Jack Hughes actually has a pretty strong case for the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP. There is just one rather large problem.
Jack Hughes is on pace to have the best offensive season in the storied history of the New Jersey Devils. He is on pace to set single season franchise records for goals and points. He is currently third in the entire NHL in goals, and seventh in points. Hughes is far and away the best the player on the Devils and so far has been the driving force leading the team to second place in the division, within striking distance of first place. No one thought it was possible for the Devils to be this good even four months ago. Yet, we are well over halfway into the season and the Devils are all but assured to reach the playoffs. The Devils are the most improved team in the league compared to last season and arguably the biggest surprise. The biggest reason for this is the continued dominance of Jack Hughes. Every time he touches the puck, he is a threat to create a goal for the Devils. Jack Hughes is easily the most valuable player to the Devils, one of the leagues best teams. If you take Jack Hughes off the Devils roster, the eastern conference and Metropolitan division standings would look very different from what they are right now. But is Hughes worthy of being named MVP of the entire NHL?
No one could possibly deny that Jack Hughes is a super star in this league that he is at times single handedly carrying the Devils towards the playoffs, much in the same way that Taylor Hall did during his MVP season of 2018. However, Hughes candidacy has a pretty big problem. That problem is known as Connor McDavid. McDavid has been a super star since before he entered the NHL in 2015, but he is having a historic season so far this year. McDavid is first in the NHL in points and goals, and he is second in the NHL in assists. Through 50 games so far, McDavid already has 92 points. (41G, 51A). McDavid’s Oilers currently sit in 4th in the Pacific division and in the first wild card spot. However their position is much less secure than New Jersey’s as they sit just three points above the playoff line while the Devils are thirteen points clear of missing the playoffs. So, if you took the league’s top scorer and all around best player (McDavid) off of the Oilers, where would that team be? I don’t think its a stretch to say that the offensive production of every other Oiler would drop off sharply and the Oilers would sit well outside the playoff race.
Another difference between Taylor Hall’s 2018 season and Jack Hughes’ 2023 season is the depth of the team around him. In 2018, Hall led the Devils in points by a wide margin, just like Hughes is doing this year. However, Hall had 41 points more than the next closest Devil, then rookie, Nico Hischier. This year, the Devils have three other players, (Bratt, Hischier, Hamilton) close to or over a point per game. While Jack is doing a lot of the heavy lifting for the Devils this year, he has much more help than Taylor Hall did in 2018.
With all that being said, taking Jack Hughes off of the Devil would put their playoff hopes in very serious jeopardy as well. I would argue that the Devils would be on the outside looking in of the playoff picture if Hughes was not on the team. However, the Devils are a better defensive and goaltending team than the Oilers are. Edmonton has the second most goals scored in the league with a goal differential of +25 while the Devils have the seventh most goals in the league with the second best goal differential of +41. That means that while McDavid and the Oilers are scoring much more than Hughes and the Devils are, they are also allowing far more goals than New Jersey is. This means that while Hughes is incredibly valuable to New Jersey, McDavid is more valuable to the Oilers. Without McDavid’s ridiculous offensive production, the Oilers would probably be one of the leagues worst teams, despite still having offensive stars like Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. I believe the Devils without Hughes would be better than the Oilers without McDavid and therefore McDavid is still my pick to win MVP. However, Jack Hughes should be number two in that race right now or AT WORST in third place. If you don’t have Jack Hughes in the MVP discussion, you aren’t worth talking to, and I am not the only one who feels that way.
Individual awards or not, as long as Jack Hughes in on the ice, this year’s Devils have a very real shot of winning some very cool team awards this spring and summer. It’s a thrill to watch him every game and if you haven’t been, you have been missing out. You can follow me on Twitter at PatBoooooth.