Leon Draisaitl, Nathan MacKinnon or Artemi Panarin? They represented the three finalists for the Hart Trophy for NHL MVP and the Ted Lindsay Award for most outstanding player as voted by the players. Each had passionate camps of supporters.
Edmonton Oilers center Draisaitl lapped the field offensively with 110 points in 71 games, clearing the runner-up, his teammate Connor McDavid, by 13 points. New York Rangers left winger Panarin arguably had the strongest overall impact on driving the play. Colorado Avalanche center MacKinnon was a blend of both, an offensive dynamo who also carried his team on his back when his teammates were injured.
The results for the Hart, voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association, and the Lindsay, voted on by the NHLPA, were revealed by the NHL along with several other major awards Monday night in a virtual ceremony. Draisaitl won both big ones. His Hart and Lindsay combine with his Art Ross Trophy to make him 2019-20’s most decorated player.
Draisaitl, 24, became the fourth Oiler to win the Hart and Lindsay in the same season, joining McDavid, Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier. Draisaitl is the first German NHLer to win the Hart or Lindsay and joins surefire basketball Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki as the only Germans to win an MVP in one of the ‘Big Four’ major pro sports.
“Dirk is obviously someone I look up to and admire, the way he presents himself and the way he really has achieved everything there is to achieve for a professional athlete in North America,” Draisaitl said Monday during a Zoom call from his native Germany, where it was the middle of the night. “He’s always been someone I’ve looked up to, and it’s a big honor to be in that conversation with him."
In some years, the PHWA skews toward the literal definition of the Hart and picks the player who was most valuable to his team. We saw that in 2017-18 when Taylor Hall won it while McDavid won the Lindsay. Other years, the votes are easy and one player is the most outstanding and the most valuable. That was the case last season when Nikita Kucherov took the Hart and Lindsay.
This season? It was arguably a vote for amazing numbers over all-around impact. Draisaitl was an absolute horse for the Oilers. His 22:37 of average ice time led all NHL forwards and is the second-highest mark of any forward in the past seven seasons. His 1.55 points per game was the second-best rate this millennium behind Kucherov’s 1.56 last season. Draisaitl racked up a league-high 44 power-play points for a stupendous Edmonton unit that converted at the highest rate of any team since the 1978-79 New York Islanders.
He was an absolute juggernaut of a scorer whom the Oilers entrusted for tons of minutes. During a six-game stretch with McDavid shelved due to injury, Draisaitl stepped up with 12 points, playing more than 25 minutes a night over that span. That likely did a lot to show voters he was more than just McDavid’s second fiddle, as did Draisaitl’s big late-season surge playing on a line with Ryan-Nugent Hopkins and Kailer Yamamoto.
“It means a lot," Draisaitl said. "I know the comments or what a lot of people think. My opinion was always a little different, but everyone has their own opinion. Obviously I found some chemistry with 'Yammo' and 'Nuge.' We clicked at the end and had a good run, so that definitely helped. The whole team throughout the entire year, the coaching staff, the trust they put in me, getting me out there over and over again even though I probably didn’t deserve it at times, I’m just very thankful for that. I think Connor and I have a really healthy, great competition and relationship. And we just try to make each other better every day."
But if you really want to get technical about the Hart vote: Draisaitl’s all-round impact compared to those of his fellow finalists is debatable. Among 334 forwards with at least 500 minutes played at 5-on-5 this season, Draisaitl ranked 36th in goals per 60, 21st in primary assists per 60, eighth in points per 60 and 171st in shots per 60. Panarin and MacKinnon bested him in most major individual per-60 stat categories. MacKinnon, for instance, led the NHL in primary assists per 60 despite spending chunks of the season missing his star linemates Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog.
The Oilers were also outshot and outchanced at 5-on-5 with Draisaitl on the ice this season and had a goal differential of just plus-7. So he wasn't exactly a shutdown player on the defensive side of the puck.
But hey, Oilers Nation, it’s OK. Celebrate the award wins. Draisaitl is an otherworldly talent. As the Lindsay Award attests, he’s as gifted as any player on the planet right now, a thrilling blend of size, smarts, puck-protection skill and flat-out finishing ability. It just happens to be one of those years in which the Hart skews toward “most talented” rather than the player who made the largest impact for his team.
MAKAR TOPS HUGHES FOR THE CALDER
The most hotly debated NHL award race all season was arguably that of the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year. Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes are, together, the two most offensively dominant rookie defensemen since Brian Leetch in 1988-89. They became the first two freshman blueliners since 1992-93 to eclipse 50 points. They are constantly compared to one another. Praising one over the other ignites furious Twitter arguments.
In the end, the Avalanche’s Makar got the nod for the Calder, earning 111 first-place votes to Hughes' 53. As for the comparison talk? Makar may not be driving the conversation, but he enjoys it.
“It’s not something I think about all the time,” Makar said Monday via Zoom. “Obviously you see everything in the media. I’m not somebody who goes and reads everything. But it’s awesome. I love comparisons, and I feel we have very similar styles of play. I think it’s important that, especially as a young guy, you’re able to watch other guys play, whether it’s veterans like (Roman) Josi or (Victor) Hedman or younger guys like Hughes and (Miro) Heiskanen. You need to be able to take little things from everybody’s game and add those aspects to your game in order to improve.”
Also awarded Monday night:
Norris Trophy (best defenseman): Roman Josi, Nashville Predators
Vezina Trophy (best goaltender): Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets