A few weeks ago when the PHWA announced its midseason awards, its top-three vote-getters for the league MVP were pretty straightforward.
They were, in order: Nikita Kucherov, the highest scorer on the best team. Then Nathan MacKinnon, a bit of a recency-bias pick who had dragged a subpar team to relevance by scoring almost two points a game for a month. To round out the top three, it was John Tavares, who was kind of in the same boat as MacKinnon in terms of his team being not that good but turning in a great season overall, in all three zones.
You got those. Those all made sense. But more recently other guys have started to get some love from local reporters, which makes plenty of sense since the post-All-Star stretch run is effectively campaign season. So the names floated in recent weeks not only include the three guys who finished tops in PHWA/fan voting over the All-Star break, but also guys like Taylor Hall, Patrice Bergeron, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Sidney Crosby, and probably a few more I’m not remembering.
And while it’s not as though anyone getting legitimate MVP consideration is having anything resembling a bad season, this is probably a consequence of the fact that in a lot of ways, no one is having a surefire, you-gotta-give-it-to-him year either. Last season, Connor McDavid was the only logical choice to win the award because he was the only player to clear 100 points, and also the only one to clear 90. The same was true of Patrick Kane the year before. You could also clearly see why Carey Price was the MVP in 2014-15 because of how bad the Canadiens were and Jamie Benn only had 87 points to lead the league.
This year? Kucherov has 77 points already and he’s on pace for 107, but a few other guys are in the neighborhood of the pace needed to hit triple digits (thanks, new rule enforcement!). When everyone’s apparently very good, it becomes harder to divine who is The Best. And that leads people to start looking for “well actually” takes on who the MVP is.
Right now, Kucherov, Marchand (who’s getting no MVP love at all), MacKinnon, and Malkin are the four guys who, if they scored at this pace for the full 82, would hit 100. MacKinnon and Marchand have missed a bunch of time and therefore will struggle to hit that level or, perhaps, anything close. Of course, MacKinnon also started very slowly so he might make up some of the ground despite missing a few weeks. Malkin has likewise come on lately (he has 30 points in his last 19 games).
Marchand has enough enemies due to his style of play that people are more than happy to overlook the fact that he’s a top-10 player on the planet at this point. The fact that Bergeron is, instead, getting the MVP love out of Boston is a testament to the fact that he’s a terribly nice guy having probably the best season of his career, and who already plays one of the best 200-foot games ever, and that no one can justify a Marchand (or David Pastrnak) candidacy to themselves.
But these other guys who are getting some attention? You can see why they’re being made. Hall has been phenomenal this season on a team that shouldn’t be anywhere near what the standings dictate. Kessel and Crosby, well, they’re two great players on a back-to-back Cup winner that’s once again playing dominant hockey, both on pace for 90-plus points. Understandable.
Even some of the quieter MVP campaigns are somewhat justifiable; Connor McDavid’s team stinks but he could hit 100 points again this year. Johnny Gaudreau is far and away the best forward on a somewhat disappointing Flames team. Hell, I would have even listened to Corey Crawford MVP talk if he’d stayed healthy, because Chicago would be in the playoff conversation.
But it seems to me that if you start attaching conditions to a guy’s MVP candidacy these days, he’s probably not a legitimate candidate. What it seems like to me, is that would-be voters are going through mental gymnastics to not give the MVP to what is pretty apparently the best team in the NHL. (Also he’s Russian ha ha ha.)
It is extremely rare that a guy from the Presidents’ Trophy winner is also given the MVP. In fact, it hasn’t happened in the cap era. One imagines that voters are reticent to give guys like Kucherov, the best player on the best team, the award simply because, well, they probably had a lot of help. And look, Kucherov of course has a lot of help, probably more than anyone getting legitimate MVP consideration in recent years (except, maybe for Kane). Steven Stamkos is having a great year, Victor Hedman is getting Norris attention, and Andrei Vasilevskiy is having one of the best goaltending seasons in the league.
But that doesn’t change the fact that Kucherov could score 110 points this season without much more luck than he’s already gotten, in a division with three of the five or six best teams in the league (including the stingiest defensive team). Everyone agrees he was phenomenal last year, scoring 85 points in 74 games. This year, he’s nine points away from that level in 15 fewer games. Like, come on with these non-Kucherov arguments.
Of course, every team has 20-something games left, so this last quarter of the season is certainly going to separate the wheat from at least some of the chaff. But for right now, Kucherov is and should be the clear leader. The voters got it right halfway through the year, and nothing has changed to this point.
Again, it’s easy to see why voters would at least think about looking elsewhere. But as with the previous few years’ arguments for “We can’t give it to Karlsson again” winners, if you need to think of reasons why a guy with a clear advantage shouldn’t be the guy? He should probably just be the guy.
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: I remember when I first got Center Ice was the season Marek Malik went between his legs to win that insanely long shootout for the Rangers. That ruled. But with the benefit of hindsight I fully understand the truth: long shootouts are bad.
Arizona Coyotes: Antti Raanta didn’t have a shutout until Saturday night? Good lord.
Boston Bruins: Ahh, hmm. Getting smoked by the Canucks? That’s bad.
Buffalo Sabres: Not having enough talent to be vaguely competitive often presents itself to the untrained eye as not-caring.
Calgary Flames: We don’t talk enough about how good Dougie Hamilton is. He should be getting Norris attention.
Carolina Hurricanes: Cam Ward’s son being Youth Starter of the Game is the very definition of nepotism!!!
Chicago Blackhawks: This is truly shameful but this organization has never done anything to encourage an inclusive atmosphere (racist logo, Bobby Hull hitting his wife and praising Hitler, the Andrew Shaw gay slur, the whole Patrick Kane thing). And neither the team nor league’s release on the incident mentioned that it’s Black History Month or Hockey is For Everyone Month. Intriguing if totally unsurprising omissions.
Colorado Avalanche: If I’m the Avs, I just stand pat at the deadline, maybe make a small depth addition or two if the price is right, but the idea of being capital-B Buyers should horrify them.
Columbus Blue Jackets: On the other hand, yeah, I’m trying to make a bigger move if I’m Columbus.
Dallas Stars: How about this one: Seguin is probably better than Modano.
Detroit Red Wings: I love that beat writers have to explain, like, “They’re not gonna trade Jonathan Ericsson because he stinks and no one wants him or his contract.” That rules.
Edmonton Oilers: Connor McDavid is gonna demand a trade here. Good lord.
Florida Panthers: A true blessing to have Roberto Luongo back. We love him.
Los Angeles Kings: This just in: Mike Milbury is extremely bad.
Minnesota Wild: Alex Stalock is stuck in a situation where, once again, Devan Dubnyk is playing great and also every single game.
Montreal Canadiens: If you ask me… this team… isn’t good.
Nashville Predators: Regarding Eeli Tolvanen breaking rookie scoring records as the youngest player in the KHL, here’s Larry David Poile: “That’s pretty, pretty good for his first year.”
New Jersey Devils: Miles Wood is gonna get a rep as a dangerous player real soon here.
New York Islanders: Nice to get back-to-back shutouts of 45-plus saves, nicer to not give up 42-plus shots four games in a row. For real, in their last four games, the Islanders have given up 188 shots. They’ve given up 50-plus shots in regulation four times since Jan. 15. How is that possible?
New York Rangers: At this point there is no criminal action Henrik Lundqvist could undertake against his teammates where I’d be mad at him. Assault? Murder? No jury in the world would convict him. This is a man driven to the brink.
Ottawa Senators: They’re gonna trade Karlsson oh my god.
“Philadelphia Flyers: With both Elliott and now Neuvirth out, seems likely that Philly makes a goalie trade. Henrik Lundqvist might be willing to make a move, just sayin’.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Zach Astron-Reese? That guy is my son.
San Jose Sharks: Chris Tierney is learning how to cook and I think that’s nice. Everyone should know how to cook a handful of nice meals!
St. Louis Blues: Imagine if the Blues got Hoffman and Brassard? Look out!
Tampa Bay Lightning: If you ask me, sometimes you put 48 shots on goal and only score three times and that’s hockey.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Yeah, maybe Tyler Bozak and Connor Brown are both good now but also: Probably not.
Vancouver Canucks: Adam Gaudette is probably gonna win the Hobey Baker this year (he leads the NCAA in both goals and points, with 27 and 51, in just 32 games). So the question is whether the Canucks can actually sign him before he goes back for his senior year and maybe becomes a free agent.
Vegas Golden Knights: How many goals do you think Reilly Smith and Jon Marchessault need to score before the national hockey media really pays attention to how dumb giving them away for nothing was?
Washington Capitals: Andre Burakovsky getting his act together for the stretch run would probably be a good thing, yeah.
Winnipeg Jets: I dunno what else to say every week besides This Team Is Good.
Play of the Weekend
Honestly what is Robin Lehner doing on this nice little Kopitar goal?
Gold Star Award
The only explanation for this weekend’s games is that they’re trying to get Lundqvist to waive his NMC before the deadline. That’s smart business.
Minus of the Weekend
In trying to find all my links while writing this whole thing, this happened, and it’s like… “Yeah, exactly.”
lmao you can't make it up pic.twitter.com/1dCedS7F0o
— your buddy rl (@twolinepass) February 18, 2018
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User “crossbownerf” is trying to get a handshake.
To Carolina: Marner, JVR & 3rd.
To Toronto: Faulk & Aho
Yeah, sure bud.
Yes. It’s a regional dialect.
(All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)