5 Longshots for the 2022-23 Hart Trophy

There is no higher individual honor in the National Hockey League than the Hart Trophy. Chosen by the Professional Hockey Writers Association (PHWA) and awarded “to the player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team,” it has been the crowning achievement of all of the game’s greatest superstars (including Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky, and Gordie Howe, among others).

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This year, it’s clear that the last two winners, Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid, have the inside track to winning the award again. But every hockey season is a new challenge, with unexpected hurdles and growing superstars. An injury that costs a player a few weeks can certainly cost him an award as selective as the Hart Trophy. And a player’s team circumstances always play a huge role in his selection for the award. So, without further ado, let’s wrap up our series on NHL Awards longshots by talking about the prestigious Hart Trophy.

Aleksander Barkov

Odds: +1500

Things have changed quite a bit this offseason for the Florida Panthers. The massive and shocking blockbuster that brought Matthew Tkachuk to Sunrise also sent longtime team superstar Jonathan Huberdeau to the Calgary Flames (we’ll touch on him in a moment). As great an addition as Tkachuk is, there is now no doubt that Aleksander Barkov is the centerpiece of the Panthers’ offense and the face of the franchise.

Aleksander Barkov Florida Panthers
Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Panthers are a fantastic team, the reigning Presidents’ Trophy champions, but they have a new identity, and Barkov will lead the way to proving that their front office made the right decisions in the summer. Already a former Selke Trophy winner, a step forward offensively could make him a strong contender for the Hart Trophy. Weegar and Huberdeau scored a combined 159 points that the Panthers will be looking to replace. If Barkov adds just a small percentage of that total to the 88 he scored last season, he’ll be right near the top of the points-scoring race. From there, it’s up to the PHWA voters to decide that he made a big enough difference for his team to take home the Hart Trophy. But he’s clearly got an edge as the team’s new face.

Jonathan Huberdeau

Odds: +1500

Now we move to the other side of that trade. Flames general manager Brad Treliving pulled off a coup when he managed to lose Tkachuk and franchise superstar Johnny Gaudreau and still keep his team possibly the top contender in the Pacific Division. And a big part of that instant rebuild process was the acquisition of Huberdeau, who reached an incredible career-high 115 points in 2021-22. That earned him a fifth-place finish in Hart Trophy voting last season. But now, especially after signing a long-term extension with Calgary, he has to prove that he can continue to perform at a top level in a new home. If he does — and comes anywhere close to the 115 points he managed the season prior — he certainly will be in the conversation for the Hart Trophy again.

Cale Makar

Odds: +2000

There is no question that Cale Makar is among the league’s truly elite players — some even rank him as high as third behind McDavid and Matthews. But he’s a defenseman. And you have to go all the way back to the 1999-2000 season to find the last defenseman (Chris Pronger) who won a Calder Trophy. Makar has a big mountain to climb if he wants to join Pronger and Bobby Orr as the only blueliners to win the award since 1970.

Related: Avalanche’s Makar Should Set Sights on Hart Trophy

But few defensemen, if any, in that time have had the skillset Makar has. No one expects his 86-point explosion last season to be an anomaly. At just 23, he could continue to improve — a thought that should horrify his competition. Makar is such an extraordinary talent, it’s hard to see how he doesn’t win a Hart Trophy at some point in his career. Could this be the year?

Jack Eichel

Odds: +2500

It’s been a hard few seasons for Jack Eichel. He had a debilitating neck injury, which led to a battle with the Buffalo Sabres over the form of his treatment and his eventual ugly departure from the Queen City. Then, when he could finally return to the ice with the Vegas Golden Knights, he struggled to regain his form, and Vegas missed the postseason for the first time in franchise history. Now that he is finally healthy and with a good team, he is ready to rebound with the Golden Knights.

Jack Eichel Vegas Golden Knights
Jack Eichel, Vegas Golden Knights (Photo by Jeff Bottari/NHLI via Getty Images)

But no one doubts Eichel’s elite skill level. The second-overall pick in 2015 would have been the first pick in just about any other draft that didn’t have McDavid at the top of it. He looked like a superstar in Buffalo before injuries threw him off track. Now, he’s playing with a hungry team and the ultimate motivation: proving his doubters wrong. If he has a resurgent season and helps Vegas back to the playoffs, there will be more than a few PHWA members attracted to his story of redemption.

David Pastrňák

Odds: +3500

Speaking of motivation, there are few motivations better than a looming contract negotiation, and David Pastrňák is in the final season of his current deal. Moreover, the Boston Bruins may be in their “last hoorah” with the iconic lineup that has made them one of the toughest teams in the league for over a decade. We already discussed how Pastrňák is a longshot for the Rocket Richard Trophy. If he does explode in the goal-scoring department and helps the Bruins take advantage of their “Last Dance,” he certainly has a shot at contending for the Hart Trophy.

Who Did We Overlook?

You’ve seen our list of the top five underdogs for the Hart Trophy. But who did we overlook? Besides these five, which longshots do you consider potential dark horses for the game’s top award? Let us know in the comments. The season has started, and pretty soon, the pretenders and contenders will begin to separate themselves. Within a few weeks, the awards discussion will begin for real. Until then, let us know who you think has the inside track.

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