PITTSBURGH — Oilers fatigue. It’s a thing out there.
Don’t vote for Connor McDavid as your Hart Trophy winner? That’s fine.
That’s why the Professional Hockey Writers Association has 200 ballots. You can’t quibble with the outcomes very often.
But when I hear people say that they’re not sure whether McDavid will even make their Hart Trophy ballot, then you know Oilers fatigue is out there.
On the face of it, when has the presumed Art Ross Trophy winner ever not deserved Hart Trophy consideration?
He does not always win, which is fine. But over and over this spring, we’ve watched and listened as all the genuine candidates are listed — Johnny Gaudreau, Jonathan Huberdeau, Auston Matthews, Roman Josi, Igor Shesterkin — and far too often McDavid’s name is listed last or not at all.
And forget about Leon Draisaitl, who has more goals this season than all but one player, and more points than all but three. He is mentioned even less frequently.
Oilers fatigue. McDavid fatigue. It’s out there.
So we went to Zach Hyman for his thoughts.
Hyman spent parts of the previous five seasons on a line with Matthews, became acutely aware of the hazards of facing McDavid and Draisaitl during nine Canadian Division games last season, and now plays as an Oiler, where the versatile winger has spent time up and down the lineup.
There’s no fatigue from Hyman, who chuckles, “It’s the first time I'm seeing them live. This is exciting.”
But he gets it. Draisaitl and McDavid won the last two Harts. McDavid is cruising towards his fourth Art Ross in seven NHL seasons.
People like change.
“When somebody does that, over and over again, dominance becomes expected rather than appreciated,” Hyman diagnosed. “So I don't know if the right word is fatigue, rather than it is just kind of expected now from those guys.”
Draisaitl abhors talking about himself. But he dove on in on McDavid on Monday afternoon in Pittsburgh, where the Oilers practised ahead of Tuesday night’s game against the Penguins.
“I think (voters) just get so used to what he does right? On a daily basis; on a nightly basis; on a yearly basis,” began the player Oilers fans sometimes refer to as L50N. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe people expect it now.
“But I don't think we should forget how hard that is to do,” Draisaitl stressed. “It’s hard to score in this league. It's really, really hard. And he just does it over and over again every year. So, yeah, he’s my Hart Trophy vote.”
Of course, Draisaitl won’t have a vote. That goes to members of the PHWA (of which I am one), who also vote on the Norris, the Lady Byng, the Selke, the Calder and the All-Star teams. Draisaitl and the rest of the players will vote on the Ted Lindsay Award -- the MVP as voted by members of the NHLPA.
McDavid has won three of the past six Ted Lindsays.
If McDavid wins the scoring title again this season — he’s three points ahead of Huberdeau with three games to play (Florida has just two) — he will become only the third player in history to win four Art Ross Trophies before turning 26.
The others are hockey royalty: Wayne Gretzky, with six, and Mr. Hockey himself, Gordie Howe, who did it four times.
Tied with Gordie Howe. And he’s not even on your ballot?
McDavid is averaging 1.51 points per game this season. Since 2006-07, NHL players have reached or beaten that number only eight times — and three of those were McDavid.
He has led or been tied for the lead in NHL scoring this season for 61 per cent of the season. All year long he’s been at the top of the chart, and no, he does not play with Draisaitl at even strength as a regular linemate.
His linemates aren’t, overall, as strong as Gaudreau’s. Matthews plays every night with Mitch Marner, who is a superior player to Evander Kane, as good as Kane has been for a half-season with McDavid.
So, we did a little calculation on the forwards in our conversation. Where they stand in goals, assists and points, — first, second third etc. We added up their totals, and the lowest number wins. That player is closest to the top of all three categories — get it?
The score was McDavid 10, Gaudreau 21, Draisaitl 33, Matthews 44, Huberdeau 47.
The most productive, the most well-rounded in goals and assists, and overall the best player in the game today.
And he’s not even in your top five? Seriously?
As for Draisaitl, his second 50-goal, 100-point season has fallen far under the shadow of Matthews' first 50-goal season -- even though the Maple Leafs centre has three more goals but four less points.
The argument that Matthews does more than Leon Draisaitl, even though the latter scores more points annually, kills penalties regularly and takes far more defensive-zone faceoffs seems ludicrous. Does Draisaitl not do more for his team if he’s employed in more important defensive situations?
Call Matthews a better goal scorer? Sure.
Call him a better all-around player though, and we’ll chalk it up to the fact that people are sick of talking about how good Edmonton’s players are, when they haven’t won squat as a team.
When asked for his thoughts on the Hart by Sportsnet’s Luke Fox, Matthews listed off Huberdeau and Josi as two of his top considerations, rightfully of course.
“You know,” Matthews concluded, “it seems like McDavid and Draisaitl, we’ve gotten so accustomed to them just doing this every single year that you kind of lose sight of how good of a season those two are having.”
Oilers fatigue. It’s a thing.
But it’s probably for the best. It’s time to turn the conversation in Edmonton towards a more important trophy anyhow.
My awards ballot arrived today, ironically, as I was writing this piece.
I’m not sure if McDavid will get my top vote for the Hart. Maybe he will.
But if he’s not even in my top five, you’ll know I’m not paying close enough attention.