from the field of McDavid, Roman Josi, Jonathan Huberdeau, Johnny Gaudreau, Leon Draisaitl, and Igor Shesterkin

And rightly so.

You can argue for McDavid every year all year long, but this year's most valuable player to his team is Matthews. Amazing growth in this player's game outside the standard measurements as well. Like Mark Messier, Matthews has the ability to affect the game on so many levels and has figured out the steep price superstars must pay to win at this level. 

Justin Bourne: Auston Matthews

Prior to Matthews scoring 60, just 20 players in NHL history had accomplished the feat. He's not just had a great goal scoring season, he's done something historic. Scoring goals remains the hardest thing to do in hockey, and this year nobody was particularly close to Matthews' pace. 

Still, a lot of players put up great offensive numbers this season, and Connor McDavid leads the way there with a point total over 120. There are four players with higher point totals than Matthews as of today, but McDavid is the only one with a higher points-per-game mark, and Matthews shoots ahead when you consider more than just scoring. 

He's had a monster defensive season, establishing himself as a two-way presence that keeps goals, expected goals, shots and just about everything else down (against) when he's on the ice. He'll earn Selke Trophy votes, he's a takeaway machine (the best in the league), he's a top-10 faceoff guy in the NHL, and he's added a layer of physicality to his game. 

There are fair cases to be made for Roman Josi and Igor Shesterkin, but the Nashville D-man's underlying numbers aren't elite, and to usurp Matthews' season (which I've seen some models label as the best two-way year of the past decade), Shesterkin would've needed just an unfathomably good year in his 53 starts. He's going to win the Vezina, as he's been awesome, but it's not enough to catch the Leafs big centre in my opinion.

Jason Bukala: Auston Matthews

The hardest thing to do in the NHL is score goals and Matthews has set the bar for his generation of players. Fifty goals has always been a target. When we get into the 60-plus goals category it's rarified air.

Some people are going to point out he doesn't kill penalties. Others will argue his plus-minus should be higher. Both are valid talking points, but does anyone see a path to success without Matthews doing what he does for the Leafs?

(And, by the way, the plus-minus of the past six Hart Trophy winners have been +21, -7, +24, +14, +27, +17...Matthews is currently +20.) 

He's a headache to defend. Teams will pre-scout to come up with ways to slow him down. How has that gone so far this season? Some players carry their teams and Matthews is one of them. His faceoff winning percentage is just over 56 and he logs anywhere from 19 to 25 minutes a game.

Shayna Goldman: Igor Shesterkin

I think of the Hart conversation in tiers, and that top tier is shared by Igor Shesterkin and Auston Matthews.

It’s undeniable how valuable Matthews has been in Toronto. But the honours this year should go to Shesterkin. It’s rare for a goaltender to get the nod for the Hart, but he should be the first to win it since Carey Price in 2014-15.

The Rangers, despite their standing, have been a flawed team. At 5-on-5, their expected goal generation lands them 19th in the league. Their quality chance suppression, on the other hand, is 18th. The team challenges its goalies, forcing them to face the third-highest rate of slot attempts off the rush.

When Shesterkin’s in goal, he’s tasked with facing a workload that equates to 146.7 expected goals against in all situations. But he’s responded incredibly well, saving 40.7 goals above expected. That’s 20.2 more goals than the next best, Ilya Sorokin, and the gap between them is almost as much (short .3) as the Islanders’ goalie’s GSAx in total. Even when accounting for ice time, Shesterkin stays at the top among starters.

The knock against Shesterkin can be that he’s only played 53 games this season and can only max out at 54, if that. That’s only 65 per cent of the available games, compared to Price at 80.5 per cent the year he won. But to Shesterkin's credit, the league has been trending away from those workloads, and he’s been that impactful when he’s in net.

By Sportlogiq’s measures, a quality start is a game where a goaltender earns a GSAx of at least one. In 52 starts, 25 fit the bill for Shesterkin. So in about 48 per cent of his starts, he’s given the Rangers a legitimate chance to win. The only goaltender who rates higher (30 quality starts) is Juuse Saros who has had a ridiculous workload of 67 games.

In nine games, Shesterkin’s saved more goals than the final goal differential of the game. That qualifies as a steal in about 17 per cent of his starts, which leads all starters. The only netminder to finish ahead of him in raw totals is Saros with 10 in 15 more starts.

If he didn’t steal those nine games, it could have brought him down to 27 wins on the season. And the Rangers could have missed out on up to 18 points, which would lower them down to 90 points — that would potentially leave them in the second wild card seed instead of cemented in second place in the Metropolitan. League-wide it would cost them their current eighth place standing to somewhere closer to 17th. And it’s possible that more standings points could have been lost if he didn’t play at this calibre in any of those quality starts, too.

Shesterkin is the leading force behind the Rangers' impressive season. That makes him their most valuable player, and arguably the most influential around the league on his team’s success.

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