Last but certainly not least, the Hart Memorial Trophy was announced as the finale of the NHL Awards presentation. The Edmonton Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl was named the recipient of the award, which is presented to the player deemed most valuable to his team. Draisaitl adds MVP honors to his impressive trophy shelf for this season, having already received the Art Ross Trophy and the Ted Lindsay Award. The Colorado Avalanche’s Nathan MacKinnon and the New York Rangers’ Artemi Panarin were Draisaitl’s competition for the Hart, as they were for the Lindsay as well.
While Draisaitl won earlier in the night as the “most outstanding player”, the Hart puts more emphasis on which player is most valuable to his team, which makes the arguments for MacKinnon and Panarin much stronger than they were for the Lindsay. Both MacKinnon (43 points more than Colorado’s next-best scorer) and Panarin (20 points more than New York’s next-best scorer) were crucial to their teams’ successes this season and did not play with any other players who were even remotely in the conversation for the Hart. Having two or more elite players on one team often makes it hard for either to win MVP, as evidenced this year by the Boston Bruins’ David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand, who finished third and sixth respectively in NHL scoring but fourth and ninth in Hart voting.
Why then was Draisaitl able to win when Connor McDavid finished second in points and fifth in Hart voting? The answer lies not in the teams’ top talent, but in their depth. The Avalanche and Rangers are more similar to the Bruins in top-to-bottom talent than are the Oilers, who lack any real impact forwards outside Draisaitl, McDavid, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Panarin’s Rangers are deeper in difference makers than Edmonton and New York would not have even made the playoffs in a typical year, while MacKinnon’s Avs were missing some of their best players for much of the year, but had that star power nonetheless and likely would have been a playoff team even if he had played at a replacement level. The Oilers needed Draisaitl and McDavid to play at superstar levels this season to be a successful team, so with Draisaitl outplaying McDavid and covering for him when McDavid missed seven games, he really was immensely valuable. That explanantion can at least explain the slim margin of victory for Draisaitl over MacKinnon, as the former received just 147 voting points more than the latter.