Taylor Hall. Nikita Kucherov. Nathan MacKinnon. These three are currently the front runners to win the Hart Trophy this season as the league MVP. But who will win it? Chace, Joe and Carl make their case for each.
Taylor Hall (by Chace McCallum)
The NHL’s Hart Trophy goes to the”player judged most valuable to his team“. This is an important caveat in Taylor Hall’s MVP case. He has fewer points per game than Nathan Mackinnon and Nikita Kucherov, his biggest opponents. This likely knocks Hall out of the most outstanding player debate, however in terms of value to their team, it’s Hall and it’s not close. To show this, let’s dive into some of their numbers. (Data from Corsica)
First up the candidates relative expected goals for percentage. Not all shots are created equally, so expected goals weights all shots for how dangerous they. This way slot shots have more value than a blast from the point. Then every shot for and against goes is taken into account, and we get what a players expected goals for percentage. Then we can compare a team’s results with and without a player.
Kucherov is up first, and his MVP case quickly fades. When shots are weighted for danger, the Lightning do a better job of controlling play with Kucherov on the bench. Yes, Kucherov has been great, but if your team controls more higher quality shots without you, you’re likely not the MVP. With Kucherov falling behind, it’s between Mackinnon and Hall, and Hall really starts to pull ahead.
The Devils control about 49% of expected goals without Hall, below average. When Hall steps over the boards that number spikes to 52.5%, suddenly the Devils are an elite team. Mackinnon also has a positive impact on his team, but not to the same degree. The Avalanche suck without Mackinnon, they only control 46.5% of expected goals. With Mackinnon, that number jumps to 48.6%. That’s a large leap, but it falls short of Hall’s impact.
Since many are still skeptical of analytics, the final number is simple goals for percentage. This is the percentage of goals a team scores with and without a player.
In terms of descriptive value, these numbers are hard to argue with. Again the Lightning actually improve without Kucherov on the ice, killing his MVP case. Then there’s Hall, his impact is ridiculous. With Hall, the Devils have controlled 58.3% of goals. If a team was to control 58.3% of goals, they would be the best team in the NHL this year. Without Hall, the Devils crumble. They only score 43.5% of goals. That would be right in between the Arizona Coyotes and Ottawa Senators on the year. From Presidents Trophy favorites to the Draft Lottery, that’s how much Hall has meant to the Devils. Again Mackinnon has a big impact, but the Devils chasm without and without Hall is simply too large for the other candidates to overcome, which should make Hall the Hart Trophy favorite.
Nikita Kucherov (by Joe Martini)
Let me give you a scenario, it’s mid-march the Tampa Bay Lightning are the first team to 100 points this season and a player on the team has 88 points (34 goals and 54 assists) and is leading the league in scoring. If you were given a guess you would assume it is Steven Stamkos, and that guess folks would be wrong. The Russian Winger Nikita Kucherov has continued his surge that started last season when Stamkos went down and the Bolts sold of pieces such as Brian Boyle and Ben Bishop and the team came close to making to the playoffs. The reason? Kucherov just will not be stopped. Named to his first all-star game this year the right-winger has done everything that has been asked of him and more.
Some may say “well he is playing with Steven Stamkos” and I get that argument, but that also leads to the discussion that the Lightning have been looking for a competent winger to play with Stamkos since Marty St. Louis was traded to the New York Rangers. Many have tried and failed, chemistry is not only for labs folks it is real on the ice. This pairing has become the top level threat that always calls for a top pair defensive combination allowing for the second and third line to pick on the second and third pairing.
Can you give the MVP to a player you aren’t even sure is the MVP of his own team? Is another argument, but let me tell you folks yes you can. With Tampa becoming a more nationally recognized team the players are becoming more familiar, but did anyone bat an eyelash when Crosby won MVP with a player like Malkin? Henrik Sedin playing with Daniel? Or how about Carey Price? Did he win all those games by himself? (okay yes I know he had a great run but wasn’t scoring goals) The thing is folks watch a Tampa Bay Lightning game (#HiSticking pick regularly) and watch the little things Kucherov does, he is not riding shotgun to anyone if anything he is forcing players to up their game. That is why Nikita Kucherov should be your National Hockey League MVP.
Plus, Kucherov can do this.
Kucherov does it AGAIN! 😱😱
That’s twice now against Holtby…😳 pic.twitter.com/D6ie1sjC5d
— Pro Stock Hockey 🏒 (@prostockhockey) February 21, 2018
Nathan MacKinnon (by Carl Landra)
With all do respect to Chace and Joe, they are wrong. By definition, the most valuable player is the player that his team would suffer the most without him. Without trying to poke holes in the case for Hall or Kucherov, let’s see what exactly MacKinnon brings to the Avalanche. MacKinnon is currently 10th in the NHL in goals with 32, 4th in the NHL in points with 81 and 2nd in game winning goals and has accounted for 14.9% of the goals for the Avalanche this season. All of this while missing 8 games in February. Luckily for us, we can use this to determine just how valuable number 29 is for the Avs.
The Avalanche have a meager 48% Corsi For at even strength this season, riding the 6th best shooting and save percentage to a playoff spot at time of writing. During the 8 sad games in February, the Avalanche suffered mightily without their #1 center, as their Corsi For 5v5 slipped to 44%. As a point of reference, this would be the worst CF% in the league. By two percent. It’s also worse than any team last year. Going back to 2015-16, you can find a team this bad. It just happens to be………the Colorado Avalanche! During this stretch, the Avalanche did manage to win 4 games however. Who did they beat? Edmonton, San Jose, Buffalo and Montreal. They played 3 of the worst teams in the league and still had the worst possession numbers without MacKinnon in the lineup. (Data from Natural Stat Trick)
So, let’s review: Top of the league in counting stats? Check. A crucial part of the team’s success? Check. Have his team in a playoff spot? Check. Hart Trophy favorite? Check.
What do you think? Let us know on Twitter or in the comments below!
Who do you think should win the Hart Trophy this far?
— The 4th Line Hockey Podcast (@4thLinePodcast) March 12, 2018