It’s only the middle of November, we’ve got a long way to go before the hardware gets handed out. But everybody appreciates some positive reinforcement and it’s never too early to hand out a few stick taps.
With that in mind, here’s a look at team-by-team MVPs as the 2018-19 NHL regular season hits the first-quarter pole:
Anaheim Ducks: John Gibson
At first glance, you might fixate on the fact he’s won only six times in 17 decisions. Or that his 2.55 goals-against average is barely on the periphery of the league’s top 20 goalies. But then you see his sparkling .928 save percentage even though he’s faced the second-most shots in the league – 585 in 17 games, nearly 35 shots against per game – and you realize the Ducks would a lot worse off if not for Gibson’s heroics this season.
Arizona Coyotes: Michael Grabner
Antti Raanta was great before going down with injury, Clayton Keller drives the offense and Oliver-Ekman Larsson does everything else. You can bet that one of those three players will take season-ending team MVP honors for the Coyotes. But let’s recognize Grabner for his part on Arizona’s absolutely lethal penalty-killing unit. Not only do the Coyotes rank first overall in PK efficiency, they’ve already scored an astounding 10 shorthanded goals. Grabner leads the way with four shorties, and he’s assisted on a couple others.
Boston Bruins: David Pastrnak
No argument if you prefer Patrice Bergeron, but Pastrnak’s near goal-a-game pace is a beautiful thing.
Buffalo Sabres: Jeff Skinner
The pending UFA already has 14 goals, right behind Pastrnak in the NHL’s goal-scoring race. Talk about good timing.
Calgary Flames: David Rittich
Mike Smith is struggling more than any other starting goalie in the league, making backup Rittich’s breakout performance all the more important.
Carolina Hurricanes: Sebastian Aho
The 21-year-old center kicked off the season with a 12-game point streak and he hasn’t really slowed down. A star in the making.
Chicago Blackhawks: Patrick Kane
Kane (12), Jonathan Toews (9) and Alex DeBrincat (9) have combined to score 30 of Chicago’s 53 goals. Think where the Blackhawks’ offense would be without Kane. Better yet, don’t.
Colorado Avalanche: Mikko Rantanen
Nathan MacKinnon is coming off a Hart Trophy nomination, but the elusive Rantanen is leading the entire league in assists and points. You might’ve expected good things from him coming off an 84-point season as a sophomore, but a 125-point pace is another level altogether.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Artemi Panarin
He just keeps putting up points in Columbus. The question, of course, is how much longer that will be the case for the pending UFA who has indicated he’s not particularly interested in re-signing with the team.
Dallas Stars: Tyler Seguin
The Stars are a one-line team, and Seguin’s the centerpiece of said line.
Detroit Red Wings: Dylan Larkin
He’s truly taken over as the Wings’ offensive lynchpin, leading the team in scoring while playing in all situations.
Edmonton Oilers: Connor McDavid
Even the best player in the world needs a little help.
Florida Panthers: Mike Hoffman
The owner of the longest scoring streak in the NHL this season, at 15 games and counting. Linemate Evgenii Dadonov’s 12-game run deserves recognition, too.
Los Angeles Kings: Drew Doughty
It’s Doughty by default on the league’s last-place club.
Minnesota Wild: Devan Dubnyk
Everybody’s pulling on the rope in Minnesota, but Dubnyk’s delivering another Vezina-contending campaign.
Montreal Canadiens: Max Domi
There are no Ties in hockey, but there’s a Max and he’s doing great.
Nashville Predators: Filip Forsberg
Pekka Rinne has been brilliant but he missed a chunk of time with injury. Ryan Johansen and Kyle Turris are piling up assists. The defense corps continues to dominate. But Forsberg is the one putting the puck in the net. With 12 goals, his scoring prowess becomes even more important with Viktor Arvidsson, the Preds’ second-leading goal-scorer with eight, sidelined with a broken thumb for up to two months.
New Jersey Devils: Taylor Hall
Kyle Palmieri started out like a house on fire and Keith Kinkaid has stood tall in Cory Schneider’s absence. But let’s face it, it’s the reigning league MVP who is the straw that stirs the drink in New Jersey.
New York Islanders: Brock Nelson
The Isles are having success in their post-Tavares reality with a scoring-by-committee approach, and Nelson has been the top triggerman. If he ever starts clicking on the power play – nothing yet, not a goal, not a point – look out.
New York Rangers: Chris Kreider
He’s on pace for 40 goals and he’s one of just a few Rangers on the positive side of the plus/minus ledger. He wants to be part of the rebuild and beyond.
Ottawa Senators: Thomas Chabot
Uber-talented young defenseman is vying for the league scoring lead among blueliners.
Philadelphia Flyers: Claude Giroux
Same as it ever was / same as it ever was / same as it ever was [repeat]
Pittsburgh Penguins: Sidney Crosby
He probably doesn’t feel like an MVP right now, sitting on the sidelines with the Penguins floundering.
St. Louis Blues: Ryan O'Reilly
Ten-game scoring streak, 20-plus minutes a night and team-leading goal and point totals for new Blue.
San Jose Burns: Brent Burns
While Erik Karlsson tries to find his footing on the Left Coast, Burns keeps blasting shots on goal and racking up points. Honorable mentions to Joe Pavelski (13 goals) and Timo Meier (12), who are on pace to combine for nearly 100 goals.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Brayden Point
The Bolts’ big-budget stars, Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, are producing at a respectable rate, but it’s Point – tied for second in the league in goals with 14 – and fellow under-the-radar Lightning center Yanni Gourde who are really stepping up. Gourde just signed a six-year, $31-million deal. It’s going to take more than that to lock up Point long-term.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Morgan Rielly
First, it was Auston Matthews. Then he got hurt, and linemates John Tavares and Mitch Marner took over. All the while, Frederik Andersen has been providing stellar netminding. But it’s hard to overlook Rielly’s contributions, as he leads all NHL blueliners in goals and points and continues to emerge as a bona fide No. 1 defenseman.
Vancouver Canucks: Elias Pettersson
The only rookie on this list, he missed six games and he’s still running away with the Calder Trophy.
Vegas Golden Knights: Jonathan Marchessault
It’s been a lot tougher than last year’s expansion fairytale, but Marchessault is still the main cog on offense.
Washington Capitals: John Carlson
Twenty-six minutes a night, one of the Caps’ top scorers and plus/minus players, Carlson has picked up where he left off last season, which was his best in the NHL to date.
Winnipeg Jets: Mark Scheifele
Plays a lot, scores a lot, cares a lot.