The Stanley Cup Playoffs are well underway and it’s time to look at predictions for the 2017 NHL Awards. First on the list – The Hart Trophy; given to the player judged most valuable to his team.
1. Connor McDavid
This shouldn’t be a surprise, Connor McDavid has been handed the baton for best player in the NHL and was one of the biggest reasons the Edmonton Oilers clinched a playoff spot for the first time in over a decade. In the NHL’s centennial season, Connor McDavid became the youngest captain in NHL history and was the only player to hit the 100 point mark, notching 30 goals and 70 assists. His dazzling speed, control and vision were put on display for the first time in a full 82-game schedule, which helped elevate the game of former 3rd overall pick Leon Draisaitl, as he reached career highs goals (29), assists (48) and points (77).
After signing a lucrative 7-year, $42 million deal, most people thought Milan Lucic would be riding shotgun with McDavid this year. However, it turned out to be former Duck Patrick Maroon who had that honour. Playing alongside #97, Maroon also reached career highs in goals (27) and points (42).
A lot of the credit goes to McDavid for winning his first Art Ross Trophy, but Cam Talbot was also a huge factor for Oilers.
2. Sidney Crosby
Last year, many were claiming that Crosby was finished.
This year, he won the Rocket Richard and should be a serious contender for the Hart.
After losing key players like Evgeni Malkin (62gp), Kris Letang (41gp), Patric Hornqvist (70gp), Conor Sheary (61gp), Carl Hagelin (61gp) and Trevor Daley (56gp), Sidney Crosby managed to put the Pittsburgh Penguins on his back once again, while missing the first seven games of the season due to concussion.
Crosby managed to score 44 goals and collect 45 assists on route to an 89 point season and his second career Rocket Richard Trophy, this on one of the most injury-riddled teams in the NHL. His 1.19 points per game were only second to Connor McDavid. Crosby also managed to turn linemates Conor Sheary and Jake Guentzel into offensive threats. Sheary, 24, was on a remarkable pace, scoring 53 points (23 goals) in 61 games. Guentzel, who made his debut back on Nov. 21, has been excellent on Crosby’s wing, collecting 33 points in 40 games.
Some may argue Crosby is still the best in the game, some will say it’s McDavid. One thing is certain, Crosby still has a knack for finding not only the back of the net, but his teammates on the ice. For as long as he’s been around, Sid has made players around him better (See: Chris Kunitz) and has lead the Penguins to success.
3. Erik Karlsson
Despite being overshadowed by Brent Burns’ amazing offensive outburst, Erik Karlsson put up more than respectable numbers offensively and defensively while leading the Ottawa Senators into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
During the first half of the season, Karlsson posted 35 points in 41 games while establishing himself as the shutdown guy for Ottawa. After that, he kicked it up a notch by finishing the final 36 games on a point per game pace. He ended the season with 71 points while playing solid defense against the opposing teams’ top lines. Karlsson was second in the NHL in blocked shots with 201 and played an average of 26:50 a game, fourth best among defenseman. He is also an excellent power play specialist, ranking 10th in power play points with 27.
Karlsson is a phenomenal puck-moving defenseman and one of the most talented players of this generation. Something good happens whenever he is on the ice. His ability to see the play developing and read it to find scoring chances is unmatched in this league. He is the biggest reason Ottawa is in the hunt this year and definitely has more Norris trophies waiting for him in the future.
Honourable mentions: Brad Marchand, Auston Matthews, Brent Burns, Sergei Bobrovsky
BY BRANDON MURPHY – @2murphy8