It’s midseason award time in the NHL, and what better way to start things off than with the Hart Memorial Trophy, an award that is presented to the player who is deemed most valuable to their team during the regular season. When the 2015-16 NHL season began, The Hockey News published their favorites to take home the Hart, including Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and John Tavares of the New York Islanders.
To fans who have followed the NHL up to the halfway point, it should come as no surprise that none of these players made this midseason list. Ovechkin has scored goals aplenty this season, but by no means is he the straw that stirs the drink in Washington. As for Crosby, he has picked things up as of late, but his early season play was so dismal that he was kept off the All-Star game roster.
Tavares put up a career-high 88 points last season, a total that made many think he was on his way to a big 2015-16 season, but that assumption was proven wrong. By no means has Tavares been bad, but he has not been great, a fact that removed him from the MVP conversation. So, now that you know who isn’t in the conversation for the Hart Trophy at the midway point of the NHL season, read on to find out who is in the hunt for the cherished award.
5. Vladimir Tarasenko
St. Louis Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko will be an NHL superstar; there’s little doubt about it. Tarasenko, the 16th overall pick in the 2010 NHL draft had a breakout season in 2014-15, scoring 73 points. He also saw his name penciled on the MVP ballot when he finished 14th place in Hart voting. This season, the 24-year-old will improve on that placement, but the odds are against him winning the Hart when the 2015-16 voting concludes.
Tarasenko is putting up better numbers this year, scoring at a point-per-game pace and keeping a team that has been ravaged by injuries in the thick of the playoff hunt. Like we said, Tarasenko won’t win the Hart this season, but the expectation is that he will have his name etched on the trophy at least once before he ends his career.
4. Erik Karlsson
This may be the first time you see Erik Karlsson’s name mentioned in the midseason awards, but it won’t be the last. The Ottawa Senators blueliner is having another great season that will put him in the running for (spoiler alert) the Norris Trophy, but that’s not what we are here to discuss, is it? Karlsson, the 25-year-old defenseman for the Ottawa Senators, received votes for the Hart in the past, including last season when he finished ninth in MVP voting.
With the season he is currently having, there is no doubt that the blueliner will have a higher placement when this season concludes. Karlsson is on pace to have the best scoring season for a defenseman since Hall of Famer Brian Leetch scored 85 points back in 1995-96. Besides leading defensemen in scoring, Karlsson is leading the league in ice time, skating more than 28 minutes per game. He will probably win another Norris this season, but he will also be an underdog when it comes to winning the Hart.
3. Jamie Benn
Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars finished in 12th place in Hart Trophy voting in each of the last two seasons. This season is the one where the left wing makes him move toward the top of voters’ ballots. Benn, last year’s winner of the Art Ross Trophy for most points (87), is on pace to crush that number by the end of the 2015-16 season. He’s also on pace to score more goals than he did last season.
Benn is currently ranked second in both those statistical categories. He has improved his scoring every year he’s played in the NHL. When he broke into the league in 2009-10, he scored 41 points, and he doubled that total by the end of last season. Benn will be a threat for a long time to come at the rate he is improving. Not bad for a player that was picked 129th overall in the 2007 NHL draft.
2. Braden Holtby
The Hart Trophy was first awarded at the end of the 1923-24 season. Since then, goaltenders have received it a total of eight times, the last occasion being at the end of last season when Montreal Canadiens netminder Carey Price took home the award. Braden Holtby may make it two in a row for goalies, something that hasn’t happened since Dominik Hasek won the Hart in 1997 and 1998.
Holtby, a fourth-round pick for the Washington Capitals in the 2008 NHL draft, is having a superb season. He’s fourth in save percentage at .932, third in goals against average at 1.93, and first in wins with 27. He’s also made the Washington Capitals one of the favorites to win the 2016 Stanley Cup. Holtby finished 18th in Hart voting last season while also finishing fourth in Vezina voting; he will improve in both categories this season.
1. Patrick Kane
Patrick Kane has been the most productive player in the NHL this season. The first overall pick of the 2007 NHL draft has scored 62 points and netted 25 goals. He leads the NHL in points and is tied for second in goals, one behind league leader Alex Ovechkin. He also has that 26-game point-scoring streak that everyone talked about in the first half of the season. Kane has received votes for the Hart on two occasions, finishing in sixth place in 2012-13 and seventh in 2009-10.
Expect to see him near the top of most voter’s ballots at the end of this season. The one thing that could hurt Kane in voting is the now-dismissed rape allegations against him. Whether we want to admit it or not, public relations is a big part of sports today, and the folks who vote on the NHL awards are aware of that. A spotlight will shine on Kane both figuratively and literally if he wins the Hart, and that may be something the voters consider.
Statistics courtesy of Hockey-Reference.com.