By Graham O’Dwyer
It took me about 20 years to realize that I wanted to write, specifically about sports. Some know what they want to do since they were kids, others figure it out somewhere along the way. Hockey is one of my favorite sports, so I figured why not write another hockey article. Here it is:
As the NHL regular season winds down and the playoff race heats up, fans and the media alike begin to give their takes on who the seasons most valuable player should be. The Hart Memorial Trophy is awarded to the league’s MVP. This season there are a few candidates who are making their case for the most coveted individual award in the NHL. Here are the top two Hart Trophy candidates and their 2018-2019 MVP resumes.
1. Nikita Kucherov – Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay have quite the team this year. The Lightning currently sit atop the NHL standings with 98 points, well clear of Western Conference leaders Calgary and basically everyone else. One of the reasons why Tampa Bay is as good as they are is because of the play of Nikita Kucherov.
The sixth-year winger from Russia is playing the best hockey of his career. Kucherov leads the NHL with 100 points in 62 games; an average of 1.61 points per game. Boasting a league high 70 assists on the season, Kucherov’s ability to create is arguably the best in the league. He’s second the NHL in goals created, goals created per game, and total goals on-ice for. He also leads the league in assists per game, at 1.13 per game, the only player averaging over one assist per game this season.
An argument against Kucherov’s most valuable player status is that he plays on the best team in the National Hockey League. Over the past few seasons, Tampa Bay has built a powerful roster and have constantly been contenders, even favorites, in a competitive Eastern Conference.
The “they play on the best team” argument usually isn’t the strongest. Kucherov has continuously improved throughout his six career years with Tampa Bay. His point totals each season have increased and is currently in the midst of his best season yet. Yes, Tampa Bay theoretically would still be a playoff team without him, but take Kucherov off the Lightning roster and the East most likely becomes a more even playing field.
2. Patrick Kane – Chicago Blackhawks
The Chicago Blackhawks, a team that includes the likes of multiple Stanley Cup winners like Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Corey Crawford, and of course, Patrick Kane, were in dead last in the NHL. The Blackhawks had a playoff percentage as low as 0.05, following a 7-3 loss to the San Jose Sharks on Dec. 16 (via sportsclubsstats.com). Since Jan. 20, the Hawks have won ten of thirteen and won seven in a row during that stretch.
Currently, Chicago sits three points back of the Minnesota Wild for the final Wild Card spot in the West. The West has been a bit of a disappointment in terms of the quality of teams within the conference, as even sub-500 Vancouver are only three points back of that final spot as well.
Despite allowing a league high 232 goals at this point, Chicago has relied heavily on outscoring opponents as of late. Patrick Kane is a big reason why the Blackhawks have come back to life. Patrick “Showtime” Kane is riding a 20-game point streak and showing no signs of slowing down just yet.
Kane is enjoying possibly the best season of his career. Considering Kane finished with 106 points and won the Hart Memorial Trophy, Art Ross Trophy, and Ted Lindsay Award during his 2015-16 campaign, having a better season seems tough.
As of Jan. 23, Kane is second in points with 93, behind only Nikita Kucherov, second in goals with 39, fourth in assists with 54, and also leads the NHL in goals created, goals created per game, and even strength goals. Kane is on pace for 52 goals, 72 assists and 124 points, according to NBC Sports. Those would all be career highs for Kane.
The case for Kane is similar to last year’s Hart winner, Taylor Hall of the New Jersey Devils. Hall basically carried the Devils to the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference with 93 points, but unfortunately for New Jersey, that meant they had to face Tampa Bay in the first round. They lost that series four games to one.
More than likely, Kane’s focus right now is on winning and continuing his hot play. If Kane can keep up with Kucherov and, more importantly, lead the Blackhawks to a playoff berth, his MVP case becomes much stronger.