The Hart Trophy competition this year is far from a runaway.
Finalists for hockey’s MVP trophy were announced this week, with Edmonton Oilers winger Leon Draisaitl, Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon and New York Rangers winger Artemi Panarin making the final cut. You might remember (probably not), those were the three we had on our ballot four months ago, giving the honors to Panarin.
All three are deserving candidates. Draisaitl led the league in scoring and proved while Connor McDavid was out that he can be the No. 1 guy. MacKinnon’s linemates, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog, each missed significant time, but MacKinnon nonetheless propelled the Avs to becoming one of the top teams in the West. Panarin singlehandedly accelerated the Rangers’ rebuild and turned them into a bubble playoff team — all while most often playing on a line with perennial bottom sixers Ryan Strome and Jesper Fast.
So, what do other NHLers think? McDavid and David Pastrnak, the latter who whom was considered an outside candidate to be a Hart finalist, are rolling with Draisaitl.
“I don’t have a lot of faith in the media voting so I don’t know who’s going to win, but it should be Leon,” McDavid said, via theScore. “I think the players will get it right and vote Leon (for the Ted Lindsay Award), but you never know about the media. …
“He’s been a good player for a long time. Obviously he was great this year, huge for us in all situations and it’s a super big accomplishment for him,” McDavid added. “I’m definitely happy to see him be recognized like that.”
Said Pastrnak last month: “For me, it’s absolutely no question. For me, what Leon Draisaitl was showing up the whole season. A lot of people say, ‘Oh he’s playing with Connor’ and stuff. Connor was hurt for a month or two and he brought it up even another level up. For me it’s absolutely no question it’s going to be and it should be Leon Draisaitl because the way he played this year there is absolutely no question for me.”
MacKinnon’s Avs teammates were quick to voice their support.
“It would have surprised me if he wouldn’t have been one of the finalists, so speaks for itself,” goalie Philipp Grubauer, via NHL.com. “Great guy; obviously can make something happen out there so hopefully he’s going to win it.”
Added blueliner Samuel Girard: “I mean there’s no doubt there. Nate is like, if he’s not the best player, he’s not that far. You know he’s so good on the ice.”
Panain’s linemantes stood behind him by articulating how much easier he makes their lives.
“At the end of the day,” Strome said, via NHL.com, “when you have a Hart Trophy candidate on your line, it makes your job easier, day in and day out.”
“He’s been outstanding for us all season,” Fast noted. “Coming in, having the pressure, he’s been carrying us the whole season with the way he’s been playing, both the offensive type of game he has and he’s also been taking really good responsibility playing defense and playing all three zones. He’s been outstanding for us the whole year, and a very deserving nominee.”
No matter who ends up winning, it’ll be a deserved honor.
Here are some other notes from the past week:
— The cat is out of the bag, and Seattle’s new franchise now will be known as the Kraken.
They knocked it out of the park.
The organization’s color scheme and logo look fantastic, and it’s great that they managed to keep it under wraps all this time. Now is when the fun starts though, as teams get to start sweating over who will be on their protected/unprotected lists for next year’s expansion draft.
After what happened with the Vegas Golden Knights, one has to think general managers are going to take a bit more cautious of an approach this time around.
— Braden Holtby is well aware that this may be his swan song with the Washington Capitals.
The netminder is in line to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and with Ilya Samsonov on the rise and the Caps in a position where they should be shedding cap space instead of adding to it, we very well might see Holtby walk.
He’s been a franchise cornerstone in net for so long now that it’s hard to envision him playing anywhere else, but that’s the reality in front of him.
“My focus right now is to win a championship, and moving forward is to find the next best place to win a championship with,” Holtby said, via NHL.com. “Hopefully it’s here, hopefully everything works out, but you never know. So right now, you live in the moment and we have an exciting opportunity to have some fun.”
— Holtby is part of what’s going to be a robust market for goalies though. Jacob Markstrom, Robin Lehner and Corey Crawford are among the other netminders that will hit the market this offseason.
Now more than ever, teams ready to contend have to ensure they’re comfortable playing both their goalies heavily. With that, the value of goalies is going up, and some teams are investing more between the pipes now than ever. But with some guys — Holtby and Markstrom, in particular — positioned for a big payday while the cap stays flat, expect a standoff in negotiations.
One team that’s employed the equal playing time theory to solid results is the Dallas Stars with Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin. The latter will be one of the free agents this offseason, and his hope is to continue playing in Texas.
He’s not one to play games.
“Of course I want to sign a new deal. But right now, we’re just playing hockey,” Khudobin said, via The Dallas Morning News’ Matthew DeFranks. “If there is any talks, my agent will let me know.
“I signed, back in the day, an extension. It was in Carolina. It was talks and talks and talks and talks. I said to my agent, ‘Kent, listen. You know what I want. Talk to them. Let me know what they want. I don’t want to go through the whole conversations every day and stuff like that, because I want to play hockey.'”