It may be the slowest stretch of the off-season, but the odds-makers at Bovada are staying busy. As Sports Illustrated’s Michael Blinn writes, the first odds for the NHL’s MVP Award, the Hart Trophy, for the 2018-19 season are out. Very few could have predicted that the New Jersey Devils’ Taylor Hall would have taken home the title this past season at this point last year. Is next year’s winner even on the board? Or will it be one of the heavy favorites?
To no surprise, Edmonton Oilers phenom Connor McDavid has the best odds to win the Hart for the second time in three years after being crowned in 2017. McDavid has 10/3 odds to win the award and those are actually pretty fair odds. Even last season, when McDavid was not even a finalist for the Hart, he nevertheless was the league’s leading scorer with 108 points, six more than the next-best player. It was the second season in a row that McDavid won the scoring title and that trend seems unlikely to change if he remains healthy. However, there are some who will say that McDavid’s Hart chances are tied to the success of the Oilers. The argument this past season was that he could not truly be the most valuable player in the league when his contributions still left Edmonton far from a playoff spot. With a roster that has been largely unimproved this off-season, another regular season disappointment for the Oilers could make it hard for McDavid to get back on top.
Next up is two-time Hart winner Sidney Crosby at 13/5. The face of the Pittsburgh Penguins dynasty has long been considered the best player on the planet. Yet, one would think that Crosby might actually have more than two MVP titles. Crosby has scored between 84 and 120 points in every healthy season of his career, but his impressive supporting cast detracts from the impact of those unbelievable numbers. Especially last season, when Crosby was narrowly outscored by both Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, it would have been close to impossible for him to win the Hart. Malkin (18/1 odds) and Kessel (75/1 odds) are still Penguins and barring injuries to one or both, Crosby would have to take his game to an even higher level to get back into Hart consideration.
Maple Leafs centers John Tavares and Auston Matthews both have 10/1 odds to win the Hart, as the odds-makers clearly expect there to be plenty of offense to go around in Toronto next season. Injuries held Matthews to 63 points last season, outside the top 50 in scoring, while a healthy Tavares only managed to tie for sixteenth with 84 points for the New York Islanders. Both players will greatly need to improve their production to be Hart – and it is certainly possible now that they are playing together – yet an improvement by both could land them in Crosby/Malkin territory where they cancel each other out in the Hart race.
Reigning Stanley Cup, Conn Smythe, and Maurice Richard winner Alex Ovechkin also has 10/1 odds to take home the Hart. Ovechkin has done it three times before, more than any other active player in the league. However, Ovechkin’s 49 goals last year only came with 38 assists, as his 87 points kept him outside the top ten in scoring. At 33 years old this season, the Washington Capitals captain will have to fight both the aging process and a potential Cup hangover to improve his production if he wants a fourth Hart. Ovechkin’s 10/1 odds seem like a stretch.
At 15/1 are both the 2018 winner Hall and finalist Nathan MacKinnon, as well as Nikita Kucherov and Mark Scheifele. This is where the value lies in these early odds. The former duo greatly benefited from both excellent seasons – 97 points for MacKinnon and 93 points for Hall – but also being far and away the best players on the New Jersey Devils and Colorado Avalanche respectively. Both should again lead the way for their clubs and if they match their previous output and again sneak into the postseason, it would be no surprise to see them both back in consideration next year. As for Kucherov, he was the favorite to win the Hart for a long stretch last season as he led the league in scoring. Although his production tailed off as the season closed out, the dynamic Tampa Bay Lightning winger still managed to finish third with 100 points. Tampa will be top contenders again and promise to light up the score board with Kucherov leading the way. Perhaps this time he can seal the deal on the Hart. Scheifele is a dark horse candidate who could be the breakout star of the coming season like Hall and MacKinnon last year. The Winnipeg Jets franchise center played in only 60 games last year, but scored 60 points and continues to show flashes of brilliance. He could be a savvy pick to take home the hardware.
Among the rest of the field are some very interesting options. Los Angeles Kings star Anze Kopitar, a Hart finalist last season, has 18/1 odds and new weapon to play with in Ilya Kovalchuk (50/1 odds). Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux has 25/1 odds despite finishing second only to McDavid at the top of the scoring charts last season with 102 points. Boston Bruins winger Brad Marchand, also 25/1 odds, was arguably the most dangerous scorer in the league last season when on the ice, finishing 13th overall in scoring with 85 points in just 68 games – the only player in the top 50 to play in less than 70 games. Bargain odds belong to Artemi Panarin at 50/1. The Columbus Blue Jackets dynamo gets better each year since coming over to the NHL and could toy with 100 points in his second year with the team. That would make for an interesting off-season, as Panarin is slated for free agency next summer.
What do you think? Does Bovada have the right names at the top? Or will the Hart winner be another unpredictable upset like Hall?