Since 1926, the Professional Hockey Writers Association has awarded the Hart Memorial Trophy to the league’s most valuable player. Due to the growing parity in the league, the Hart Trophy race has been one of the more exciting NHL Awards. Last year’s race was more crowded than a rush hour train, with nearly a dozen legitimate candidates.
Taylor Hall: One Hall of a Year
Last year’s winner, Taylor Hall, had a 39-goal, 54-assist breakout season that helped carry the New Jersey Devils to the playoffs for the first time in six years. Hall wasn’t even on the betting board when oddsmakers opened their Hart Trophy odds prior to the 2017-18 season. He came out of the blue with a monster year, surprising everyone. It was an incredible moment when he received the award inside the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on June 20, 2018, in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Hall’s numbers were head and shoulders above the rest of his team. His 93 points were almost double that of any teammate; Nico Hischier was second with 52 points, followed by Will Butcher (44) and Kyle Palmieri (44). Only two other Devils hit the 20-goal mark, Palmieri (24) and Hischier (20).
Had the Devils not made the playoffs, Hall would likely have been passed over for the award. The last non-playoff bound team with a Hart winner was Mario Lemieux in 1988. It’s only happened five times in NHL history. Connor McDavid, the Edmonton Oilers phenom who led the NHL in points in 2017-18, likely didn’t win the award last season because his team failed to make the playoffs.
The chances of Hall winning it this year are diminished. If the Devils jump up in the standings, it will likely be the result of his teammates stepping up. If Hall has another terrific year and the Devils get a low seeding, his accomplishments will not be perceived as impressive. That said, Hall has the sixth-best odds to win it again this year.
2018-19 Hart Trophy Favorites
Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby sit atop the NHL MVP odds leaderboard for good reason. McDavid, the youngest winner in the last ten years, was only 20 when he won the award in 2016-17. He put up 30 goals and 70 assists while carrying his Oilers into the playoffs for the first time since 2006. Crosby won the award in 2006-07 when he poured in 120 points (36 goals, 84 assists) and in 2013-14 when he tallied 104 points (36 goals, 68 assists).
The next tier includes John Tavares and Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals at 10/1. Big things are expected from Tavares who will be playing in Toronto and donning his hometown sweater. Last season, he had the second-best offensive year of his career and he’s slated to be the second line center behind Matthews this season. Even if J.T. has a killer year, he’d only split the vote on his own team. Last season, Ovechkin, a three-time Hart winner, led the league in goals for the 7th time and barely missed the 50-goal mark, which would have been the 8th he’s scored over 50 in a season.
The next tier includes Hall, Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche at 15/1. Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings finished third in voting last season and the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin opened at 18/1, with Chicago Blackhawk, Patrick Kane at 20/1.
Here is Bovada’s full list of MVP odds:
Connor McDavid: 10/3
Sidney Crosby: 13/2
Auston Matthews: 10/1
Alexander Ovechkin: 10/1
John Tavares: 10/1
Taylor Hall: 15/1
Nikita Kucherov: 15/1
Nathan MacKinnon: 15/1
Mark Scheifele: 15/1
Anze Kopitar: 18/1
Evgeni Malkin: 18/1
Patrick Kane: 20/1
Claude Giroux: 25/1
Brad Marchand: 25/1
Steven Stamkos: 25/1
Vladimir Tarasenko: 25/1
Jack Eichel: 33/1
Jamie Benn: 40/1
Patrik Laine: 40/1
Nicklas Backstrom: 50/1
Filip Forsberg: 50/1
Johnny Gaudreau: 50/1
Ilya Kovalchuk: 50/1
Evgeny Kuznetsov: 50/1
Artemi Panarin: 50/1
Tyler Seguin: 50/1
Blake Wheeler: 50/1
Logan Couture: 66/1
Phil Kessel: 75/1
Joe Pavelski: 75/1
Aleksander Barkov: 100/1
Jonathan Marchessault: 100/1
David Pastrnak: 100/1
Alexander Radulov: 100/1
Good Money Bets
There are several sleepers worth watching that could provide a nice return.
Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche (15/1)
MacKinnon carried the Colorado Avalanche to the playoffs, posting 39 goals and 97 points in 2017-18. He led the league in points/60 minutes and was a finalist for the Hart and Ted Lindsay Awards. It was no fluke that he vaulted the Avs to a 47-point improvement over their previous season. His 1.31 points-per-game average was second in the league.
Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning: 15/1
Kucherov had a career-best 39 goals and 61 assists for 100 points last season. He became only the third Lightning player to hit the 100-point mark and was the sole reason Steven Stamkos hit his career-high assist mark. While he might have been the MVP of the first half of the season, he was not named one of the three Hart finalists. With goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy playing well, Kucherov did not always get the love he deserved.
Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers (25/1)
Last season, Giroux’s 102 points led the Flyers into the playoffs and he finished fourth in Hart voting. With a hat trick in Game 82 of the regular season, the captain notched the franchise’s first 100-point campaign since Eric Lindros’ in 1995-96. The move to left wing meant Sean Couturier could center the first line, which he did admirably, more than doubling his output (34 points in 2016-17 to 76 points in 2017-18). Giroux has finished in the top four for the Hart Trophy three times in his career. With James van Riemsdyk re-acquired and bolstering the second line, Giroux could excel even more.
Steven Stamkos, Lightning (25/1)
Finally healthy, Stamkos proved again last season that he’s one of the league’s elite forwards. The captain of the Lightning tallied 27 goals and a career-high 59 assists. With the Bolts expected to be vying for the Stanley Cup, Stamkos’ name will likely be in the conversation.
Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres (33/1)
As his eight-year, $80 million contract kicks in, coupled with the strongest roster surrounding him since he’s been in the NHL, and the mojo of changing his sweater to No. 9, Eichel could help vault the Buffalo Sabres from cellar dwellers to playoff contenders. He’s been a point-per-game guy on the league’s worst team; a team that couldn’t score 200 goals last year.
With Jeff Skinner and Sam Reinhart (the one from the second half of last season), there’s no reason to think that Eichel can’t put up 100 points, vaulting the Sabres over the Panthers for a wild-card berth. If–and that’s a big if– that happens, he could be holding Hart Trophy hardware next summer.
Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars (50/1)
The Dallas Stars All-Star forward has had tremendous success with Alexander Radulov and Jamie Benn, putting up his first 40-goal season. Plus, he’s entering the last year of his contract which pays him $6.5 million. If he can bring prosperity to the Stars, the 50-to-1 odds will make for a generous payout.
Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders (no odds given)
Not listing Barzal on the board is throwing some serious shade at the Tavares-less Islanders. But if head coach Barry Trotz and general manager Lou Lamoriello find a way to get their team in the playoffs, it’ll be because of the 21-year-old from Coquitlam, British Columbia. Barzal’s 85-point rookie season was just the tip of the iceberg.
- In the last 15 years, every Hart winner has been a forward, with the exception of Carey Price in 2014-15.
- Since 1998-99, 14 of the 18 Hart winners have been a center or winger who led the NHL in goals or points.
- Even more telling, history shows that a player’s team must make the playoffs for him to win the award.
- Nine of the last 13 (69%) Hart Trophy winners in the post-lockout era have played in the Eastern Conference.
- The Eastern Conference has four of the top five contenders.
- Over the last ten years, the median age of Hart Trophy winners is 28 years.
- Alex Ovechkin was the last player to win the Hart Trophy in back-to-back seasons (2007-08 and 2008-09).
Jeff has been covering the NHL for over a decade for various sites. He’s been with The Hockey Writers as a lead Sabres writer three years, while also writing a satire column called “Off the Crossbar.”