The release of the Hart Trophy finalists each year is always guaranteed to result in discontent. Three fan bases – and the majority of unbiased observers – are happy with the decision, while those who support the players that narrowly missed out on a nomination feel the need to criticize the process and establish why their favorite player should have been picked. This phenomenon can be attributed to just the sheer number of elite players worthy of recognition in the NHL, but more than anything it is due to the continued confusion over what the award actually represents.
The Hart Trophy is awarded to the “player judged most valuable to his team”, or in even simpler terms, it is the NHL’s MVP award. In 2017-18, it is hard to argue that any player was more “valuable” to his team than one of Nathan MacKinnon, Taylor Hall, and Anze Kopitar. Without those three, the Colorado Avalanche, New Jersey Devils, and Los Angeles Kings, respectively, would not only have missed the playoffs, but may have been among some of the worst teams in the league. Yet, the Connor McDavid supporters like to point out that he not only led the league in scoring with 108 points, but was far-and-away the best player on the Edmonton Oilers. This is undeniably true, but the Oilers also finished with just 78 points, a whole 17 points back of MacKinnon’s Avs for a playoff spot and closer to the worst record in hockey than the postseason. Was McDavid valuable to the team? Yes, but at the end of the day, his contributions really only cost his team in NHL Draft Lottery odds.
Yet, even experienced journalists like the Edmonton Journal’s David Staples continue to misinterpret the award. He specifically refers to McDavid as the league’s “overlooked most outstanding player” and breaks down the league’s scoring leaders without regard for the context, or value, of that scoring to each team. Staples’ sentiment is shared by many teams and the criteria he uses in his article to determine his Hart finalists is valid, except for the fact that it is not a “most outstanding player award”; that’s the Ted Lindsay Award, and yes McDavid is a finalist for that.
So here is a forum for all the frustrated fans who want to argue about who the best player in the NHL is. It’s hard to make a case that the PHWA got the Hart nominees for this season wrong, but there are many cases to be made for who the best player in the NHL was this season. Have at it.