The 2018 Hart Trophy race is one of the most fascinating ones we have seen in recent years because there really isn’t anyone that stands out head and shoulders above the pack, while there are also probably eight or nine players that all have a compelling argument to win it. It’s also brought back that maddening debate as to what “value” actually means to a team because the league’s best — and arguably most valuable — player, Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid, is stuck on a dog excrement team that can’t do anything right when he is not on the ice, all but completely submarining his chances of winning the award for the second year in a row.
The Oilers opened the season with the second best Stanley Cup odds in the NHL and are already mathematically eliminated from playoff contention and have, for all intents and purposes, been eliminated for at least half of the season.
That, in the eyes of many MVP voters, will disqualify McDavid from winning.
Maybe from even being a finalist.
Whether he wins the award or is a finalist or not, he is by any objective measure one of the most valuable players in the league this season. Maybe the most. If he played on a better team his performance would make him a slam dunk finalist. He might even win it. Given voting history, he probably would win it.
That is what is perhaps most maddening about this entire thing.
Teams that have players like him usually are better, and they should be better, and it’s a damning indictment on the Oilers organization that they are not better with a player like him on their roster. McDavid’s season presents such a firestorm of debate because we almost never see a season where a player this good, and this dominant, plays on a team this bad.
[Related: Connor McDavid may author one of NHL’s best wasted seasons]
With still four games remaining in the Oilers’ season McDavid has already scored 41 goals and recorded 103 points. He is almost certainly going to win the scoring title for the second year in a row, becoming the first player since Jaromir Jagr in the late 1990s to do so. He is also a back-to-back 100-point player in an era where 100-point seasons have all but disappeared. He has two in three years in the league. The rest of the league over that stretch has one.
Over the past 25 years there have been 36 teams that had at least one player hit the 40-goal, 100-point milestones. Out of that group, 32 of those teams made the playoffs. The only exceptions are McDavid’s Oilers, the 2005-06 Washington Capitals (Ovechkin’s rookie season on a clearly rebuilding team), the 1995-96 Anaheim Ducks (a third-year NHL franchise) with Paul Kariya, and the 1993-94 Philadelphia Flyers with Mark Recchi.
Nine of those teams with such a player went as far as the Conference Finals that year. Seven of them played in the Stanley Cup Final.
Only four Art Ross winners since 1980 have played on teams that missed the playoffs (Jamie Benn in 2014-15, Martin St. Louis in 2012-13, Jarome Iginla in 2001-02, and Mario Lemieux in 1987-88).
Iginla was the runner-up in his non-playoff Art Ross year. Lemieux won it in his year.
But McDavid doesn’t play on a better team. His team, independent of him, stinks.
Because hockey is a sport where the best and most impactful players (outside of the goalie) only play, at most, a third of the game there really isn’t an individual player, outside of maybe the occasional goalie (think Carey Price in 2014-15), that is going to single handedly drag a bad team to the playoffs.
Contrary to what you might have been told this season in other MVP arguments, there is no one really doing that for any of the bubble playoff teams, either.
Taylor Hall in New Jersey might be the player that is closest to doing that because even though the Devils have built a young, fast team that is on the rise, they’ve also been hammered by injuries and haven’t really had anything better than average goaltending. of course, average goaltending is better than whatever it is the Oilers are getting from a worn down and overworked Cam Talbot and their bad backups. The Devils, with a three-point lead over a Florida team that still has two games in hand on them, are also not a lock to make the playoffs.
Nathan MacKinnon’s breakthrough year is big reason the Colorado Avalanche have gone from being one of the worst teams the NHL has seen in decades a season ago to a potential playoff team this season. He has been absolutely amazing this season. But it is not just him behind that turnaround. The Avalanche also have another top-15 scorer on their roster in Mikko Rantanen and a goaltending duo that has combined for the ninth best save percentage in the NHL. The latter part being a pretty big development. The Avalanche, as of Friday morning, are on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture.
Pretty much any other MVP contender you can throw into the discussion plays on a team that has multiple impact players and better supporting casts around them. If you think that makes them more valuable than the league’s leading scorer and one of the most single dominant players in the game, more power to you.
I also disagree with you. Strongly.
When it comes to contributions to his team, creating wins, and, yes, adding value to his team, there may not be a better and more impactful player in the league than McDavid.
He has a point in 71 percent of the Oilers’ games.
He has contributed, by either scoring or assisting, on 46 percent of his team’s goals, which is just an obscene number.
His 13 three-point games this season are tied for the most in the league with MacKinnon.
Do you know the significance of a three-point game? When a team has a player record three points in a single game that team wins the game more than 90 percent of the time. It means his team has scored at least three goals, and in the NHL in 2017-18 three goals is more often than not enough to win a game on its own.
Somehow, in typical Oilers fashion, they have found a way to lose three of McDavid’s three-point games (a .769 winning percentage).
He has 30 games with at least two points (nearly 40 percent of the Oilers’ games), tied for most in the league with Kucherov
When he is on the ice during 5-on-5 play the Oilers are outscoring their opponents by 22 goals.
That is the level you see from playoff teams.
When he is not on the ice, the Oilers have been outscored by 30 goals. That is the level you see from lottery teams. That is also a 52-goal swing depending only on whether or not McDavid is on the ice. It is not uncommon for teams to be worse — or even slightly outscored — when their best player is not on the ice. It happens in most cases. It does not usually happen to this extreme.
The only three players and teams in the league that see anything close to that sort of swing is Taylor Hall and the Devils, Claude Giroux with the Philadelphia Flyers, and, shockingly, Mat Barzal with the New York Islanders.
When Hall is on the ice the Devils are outscoring their opponents by 17 goals. They get outscored by 23 without him (a 40-goal swing). The Flyers own a plus-22 goal differential with Giroux on the ice and have been outscored by 16 without him (a 38-goal swing). It’s a 37-goal difference for Barzal and the Islanders (plus-12 with him, minus-27 without him).
At the other end of that spectrum, the Lightning actually outscore their opponents by 23 goals when Nikita Kucherov is not on the ice (they are plus-21 with him). The Kings outscore their opponents by 18 goals when Kopitar is not on the ice (plus-13 with him).
When McDavid does not record a point in a game the Oilers’ points percentage on the season is only .181.
Want to see how that compares to the other top-20 scorers in the NHL at the moment?
They are 3-17-2 when he does not get on the scoresheet.
That means they are 31-20-6 when he does. That is actually a pretty good record!
Every single number you look at it it paints two crystal clear pictures. The first is that McDavid is probably the best and most impactful player in the league.
The second is that the Oilers organization around him is a raging tire fire that has squandered three years of the best and most impactful player in the league while that player was making peanuts against the salary cap.
As great as McDavid is and has been he is not so far above the rest of the pack that it should make him a slam dunk winner. Giroux has a great — and really underrated — argument. Hall and MacKinnon are in there, too. But if we are being honest none of them have really contributed to their teams what McDavid has or impacted the game the way McDavid has.
Nobody in the league has.
That is value. That is incredible value. It remains true no matter how bad the rest of McDavid’s team is.
The Oilers wasted it. By doing so they not only gave McDavid one less shot at a Stanley Cup in his career, they took away the chance for him to make some individual history as well.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.