Draisaitl, McDavid, Ovechkin lead Hart Trophy race

mcdavid drainait
Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images

With about a quarter of the 2021-22 NHL season in the books, PHT will break down races for major awards. This feature ends with Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Alex Ovechkin, and others vying for the Hart Trophy lead. Here are our looks at the races for the Calder Trophy, the Norris, and the Vezina.

Note: stats collected from before Wednesday’s games, unless otherwise noted. The Pro Hockey Writers Association votes for the Hart Trophy each season.

Hart Trophy race: Draisaitl, McDavid, and Ovechkin lead skaters

It’s early, but you might separate the top Hart Trophy frontrunners by a simple stat: players who came into Wednesday (Nov. 24) with at least 30 points. That boils things down to three players: Leon Draisaitl (36 points), Connor McDavid (32), and Alex Ovechkin (30).

There’s quite a drop from Ovechkin’s 30 points and Johnny Gaudreau and Nazem Kadri, who are tied for fourth in scoring with 23.

Naturally, points aren’t anything. And rank me among those who believe that goalies should get more Hart Trophy consideration. They shouldn’t be sequestered to Vezina-only, unless they do Dominik Hasek things.

But it’s also not that easy to weigh a goalie’s contributions vs. that of a forward, and defensemen make things murky, too. This post will cover a wide range of Hart Trophy hopefuls, yet you’d do well to consult the Vezina and Norris races to build cases for others.

Once again, Draisaitl and McDavid feature in Hart Trophy discussions

Last season, McDavid scored at an unthinkable level, taking the 2020-21 Hart Trophy. In 2019-20, Draisaitl won a surprise Hart Trophy after scoring 110 points in a mere 71 games. (No one else even reached 100 points; McDavid was second in the Art Ross race that season with 97 points in 67 GP.)

When it comes to scoring, it’s truly Draisaitl, McDavid, and everyone else.

For all of McDavid’s mind-melting goals this season, Draisaitl’s off to the more impressive overall start. Draisaitl doesn’t just have four more points than McDavid, he also boasts an edge in goals (18 to 12). With that, Draisaitl leads both the Hart Trophy race, the Art Ross race, and the push for a Maurice Richard Trophy.

Dig deeper, and things remain interesting.

If you’re aiming to make sweeping statements about a player, then it’s too early to reach for RAPM charts. A Draisaitl – McDavid RAPM comparison is a decent jumping off point when you’re splitting hairs in a Hart Trophy debate, though.

Draisaitl, McDavid, Ovechkin lead Hart Trophy race RAPM comparison
via Evolving Hockey

That RAPM comparison chart from Evolving Hockey hints at at least two McDavid – Draisaitl talking points.

  • Defense. Aside from winning in the playoffs, people criticize Draisaitl and McDavid for their two-way play. Those beefs were especially warranted before last season, when McDavid (in particular) caught fire on offense without sacrificing too much defense. So far this season, it seems like Draisaitl’s defensive impact is a bit ahead of McDavid.
  • Luck. This is where things are interesting for Draisaitl.

So far this season, Draisaitl’s scored 18 goals on 59 shots on goal, which translates to a 30.5 shooting percentage. Through his 496-game NHL career, Draisaitl’s shooting percentage is an already-impressive 17.7 percent.

On-ice shooting percentage is another way to quickly gauge a player riding some luck. In that regard, pucks are going in more often (17.4 on-ice shooting percentage) than usual for Draisaitl (12.1 career average).

[Draisaitl, McDavid powering Oilers once again]

In other words, Draisaitl may not be able to maintain his current two points-per-game pace. There’s not much doubt about his elite impact, though. It’s just a matter of whether he’ll finish high in Hart Trophy voting, or whether Draisaitl might win his second. (McDavid is a two-time winner.)

Ovechkin’s resounding rejuvenation

At this point in his career, people expected Alex Ovechkin to chase Wayne Gretzky’s goals record, and then maybe some team success. Considering how deadly Ovechkin remains from his “office,” a flirt or three with a Maurice Richard Trophy seemed plausible.

Yet, to make enough plays to not only be in the Richard race, but for Ovechkin to be in the Hart Trophy discussion? Stunning.

Through 19 games, Ovechkin boasts 15 goals and 15 assists for 30 points. Again, it’s surprising to see Ovechkin enjoy a 1:1 goals-to-assist ratio. Look back at 2019-20, when Ovechkin scored 49 goals and 18 assists, and it seemed like he was trending a bit toward being a specialist. Instead, he’s been a more varied danger to defenses this season.

Much like Draisaitl, there’s some puck luck for Ovechkin, who (also like Draisaitl) already boasts a shot that’s well above average. His 18.3 shooting percentage is higher than his career average (12.8) and other luck-related factors linger.

Glance at Ovechkin’s isolated impact chart at Hockey Viz, or view other metrics, and you’ll get the impression Ovechkin’s wider offensive impact slipped, and his defense dropped quite badly.

Draisaitl, McDavid, Ovechkin lead Hart Trophy race hockey viz
Via Hockey Viz

Yet, so far this season, his net impact has been elite. Ovechkin doesn’t just look viable in the Hart Trophy discussion by sheer production. He even looks strong by more nuanced measures like expected goals (via Evolving Hockey).

Really, you have to strain to nitpick, although at 36, it’s probably asking too much for Ovechkin to win his fourth Hart Trophy. Ovechkin’s performing at such a high level at age 36 that he’s accomplishing Jaromir Jagr-type feats.

You won’t see many players pull off what Ovechkin is managing, so some advice: savor it. Be thankful for it.

Goalies lead the pack of other Hart Trophy candidates

To keep this post from getting too unwieldy, this section will be limited. Again, the Norris and Vezina posts go deeper on perfectly valid options who traditionally struggle to gain votes at the same level as top-scoring forwards.

That said, here are a few names to bat around.

That said, Adam Fox and others are enjoying strong years that are worth remembering. But they’ll struggle to get more than faint mentions outside of the Norris debate.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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