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Even with the NHL season on pause due to COVID-19, there are many candidates under consideration to hoist the Hart Memorial Trophy.
One could immediately look at David Pastrnak, who has cooked up scorching-hot pasta within the “Perfection Line” the Boston Bruins have at their disposal. Instead of the pasta man, one could look at the bread man in Artemi Panarin, who has put together a career year that has helped put the New York Rangers back on the map. Another candidate could be Nathan MacKinnon, who has been the only top-line Colorado player who has stayed healthy all season. Perhaps, Connor McDavid would be the pick, as he is the youngest of the group, and, potentially, the most explosive.
One could also look at McDavid’s teammate in Leon Draisaitl, the 24-year-old Cologne, Germany native and blooming center looking to take the Edmonton Oilers back to Stanley Cup Playoff prominence.
In fact, the confetti should fly, the ribbon should be cut with ceremonial scissors and the crowd should be cheering already, as he is your 2019-2020 Hart Memorial Trophy winner.
Bold statement, Cotton, right? Well, not so much, in fact.
Draisaitl, through 71 games played, has 110 points (43 G, 67 A), giving the forward the most points in the NHL in addition to being the only player with over 100 points (the next closest is McDavid with 97). His 110 points are a career high (he had 105 in 82 games played last season) in addition to his 67 assists (his previous high came last season, where he had 55). While his 43 goals are not a career high (he tallied 50 netters last season), his 16 power-play goals tie a career high (last season). Additionally, his 44 power-play points are a career high.
Those are the numbers at face-value, and while Panarin’s 95 points (32 G, 63 A) have been extremely impressive, it does not stack up, as Draisaitl beats him at both even strength and the man-advantage. While MacKinnon has hoisted Colorado on his shoulders and carried the weight, he also loses out to Draisaitl in these categories, as his 93 points (35 G, 58 A) are very good, but not elite like Draisaitl’s.
What about Draisaitl’s teammate in McDavid? The proverbial and arguable best player in the NHL.
McDavid’s 43 power-play points trail Draisaitl’s by only one and his assist totals are close (McDavid has 63 compared to Draisaitl’s 67). However, where Draisaitl takes the cake is in his games played and average time on ice per game (ATOI), as he has played in all 71 games for Edmonton and has averaged over 22 minutes per game (22:37), first among all forwards in the sport. McDavid, while explosive, has only played in 64 games and has averaged under 22 minutes per game played (21:52).
This leaves Pastrnak, who is tied for first in the NHL in goals (48 with Washington’s Alex Ovechkin) and is first in power-play goals (20). His 95 points (48 G, 47 A) are third in the NHL, behind only the duo of Edmonton. Pastrnak is also tied for first in the NHL with Draisaitl in game-winning goals (10). Despite Draisaitl’s +/- being positive since January 1st (+13), Pastrnak, from the beginning of the season to now, still holds the overall advantage, with the forward sitting at +21.
However, despite Pastrnak being on par with (or even superior to) Draisaitl in several key areas, what puts Draisaitl over the top?
The definition for “Most Valuable Player” is as age-old as they come. However, this definition, to many, revolves around where the team would be with and without the player in question.
When you look at the Boston Bruins, they are close to a complete team. Excluding Pastrnak, the Bruins possess seven skaters with at least 30 points. Their goaltending duo in Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak are both top-10 goalies in the NHL in Goals Against Average (GAA). Their defensive players, led by Torey Krug, Charlie McAvoy and 43-year-old Zdeno Chara are among the most physical and fastest players in the NHL at that position.
Edmonton, meanwhile, is not so deep, top to bottom, when looking at the roster. Excluding both Hart contenders in Draisaitl and McDavid, the Oilers have only five players with more than 30 points. Their goaltending duo in Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith is serviceable, but not elite, with both goaltender’s sporting a 2.75 and 2.95 GAA, respectively. While defensively the Oilers have nice pieces in Darnell Nurse and Ethan Bear, Edmonton does not bring the same pedigree and hard-hitting power the Bruins have at the same position.
Even when not looking at roster construction, the Oilers have had to deal with more inconsistencies and injuries during the season, with McDavid, young phenom Kailer Yamamoto and veteran forward James Neal (who was raising eyebrows earlier in the season with his power-play production) all missing time. Through it all, however, Draisaitl has remained healthy and productive.
Pastrnak has been amazing this season, but when you look at the definition of “Most Valuable Player,” the Bruins would still be relatively solid without him given the rest of the talent on the team.
If you take Draisaitl off the Oilers, the Oilers would not be a top-3 Pacific Division team. Arguably, they would not even be a playoff team.
It is true that the Panarin’s, MacKinnon’s, McDavid’s and Pastrnak’s of the world have been extremely productive from an individual and team standpoint. However, given the individual production and overall team value, Draisaitl surpasses all.
No matter what happens with the NHL season, the fact should still hold true: Leon Draisaitl is, far and away, your 2019-2020 Hart Memorial Trophy winner.