Last Updated: 2018-03-02
HART MEMORIAL TROPHY – MARCH UPDATE
With less than six weeks left in the regular season and playoff races heating up, the race for individual supremacy is also going to come down to the wire for the NHL’s Most Valuable Player award. Back in October before the season began, I gave out my two top picks for who might be hoisting this year’s Hart Memorial Trophy at the NHL Awards show in June (you can scroll down and read that article directly below this one, if you missed it back then).
Odds Courtesy Bodog/Bovada as of March 2nd
One of those picks was Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars at 25-1 odds. Benn has had a fine season with 21 goals and 35 assists in 64 games to this point but he’s only 38th overall in league scoring and isn’t even the top scorer on his own team with Tyler Seguin and Alex Radulov also carrying the offensive load for the Stars. I’ll be chalking that up as a one-unit loss when end of season bookkeeping comes around.
The other selection though has had one heck of a season and is currently listed as the betting favorite to bring home the hardware and that is Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning who we snagged at an incredible 40-1 price.
Kucherov stormed out of the gate, along with the entire Lightning team, and looked like he would put this award in his back pocket early. It was October 28 before he played a game where he didn’t record a point, starting the season with an 11-game point streak – seven of those which were multi-point games. As usually always happens though, players and teams cool off at some point while others catch up, narrowing the gap and creating some doubt.
Kucherov’s dry spell occurred in January where he went three consecutive games without a point (his longest drought of the season) and five of six games overall without a point (although he did still record three points in that one game in between). He followed that slump up with points in nine straight before being held off the scoreboard in his last game on February 26. That’s when he was injured and has been forced to sit out since, missing the past two games. Kucherov currently leads the NHL in overall points with 82 in just 63 games played. He’s fifth overall in goals scored (33) and also fifth in assists (49). The injury isn’t believed to be serious and he’s expected back soon so I don’t think it should seriously dampen his chances at still bringing home the award. We certainly don’t want to waste a 40-1 ticket at this point though so since this is likely our last chance to look at securing some profit, let’s take a look at our best hedging options.
Evgeni Malkin (+250)
Malkin forms one-half of the two-headed monster down the middle of the lineup for the Pittsburgh Penguins, with Sidney Crosby being that other half. Often playing second fiddle to Crosby in conversations surrounding the Penguins MVP, Malkin has been on an absolute tear as of late and has separated himself away from Crosby enough to consider merit on his own. Hiding off the radar through the end of January, Malkin had 21 points over 12 February games and started March last night with another two point effort, currently sitting himself second overall in league scoring with 78 points in 61 games – just four points shy of Kucherov with two less games played. His longest scoring drought has also been three games which occurred way back in early October and he’s been a more consistent game-to-game point producer than Kucherov. His 36 goals rank second to only Alex Ovechkin’s 39 while his 42 assists place him 14th in that category.
The Penguins as a team were also hiding off the radar somewhat in the Metropolitan standings as they sat outside the top three positions for much of the season, even occupying the basement for a very brief time at one point. Pittsburgh has gone 14-6-1 since their mandatory bye week in January and their winning has correlated well with the rise in Malkin’s scoring. If the Penguins go on to win the Metro Division with Malkin continuing to produce as he has the past two months, he could very well pickpocket the award away from Kucherov. At +250 odds, we should probably hedge a bit on this pick but if you’re not currently holding a Kucherov ticket, a small play on Evgeni Malkin for Hart isn’t a bad play either. That being said, if you’re looking to put some coin down on just one selection, this guy up next just below could be your best bet.
Taylor Hall (+350)
The New Jersey Devils are sitting firmly in the first Wild Card spot, just two points behind Pittsburgh for third in the Metro Division and five points behind the first place Washington Capitals. More importantly, New Jersey is currently seven points clear of Carolina who is the closest team outside of the playoff picture at the moment. The Devils are a strong bet to secure a postseason spot at this point which is a far cry from where many predicted their placement this season – either very near or on the basement floor of the Eastern Conference.
With a roster full of somewhat average players and only one other player above the 35-point mark (rookie Nico Hischier at 41) and no other 20-goal scorer, it’s fair to say Taylor Hall is single-handedly carrying this Devils team to whatever glory they may achieve.
Hall’s 28 goals only currently rank him 15th in that category while his 41 assists sit him just 19th and his 69 total points see him tied for just 12th overall in the NHL scoring race but he’s done that in only 59 games played. It’s also what Hall has done lately which has elevated his name into the conversation for the Hart Trophy. Hall has 33 points over his last 23 games played (although the NHL only recognizes this as a current 16-game point streak for record purposes since he did not play a three game stretch from January 22-25 due to being jumped by Ottawa’s Alex Burrows). It’s still a far cry from Wayne Gretzky’s 51-game point streak record from 1983-84 but he is closing in on the last longest point streak in the NHL which was set by Patrick Kane with 26 consecutive games in 2015. Hall’s longest scoring drought is also just three games this season, the same as Kucherov and Malkin, so he’s maintained a level of consistency throughout the season and not just this current run.
The thing which is unique about Hall is he doesn’t have a super linemate to help pad his stats. Kucherov has Steven Stamkos while Malkin usually has Phil Kessel or Patric Hornqvist by his side and Sidney Crosby on the Penguins deadly powerplay. Taylor Hall’s most often paired linemates this season have been rookies Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt, yet those players are nowhere near Hall’s production.
Hall’s 1.17 (1.169) points-per-game pace currently ranks him 7th across the league behind only Kucherov (1.30), MacKinnon (1.29), Malkin (1.28), Marchand (1.22), McDavid (1.20) and Giroux (1.172). If Hall can keep his current production (1.43 ppg over his 23-game scoring streak) then he might be able to jump high enough in the overall scoring race to steal the Hart Trophy away from Kucherov.
Nathan MacKinnon (+1200)
MacKinnon is the only other name on the list I consider a threat to plucking the MVP title away from Kucherov. If it wasn’t for a two-and-a-half week stretch to begin February where MacKinnon missed eight games due to an upper-body injury, we very well could be having an entirely different conversation right now for who the favorite was to win the Hart Trophy. MacKinnon recorded 61 points in 49 games (1.24 ppg) and had Colorado surging into a playoff spot before his shoulder injury likely derailed the Avs and his own personal season. But hang on – since returning on February 18, MacKinnon has picked up right where he left off and then some, recording 10 points over six games (1.67 ppg) and has propelled him back into the top 10 for the NHL scoring title.
Overall, MacKinnon’s 29 goals rank him tied for 10th and his 42 assists are tied for 14th but as you may have noticed above in the Hall section, MacKinnon is second only to Kucherov – and by the narrowest of margins – in overall points per game with a 1.29 mark. If Kucherov ends up missing a few more games (or cools off after returning) the door could be open with a strong finish from MacKinnon. The Hart Trophy generally goes to the NHL scoring leader (five of the last seven winners) and no one less than third in overall scoring has won this award in over ten years, so MacKinnon would need a torrid pace to jump at least six spots but if anyone is capable it just might be this guy. It would no doubt require the Avalanche to also secure a postseason berth which I don’t think will happen but a small sprinkle on the 22-year old might be worth it to cover all angles and if you don’t have a Kucherov ticket, a MacKinnon lottery ticket is a fun gamble.
Connor McDavid (+1200), Blake Wheeler (+2200)
The odds-on preseason favorite to win back-to-back MVP awards was Connor McDavid and rightly so. The Oilers were a surprising contender last year led by McDavid’s 100-point season and many believed he would likely sit atop the NHL scoring race again this year, even those of us who predicted the Oilers as a team might not be as fortunate. McDavid’s longest scoring drought is also just three games this year and he’s quietly climbed up to third in the scoring race now with 77 points in 64 games but with the Oilers well outside of the playoff picture, there’s just no way he will pull far enough ahead in the scoring race to have a chance to win this year, which is what would be required for a player on a non-playoff team to earn the award.
The other interesting name and no doubt the most underrated is Blake Wheeler of the Winnipeg Jets. If you haven’t had the pleasure of watching Mr. Wheeler play this year then you are in for a treat this playoff season (that goes for the entire Jets team, to be honest). Wheeler possesses one of the prettiest and filthiest set of eyes in the back of his head with his insane ability to always pull off the most ridiculous passes. McDavid and Crosby have a vision unlike any other but I would be confident in putting Wheeler’s passing ability next in line. He’s currently fifth in NHL scoring (yes, really) with 73 points in 63 games (1.16 ppg) and his 55 assists is just one behind Jake Voracek of Philadelphia for the league lead in that category.
Wheeler would absolutely be a contender for the Hart this year except for the fact the Jets forward group is completely stacked with talent and it’s almost impossible to separate himself from his other incredible teammates like Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine. I just don’t think Wheeler is unique enough on his team but it’s still pretty cool to see him on the board considering Laine and Scheifele were the two Jets on the preseason odds list.
At the end of the day, that leaves us with three serious threats for the Hart Trophy with Nikita Kucherov, Evgeni Malkin and Taylor Hall, with a possible fourth wild card selection of Nathan MacKinnon who could still sneak in there. If you have been following my work here since the start of the season and bought a Kucherov ticket at +4000, first of all – congrats! We’re in tremendous shape to cash that play.
I really think Hall is the biggest threat to Kucherov with Malkin being a distant third. I don’t think MacKinnon can jump over enough guys but more importantly I don’t believe Colorado will make the playoffs so here’s my recommendation on how I’m hedging our Kucherov ticket, who I believe will ultimately win this award. You can bet a little more or a little less depending on how you feel about things but this is just personally how I’m managing the risk.
If you don’t have a Kucherov ticket, I would buy one at +160 and then bet anything up to 1.6-units on Hall so you’ll at least break even but still make a bit of profit if Hall wins. Feel free to message me on Twitter if you have questions about how to divide anything up and I’ll do my best to help.
Best Hedge Option
3 units – Taylor Hall (+350)
-END OF MARCH 2 PICKS-
NHL PRESEASON PROPS: HART MEMORIAL TROPHY
The Hart Memorial Trophy is awarded annually to the “player judged most valuable to his team” and is voted upon by the members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association. Votes are cast at the end of the regular season before the playoffs begin but aren’t revealed until the NHL Awards night upon the conclusion of the Stanley Cup Final.
Odds Courtesy Bovada as of October 1st
A defenseman hasn’t won this award since the 1999-2000 season when St. Louis’ Chris Pronger brought home the hardware and he’s the only defenseman to win the Hart since the great Bobby Orr’s three-peat from 1969-1972.
It’s actually been more common for a goaltender to win the league’s most valuable award over the past few decades but it’s still a very uncommon occurrence. Dominik Hasek won back-to-back times in 1996-97 and 1997-98, Jose Theodore in 2001-02 and most recently, Carey Price with his incredible season in 2014-15 (Price’s win came in a season where they wasn’t a 90-point scorer, the first and only time that’s happened this century).
Since the 2000-01 season, the award has been won by a centerman eight times and by a winger six times, so there doesn’t seem to be a dominant advantage by one particular forward position and there hasn’t been a repeat winner since Alex Ovechkin in 2007-08 and 2008-09. Winners since then have been Henrik Sedin, Corey Perry, Evgeni Malkin, Ovechkin (again), Sidney Crosby, Price and Patrick Kane. All but two of those seasons the award has been won by the NHL’s top point scorer (2010-11 Perry was 3rd and 2012-13 Ovechkin was t-3rd).
Last year’s winner, Connor McDavid, led the NHL with 100 points in helping the Edmonton Oilers snap their decade long playoff drought. McDavid, “The Next One” ran away with the voting over a distant
Sidney Crosby who recorded 89 points.
So, after that little history lesson let’s take a look at how this applies to this year’s possible candidates. The only goaltender to win the award over the last decade came in a season where there was no standout offensive star. It’s hard to imagine that could happen again with all the great young talent that’s entered the league and overall scoring again on the rise the last couple years. You’re probably better off passing on Price and Holtby this season.
It’s been even more unlikely for a defenseman to win, so it might also be wise to pass on Karlsson and Burns. Karlsson had offseason surgery to repair torn tendons in his foot and still hasn’t been cleared for contact as of Sunday. It’s possible he misses the beginning of the season and might take him awhile to get going when he does return, making him a tough choice for this year’s Hart. Burns won the Norris Trophy last year as the best defenseman and finished fourth in Hart voting with a 76-point season, after a 75-point effort the previous year. Those are impressive totals for a blueliner but with the Sharks another year older it’s hard to think Burns could improve into the 85-90 point range deemed necessary for stronger consideration.
At the top of the list are McDavid and Crosby, once again, and it’s hard to argue why one of these two shouldn’t be favored to win this award every year now. These are the two best generational talents many of us have seen in our lifetime and rightly deserve to be the favorites. I certainly can’t fault anyone for firing a bet on either of these two greats, but what’s the fun of that? Let’s take a look at the rest of the list and at a couple of players who look to be mispriced here and should give us some solid value throughout the season.
Jamie Benn (+2500)
The Dallas Stars captain is often the forgotten man when discussing the best players in the NHL and after coming off a down season for him, is likely an underrated option on most people’s radar.
Benn finished tied for 20th in NHL scoring last year with just 69 points and was one of several Stars to see a dip in their production as Dallas struggled to a sixth place finish in the Central.
With expectations being at a high in Dallas after an excellent summer saw them address several of their needs, Benn should be able to regain his dominating form as he’s expected to line up beside Tyler Seguin again and newcomer Alex Radulov. The trio could form potentially the most exciting and productive scoring line in the NHL.
Here’s something you might not know – despite Benn’s tough season a year ago, he’s still scored the third most points in the NHL since the 2014-15 season, behind only Kane and Crosby. Benn actually led the NHL in scoring in 2014-15 with 87 points but inexplicably finished a distant 12th in Hart Voting that year (explain that?!). In 2015-16, the year Kane dazzled us all with his amazing 106-point season, Benn finished second in scoring with 89 points but was only third in voting.
If the Dallas Stars regain the scoring form that saw them lead the league in goals in 2015-16 (which I’m expecting) and Benn has the explosive year (I’m also expecting), hopefully voters won’t overlook him as they have in the past. Jamie Benn at +2500 for this year’s Hart Memorial Trophy is a solid value pick.
Nikita Kucherov (+4000)
The young Russian sniper had a breakout performance last year with Tampa Bay scoring 40 goals and 85 points, good for a tie of fifth in NHL scoring and eighth in Hart voting. Kucherov has increased his scoring output in each of his four NHL seasons to date and cemented himself on the top line in Tampa Bay. With a healthy Steven Stamkos set to return the Bolts are expected to once again be a serious contender for the Stanley Cup and their top line should terrorize the Atlantic division all season long. Some may be worried the return of Stamkos could take some of his scoring but I think it should be looked upon as what Stamkos adds to the equation and how it could help boost Kucherov’s point totals further. Whether he’s scoring goals with his incredibly accurate shot or feeding Stamkos with his equally strong playmaking abilities, Kucherov has the potential to hit the 100-point mark this season which should put him in the conversation. There’s a lot worse bets on the board than Nikita Kucherov at +4000 for this year’s Hart Memorial Trophy and he’s our top longshot value pick of the year.
Honorable Mention: Brad Marchand (+6000)
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