Is Avs’ Nathan MacKinnon the NHL’s Deserving Hart Trophy Favorite?


Feb 21, 2024

After the annual All-Star Game festivities, NHL teams find themselves in one of two buckets — contender or pretender. It’s time for teams to get real about their playoff chances and whether they have the pieces to compete for this year’s Stanley Cup. 

Once we figure out which teams have a shot at the postseason, we can refine our search into an even smaller subset of data. Of all the 99 previous Hart Trophy winners, only three have come from non-playoff teams. 

Like teams in and outside of the playoff picture, we can use that to filter which players have a legitimate shot at winning the NHL’s MVP award. 

That leaves just a handful of candidates to consider before placing your futures bet. 

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Betting Favorite

As it stands, Nathan MacKinnon (+160) finds himself atop the Hart Trophy futures board. The Colorado Avalanche forward has been integral to his team’s success over the past few years, including a Stanley Cup victory in 2022. Still, MacKinnon has yet to claim the MVP award. 

Is this the year it all comes together for MacKinnon?

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Scoring Profile

At first glance, MacKinnon has an appealing profile. The former first-overall selection ranks second in the NHL in scoring, totaling 91 points in 56 contests. Moreover, he’s just 20 points shy of his previous career best, with over 20 games left to play.

However, MacKinnon has out-performed his underlying metrics, implying that he’s primed for regression over the latter part of the campaign. 

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Underwhelming Analytics

MacKinnon has thrived despite a lackluster analytics profile. His 55.1% expected goals-for rating at 5-on-5 puts him 81st among NHL players who skated at least 400 minutes. That puts him behind Artemi Panarin (55.4%), Matthew Tkachuk (56.4%), Sidney Crosby (56.7%), Leon Draisaitl (57.6%), and many more. They all have much worse odds than MacKinnon to claim the Hart Trophy. 

The more concerning trend is that MacKinnon is operating above expected. His actual goals-for rating of 56.4% and 1.004 PDO indicate that he’s above where he should be at 5-on-5. Across all strengths, his difference between expected and actual goals-for percentage jumps to -2.0%, and his PDO inflates to 1.019.

In reconciling expected metrics with actual production, MacKinnon is overachieving. If his production dips before the end of the season, it will negatively impact his Hart Trophy status.

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Solid Supporting Cast

What that points to is MacKinnon skating next to superb linemates. Floating between Mikko Rantanen and Jonathan Drouin and with Cale Makar acting as a solid supporting member, MacKinnon has benefitted from playing with some of the best finishers in the game, albeit inflating his numbers beyond sustainable levels. 

When MacKinnon, Rantanen, and Drouin are skating on a line together, they’ve accounted for 57 goals across all strengths. When it’s just MacKinnon and Rantanen, they’ve been on the ice for 54 goals. But MacKinnon, all by himself, has been on the ice for a measly 11. 

MacKinnon’s great, but he doesn’t look nearly as good without being flanked by Rantanen and Drouin. 

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Final Thoughts

Voters may be tempted to award MacKinnon the Hart Trophy based on his consistent top-end production.

But he’s far from the most deserving player. 

Connor McDavid (+340) remains the pre-eminent analytics player. Connor Hellebuyck (+3500) is without question the “player adjudged to be most valuable to his team.” And, as mentioned, there are more than a few players with more impressive resumes than MacKinnon. 

More than any other player in the league, MacKinnon benefits from skating next to elite linemates. It’s hard to credit him for being the best player in the league when he barely keeps his head above water without Rantanen and Drouin. If production falters as anticipated, any one of the players behind him could usurp MacKinnon for the distinction as Hart Trophy chalk. 

At this point, anyone else from a playoff team is worth the investment.

Odds Courtesy FanDuel Sportsbook

Thumbnail photo via USA TODAY Sports Images

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