Despite once again looking like the best player on the planet, Connor McDavid may not be the Hart Trophy favourite. Here’s why.
With only 12 games left in the season, Connor McDavid has a stranglehold on the NHL scoring lead with 105 points, four ahead of Draisaitl, and eight ahead of the next non-Oiler, Jonathan Huberdeau. Despite this, as of right now, the consensus seems to be that Auston Matthews will win the Hart Trophy. I’m not saying that winning the Art Ross should get you the Hart, but the fact is that if you lead the lead in scoring you’ll probably win the Hart. Five of the last six Hart winners also led the league scoring, and all six won the Ted Lindsay. So why is it that this year, Matthews seems to be the favourite? Here’s what I think.
Quick side note: Until about two weeks ago, Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin seemed to have a fairly substantial lead in the Hart race, but he’s had a pretty big slump since then. While he isn’t necessarily out of the race, I’ll be focusing on Matthews for the purposes of this article.
When it comes to his case for the Hart Trophy, there seem to be three main arguments that people use to support Auston Matthews. He leads the league in goals, he has better two-way play, and he doesn’t benefit from Draisaitl. Let’s take a look at why those arguments may not have as much credence as some people think.
The first argument that Matthews leads the league in goals is actually pretty strong, but only in a vacuum. When it comes down to it, a goal is worth more than an assist, and Matthews has 11 more goals than McDavid, in six fewer games. The issue with this argument lies in Leon Draisaitl, who despite only having one less goal and 13 more points than Matthews, is scarcely brought up in Hart conversations. This seems to be a case of picking a stat that fits the narrative that people want to tell, which is admittedly something that I love doing, but it creates a pretty weak argument when examined further.
The second argument is that Matthews has a better defensive game, which I feel like has been the most hotly contested topic this year. Advanced metrics are something that people like to use a lot here, but even with those, depending on what model you use, there isn’t a consensus on who’s better. On a base level, McDavid’s +/- of 21 is currently 10 higher than Matthews’ but there are people who would swear that Matthews should win the Selke. The reality is though, that the gap between two players’ defensive games isn’t significant enough to really affect their Hart cases. If I’m being totally honest though, Matthews is better defensively. Again though, the gap isn’t as wide as some people make it out to be, and given how insane McDavid is offensively, this part of his game is pretty inconsequential.
The final big argument seems to be that McDavid plays with Draisaitl, which boosts his stats. To put it bluntly, this is a laughably bad argument, and if you use it, I suggest you go and purchase some white face paint, a colourful wig, and a big red nose. To begin with, as you would know if you’ve seen an Oilers game this season, for the most part, McDavid and Draisaitl do not play on the same line. They play together on the powerplay and in overtime, but in case you didn’t know, every single hockey team on the planet puts their best players together in those situations. To add to this, while he’s no Draisaitl, Matthews plays with Mitch Marner, who himself is a very good player, quite often. The point is that both players play with other good players, and this should in no way affect their Hart cases. This case worked for Hall in 2018, but generally, this is a pretty weak argument.
With all that said, why is it that McDavid isn’t the Hart favourite? I think the answer is pretty simple. Fatigue. People don’t want to see the same thing over and over again. It exists in every sport, and honestly, I get it. You always want to look for the next big thing, and that’s fine. Auston Matthews has been incredible this year and absolutely deserves the praise he’s getting. All I’m saying is we shouldn’t let that overshadow the fact that Connor McDavid is still pretty good at hockey.