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Craig’s List: McDavid’s flawed MVP case leaves Hart race wide-open

Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire

Three weeks ago, the race for NHL MVP was a three-man battle between Edmonton’s Connor McDavid, San Jose’s Brent Burns and Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby. But with three weeks left in the regular season, it’s no longer so clear-cut.

Entering Sunday’s games, Boston’s Brad Marchand has pulled into a tie with Crosby for the goal-scoring lead at 37, and within one point of McDavid for the points lead. Chicago’s Patrick Kane was within three points of McDavid for the points lead, while Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin, Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele, Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom and Columbus’s Sergei Bobrovsky are quietly having MVP caliber seasons.

Knowing some voters’ propensity for making up their minds before they should make up their minds, I don’t see the candidates changing much, but here are 10 guys that voters should at least consider, with pros and cons to their respective candidacies.

Connor McDavid
Team: Edmonton Oilers
Position: Center
Season stats: 25 goals, 80 points

Pros: Where would the Oilers be without McDavid? They’d be in the draft lottery again, that’s where they would be. If your definition of MVP is the “player judged most valuable to his team,” as the award itself states quite explicitly despite voters’ historic propensity for ignoring that definition, then McDavid is as a strong a candidate as you’ll find.

He has factored in a whopping 38.6 percent of Edmonton’s goals. Edmonton has missed the playoffs 10 straight seasons. They’ll break that drought this season, and the main reason is No. 97.

Cons: McDavid is tied for 27th in the NHL in goals, 27th! That’s really low for a Hart Trophy winner. McDavid is on pace for 28 goals this season. No forward has won the Hart Trophy with less than 29 goals since Bobby Clarke did it in 1975 with 27. Since the Original Six era ended in 1967, the only players to win the Hart Trophy with fewer than 30 goals in a full NHL season all averaged better than an assist per game.

Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin (2010) had 29 goals and 83 assists. San Jose’s Joe Thornton (2006) had 29 goals and 96 assists. Colorado’s Peter Forsberg (2003) had 29 goals and 77 assists in 75 games. Clarke had 89 assists his MVP year.

McDavid will not average an assist per game and his goal total pace would be the second lowest by an MVP forward in a non-lockout season since 1955. That’s a pretty strong statistical case against McDavid. By the way, Edmonton has been a mediocre team down the stretch. Clearly, that’s not all on McDavid, but an MVP has to elevate his team.

Sidney Crosby
Team: Pittsburgh Penguins
Position: Center
Season stats: 37 goals, 77 points

Pros: Crosby leads the NHL at a robust 1.2 points per game (he missed the first six with a concussion). He is tied for the league-lead in goals at 37 and Crosby is a terrific two-way player, if a tad overplayed as a Selke candidate.

At this point in their respective careers, Crosby is a far more polished and complete player than McDavid, so if you’re measuring simply by who is the gam’s best player this season, Crosby has a stronger argument than McDavid. With the Penguins entering the postseason as reigning champs and as a high seed, Crosby is going to garner a lot of votes.

Cons: Crosby plays for a terrific team with far better talent around him than McDavid. If he were out of the lineup, Pittsburgh would still be a playoff team, albeit, one with tempered Cup aspirations. This is the strongest argument against the trophy definition: “player judged most valuable to his team.”

Crosby can’t help it that his team is better than McDavid’s. He shouldn’t be punished for that. Crosby has improved dramatically in the faceoff circle, but he’s only winning 48.8 percent of his draws this year. Compare that to a guy like Chicago’s Jonathan Toews who wins 55.7 percent of his draws, or Boston’s Patrice Bergeron, who wins a ridiculous 59.4 percent.

(Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)

Brent Burns
Team: San Jose Sharks
Position: Defenseman
Season stats: 27 goals, 70 points

Pros: Eight defensemen in the history of the NHL have registered 30 goals, and it has only happened once in the last 23 years. Mike Green had 31 for Washington in 2008-09. If Burns gets to 30, he’ll win the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman with ease. As it stands, his only real competition is Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson, who has closed within five points of Burns.

Cons: If Burns wins the Norris Trophy, voters will use the mind-boggling logic that he isn’t eligible to win the MVP because he was named the league’s best defenseman, though it does not say that anywhere in the voting rules. I continue to believe that the NHL should add a trophy called the Wayne Gretzky Trophy to be awarded to the best forward each season. That way, voters would stop excluding goalies and defensemen from an award for which they are eligible, by rule.

Brad Marchand
Team: Boston Bruins
Position: Left Winger
Season stats: 37 goals, 79 points

Pros: Marchand could lead the league in goals and points if he keeps up his torrid pace. People wonder where the Oilers would be without McDavid. Where would the Bruins be without Marchand, who leads his next closest teammate by 16 points? (McDavid has a 17-point lead on his next closest teammate.)

Cons: Marchand plays on the wing. There are fewer responsibilities for wingers than there are for any other position on the ice. To win an MVP award as a winger, you had better do something extraordinary, whether it’s a significant points lead on your competition like Patrick Kane’s 17-point gap last season, or Alex Ovechkin’s 65-goal season in 2008. Marchand has work to do.

Sergei Bobrovsky
Team: Columbus Blue Jackets
Position: Goalie
Season stats: 55 games, league-high 38 wins, 2.06 GAA, 0.930 SP, 6 shutouts.

Pros: Bobrovsky has been a workhorse for the upstart Blue Jackets, who are still in the running for the best overall record in the NHL. He has a league 38 wins, his goals against average is second best among starters (Braden Holtby), his save percentage is tops among starters and his value to his team is clear when you examine his numbers over the past three years and what those numbers meant to his team.

Cons: Bobrovsky jumped into this mix very late, which will likely hurt his candidacy. Voters tend to look for an extraordinary season to name a goalie MVP (see Carey Price). There are at least three other goalies in the discussion for the Vezina Trophy this season with equally valid talking points, so Bobrovsky won’t likely be a serious contender.

(Photo by David Berding/Icon Sportswire)

Devan Dubnyk
Team: Minnesota Wild
Position: Goalie
Season stats: 57 games, 36 wins, 2.12 GAA, 0.929 SP, 5 shutouts

Pros: Dubnyk spearheaded the Wild to a fast start Minnesota was one of the league’s top two teams until the past two weeks when it slipped out of the top spot in the Western Conference and Central Division. He is tied with Bobrovsky for the save percentage lead among starters and his 36 wins are second overall.

Cons: Like the Wild, Dubnyk has slipped a bit over the second half of the season. There was a time when Dubnyk was challenging Brian Elliott’s all-time single-season save percentage record of 0.940. In his last 21 games, he has recorded nine games where he failed to post a save percentage above 0.900.

Patrick Kane
Team: Chicago Blackhawks
Position: Right Winger
Season stats: 31 goals, 77 points

Pros: Kane has been at his best down the stretch for the Blackhawks, who have surged into the top spot in the Western Conference by winning 15 of their last 18 games. Kane has 16 goals and 28 points in that stretch.

Cons: He won it last year and he plays on the wing. The former is probably reason enough to discount his candidacy with voters this season, but when there is another winger (Marchand) on par with Kane and just as hot, that hurts his chances, too.

Evgeni Malkin
Team: Pittsburgh Penguins
Position: Center
Season stats: 33 goals, 72 points

Pros: Malkin has played two fewer games than Crosby, but his 1.16 points per are second only to his teammate’s. He has clearly made Crosby more effective.

Cons: Eight points back of McDavid, his numbers just don’t stack up to the league leaders and his two-way game isn’t quite as complete as say, that of Crosby or Marchand. Oh, did we mention he’s Russian, playing in the shadow of a Canadian icon? We’re not sayin’… we’re just sayin’.

Nicklas Backstrom
Team: Washington Capitals
Position: Center
Season stats: 21 goals, 75 points

Pros: He will end up the points leader for the team with the best record in the NHL. That should count for something. So should those deft passes and underrated two-way play.

Cons: Backstrom’s 21 goals represent too low a total for an MVP.

Mark Scheifele
Team: Winnipeg Jets
Position: Center
Season stats: 28 goals, 70 points

Pros: Scheifele has helped Patrik Laine assert himself as a Calder Trophy finalists and he has established himself as one of the NHL’s elite, two-way centermen.

Cons: The numbers aren’t on par with the league leaders and Winnipeg is going to miss the playoffs. It’s hard to tout your MVP candidacy when your team doesn’t even make the postseason.

(Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire)

SHOOTOUT LETDOWN

Before the Detroit Red Wings and Arizona Coyotes squared off in an otherwise meaningless game at Gila River Arena on Thursday, a few writers (myself included) were predicting a shootout that would allow Arizona’s Radim Vrbata and Detroit’s Frans Nielsen — the league’s top two all-time scorers in the shootout — to square off in a dramatic showdown.

Arizona rookie defenseman Jakob Chychrun scored the game-tying goal with 2:30 to force overtime. Neither team could cash in, giving the writers their shootout wish, but the goalies denied ultimate bragging rights.

Peter Mrazek stopped Vrbata with a terrific glove save and Mike Smith stopped Nielsen to keep the 35-year-old Vrbata (45 career shootout goals) one goal ahead of the soon-to-be 33-year-old Nielsen.

It was the second straight shootout for the Coyotes. Vrbata also missed on Tuesday in Los Angeles against Ben Bishop when he went to his patented backhand move.

“I tried my regular move but Bishop is 7-foot-5 so there is not much room,” Vrbata joked. “[Saturday], the puck was bouncing and I was trying to settle it down so I didn’t get my footing right. It’s a Czech goalie (Mrazek) so obviously he knows what’s probably coming so I tried to do something else and he made a good glove save.”

Vrbata holds out little hope that he will hold off Nielsen or Chicago’s Jonathan Toews (42) for the career shootout goals lead.

“He’s a little younger,” Vrbata said. “He will have a couple more tries over me.”

OUTDOOR DREAMING

The Ottawa Senators will host the Montreal Canadiens in the outdoor Scotiabank NHL 100 Classic at TD Place on Dec. 16, marking the Senators’ second outdoor appearance.

It should come as no surprise that the only six NHL teams that have not played an outdoor game are teams in warm, smaller American markets: Dallas, Arizona, Carolina, Florida, Tampa Bay and Columbus. Ok, Ohio isn’t particularly far south, but is the smallest of the six outdoor-neglected media markets.

Hosting an outdoor game in a warm climate is a logistical nightmare for the league with ice conditions (read: safety) topping the list of concerns. It was worth it to the league to overcome those hurdles when Los Angeles hosted Anaheim in 2014 because the league wanted that sort of exposure in its second largest media market.

The league has expressed interest in doing the same in the other warm markets, and the Coyotes, for one, have pursued the possibility, but don’t hold your breath on the league knocking all six of these teams off its list any time soon.

LOOSE PUCKS

If you’re wondering whether the Los Angeles Kings have a chance of catching the St. Lois Blues for the final playoff spot, the answer is probably not. As Jeremy Rutherford of the St Louis Post-Dispatch noted, the Blues had 12 games remaining (including Saturday’s at Arizona), and only two of them – games with Nashville and Calgary at Scottrade Center — are against teams that would be in the playoffs if the season ended right now.

The Stanley Cup is so cool it’s getting its own monument.

The OHL, QMJHL and WHL schedules wrapped up this weekend. It’s time for the second-best hockey playoff theater in the world.

The Wild are imploding with four straight losses and a five-point deficit to Chicago in the Central Division.

Follow Craig Morgan on Twitter

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Corey Vogel

    Mar 23, 2017 at 10:23 am

    The Hart Memorial Trophy, originally known as the Hart Trophy, is awarded annually to the “player judged most valuable to his team” in the National Hockey League (NHL).

    That’s what the Hart is “supposed to be”.

    Basing it on how many Goals a player has is just stupid and short sided.

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