The Hart Trophy, according to the definition in the NHL Official Guide & Record Book, is awarded “to the player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team.”
And, to be sure, the three players who have been named finalists – New Jersey's Taylor Hall, Los Angeles' Anze Kopitar and Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon – turned in dominant, MVP-caliber seasons. The three forwards all ranked among the league's top 10 in scoring, they provided an inordinate amount of their team's offense, and ultimately powered their club back into the post-season after missing in 2016-17.
In short, it's very difficult to argue with the three candidates for NHL MVP honors.
But argue we will.
Because, let's face it, if Edmonton's Connor McDavid isn't a finalist after figuring in on nearly half of the Oilers' goals this season, then the definition needs to be changed, pronto, and let's start giving the Hart Trophy “to the player adjudged to be the most valuable to his playoff team.”
OK, we're half-kidding, but it wouldn't really change too much. The last time the Hart Trophy went to a player on a non-playoff team was 30 years ago, when Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux was named league MVP on the strength of a 70-goal, 168-point campaign. The Penguins missed the playoffs by a single point in 1987-88, but Lemieux had 14 more goals than the next guy (Craig Simpson, 56) and 19 more points (Wayne Gretzky, 149), and it was enough to earn the Penguins legend the first of his three Hart Trophies.
Fast-forward to this season. McDavid, like Lemieux, won the scoring race, although it was a lot closer (six points), and he finished eight goals back of Alex Ovechkin's league-leading total. And while the '87-88 Penguins missed the playoffs by the slimmest of margins (one point), the 2017-18 Oilers missed by a mile (17 points). Lemieux's runaway triumph in the scoring race – did we mention he scored 70 goals in 77 games? – couldn't be ignored, and he was a deserving Hart winner.
More to the point, though, he was a deserving Hart nominee. His team didn't make the playoffs, but that didn't – nor should it – diminish Lemieux's superlative contribution. He had a great season playing for a (relatively speaking) bad team. The same holds true for McDavid. He had a great season playing for a (relatively speaking) bad team. That the Oilers took a step back and missed the playoffs shouldn't automatically mean that McDavid misses out on a chance at a second straight Hart.
To be clear, we're not saying that McDavid should win the Hart, necessarily. (From this corner, MacKinnon or Hall would be the most worthy recipients.) But the apparent prerequisite of making the playoffs before you can be considered an MVP candidate is, well, just plain wrong. It eliminates half of the league right out of the gates. It's arbitrary, it's unfair, and it's completely irrelevant when judging which player was "the most valuable to his team."