Okay, let’s be realistic, the Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid is running away with the NHL’s Hart Memorial Trophy this season. However, it’s important to remember that there are three nominees for the award and I believe that the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov should at least be nominated.
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The Hart Trophy is awarded annually to the player deemed most valuable to their team in the NHL. The 2022-23 season has produced some amazing players, but perhaps none are as valuable as Kucherov is to the Lightning.
So far this season, Kucherov has not missed a game—playing all 70 games. In that span, he has produced 99 points. Let’s break those numbers down to see why he is the best player on the team and worthy of Hart consideration.
Kucherov’s Point Production
During the entire 2022-23 regular season, Kucherov has teetered near the top of the NHL’s leaderboard in both total points and assists. Currently he sits second in the league in assists at 72, four behind McDavid, and he is in third place for total points.
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For the past five years or so, Kucherov has been among the best players at points-per-game. This season, he is scoring 1.41 points per game, which ranks him fourth in the league. His 43 power-play points place him fourth in the league.
Valuable to the Lightning
However, as impressive as Kucherov’s statistics are, the Hart Trophy isn’t awarded to the player who produces the most—it is given to the player who is the most valuable to his team. His incredible 128-point-season in 2018-19, the most by a Russian-born player in a single NHL season, propelled him past McDavid to win the Hart Trophy that season.
Playing on the top line, Kucherov makes his teammates better. Brandon Hagel, who has joined him on the first line for most of this season, is having a career year with 56 points. His 27 goals are the most in his career. Brayden Point, his steady partner on the top line is ranked fifth in the league with 43 goals. With Kucherov’s 35 assists on the man advantage, the Lightning are third in the league on the power play.
Coach Jon Cooper recognized Kucherov’s evolving leadership within the team and named him an alternate captain early in the 2022-23 season.
It’s too bad that the league doesn’t count the points that players score in the postseason when deciding winners of the major awards, including the Hart Trophy. If so, then Kucherov would be the perennial winner for the MVP. There is no doubt that the Lightning would not have won two Stanley Cups without him. His reputation for scoring big-time goals increases each postseason. For example, after missing the entire 2020-21 season, he scored two goals and had an assist in his first postseason game against the Florida Panthers.
During the Lightning’s run to their third consecutive Stanley Cup Final, Kucherov led the team with 27 points in 23 games. He has scored 90 points over the last three postseasons and has 154 points in 136 career playoff games.
Kucherov Is All About Championships
So, let McDavid win all the awards—he is certainly deserving of all the recognition he receives as the league’s most dynamic player. But I wonder if he would trade all the accolades for just one Stanley Cup. I bet he would. For Kucherov, it’s all about winning games in the playoffs and bringing the Cup back home to Tampa.
His clutch performances in the postseason are legendary and the Lightning are counting on Kucherov to lead them to another championship. If he does, then there is no doubt that he is the most valuable player in the NHL.