Chris Peters: McDavid running away from the field in MVP race
Our NHL expert takes stock of the MVP race at the halfway point of the season, with one player clearly out in front.
Check out the Betway Insider's NHL predictions page for best bets throughout the 2020-21 NHL season.
With most NHL teams across the halfway mark of their seasons, we’ve got a pretty good sense of where things stand on a number of fronts. The playoff races remain pretty tight, which should make for an exciting finish. There may be a little less drama in the race for the Hart Trophy, given annually to the league’s most valuable player.
At the time of writing, Connor McDavid has a nine-point lead on the field in the league’s scoring race. The Edmonton Oilers captain is also leading the NHL in points per game and is averaging the second highest ice time among forwards in the league at 22:19 per game. Meanwhile, the Oilers are firmly in a playoff spot in the North Division and have hovered around the top three all season.
It feels like McDavid is always in the mix for the award, but the Oilers missing the playoffs often cost him votes. It looks pretty safe to say McDavid is going to walk out of this season with his second career Hart Trophy, which would tie him with Sidney Crosby, who was the previous anointed one to take the mantle of league’s best player. The torch has been passed for a few years now, but adding another trophy to McDavid’s bustling awards cabinet only furthers that trend.
Though it seems a foregone conclusion that McDavid will win the MVP, there were a number of other players that I thought deserved recognition as among the league’s best this season. I don’t think any of them have a chance to unseat McDavid, barring something catastrophic. But the NHL does have a lot of players performing at an especially high level this season.
1. Connor McDavid | Edmonton Oilers
The best player in the game today has shown that he can burn defenses all by himself and take games over in the blink of an eye.
The Oilers are going to cruise into the postseason based largely on his efforts. Edmonton still doesn’t have the roster to play at a championship level yet, but with McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, they’ll have a chance to take some runs.
With a 1.70 points-per-game rate, which would be the highest in the NHL since Mario Lemieux averaged 1.77 points per game in 43 games in 2000-01, McDavid is a freak.
2. Patrick Kane | Chicago Blackhawks
With the Blackhawks clinging to the playoff race in the Central Division, it’s hard to imagine where they’d be without Kane playing at the level he’s at currently.
Kane ranks third in the NHL with 49 points in 38 games. He’s averaging 22:15 of ice time, playing McDavid-like minutes and making his team better in the process. Chicago has one of the shallower forward groups among teams contending for a playoff spot.
One of the important elements of Kane’s production is that he’s done especially well against top teams in the Division, averaging over a point per game against Carolina and Florida, while producing a little more modestly against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The only way Chicago can compete with the division’s best is when Kane is dragging them across the finish line.
3. Andrei Vasilevskiy | Tampa Bay Lightning
The front-runner for the Vezina Trophy this season as the NHL’s best goaltender, Vasilevskiy is making a case all on his own that the Lightning can repeat as Stanley Cup champions.
He has a save percentage over .930, which has often been the minimum for a modern-day goalie to challenge for the Hart - Carey Price had a .933 save percentage when he won MVP honors in 2014-15.
The Lightning have a very good team in front of him, but Vasilevskiy has still seen the fourth most shots against this season of any goalie in the NHL. So, he’s putting in the work and earning his numbers.
Meanwhile, he only has five regulation losses against him as of now. He’s a special talent in so many ways, but being able to be the backbone of a Stanley Cup contender is worth consideration for the NHL’s top individual honors.
4. Auston Matthews | Toronto Maple Leafs
He’s been fighting through injury and has had to miss a few games this year, but Matthews remains the NHL’s leading goal scorer and odds-on favorite to claim the Rocket Richard Trophy at the end of the season.
Like McDavid and Kane, Matthews is averaging over 22 minutes a game, playing in all the big situations and scoring a lot of big goals for his team this season. Game-winning goals is a bit of a wonky stat, but Matthews has a league-leading eight.
He’s also been good at the faceoff dot and has showed commitment to a strong two-way game. While Mitch Marner is the team’s point leader and has played remarkably well, Matthews is the engine that drives the Maple Leafs’ success and they can go on a run if he can keep scoring like he has been this season.
5. Nathan MacKinnon | Colorado Avalanche
MacKinnon does not currently lead the Avs in raw points, but he’s third in the league in points per game while averaging over 20 minutes a night.
He’s had to miss some games this year, but when he’s in the lineup, the Avs are one of the most dangerous teams in the NHL. His 30 assists rank fifth in the league.
Down the stretch, as the Avs are battling for playoff position, keep a close eye on MacKinnon’s point totals.
Others of note:
Leon Draisaitl | Edmonton Oilers
After winning the Hart Trophy last season, Draisaitl is back in McDavid’s shadow a bit. I think Draisaitl has played even better in a lot of ways this season, but it’s hard to win the award when you’ve got the best player in the world playing at a level above.
Mark Stone | Vegas Golden Knights
Stone is one of the best two-way players in the game today and has been a driving force behind the Golden Knights’ success this season. He is top 10 in league scoring.
Marc-Andre Fleury | Vegas Golden Knights
After all the drama of last season, Fleury has really been impressive this year. Playing more than he was supposed to as Robin Lehner sat out for a while with a concussion, Fleury has been one of the NHL’s best goaltenders. He has the third-best save percentage and four shutouts, second most in the league so far this season.
Sidney Crosby | Pittsburgh Penguins
The Pens have struggled in a lot of ways this season, but Crosby remains one of the game’s best players regardless of the team around him. Despite injuries throughout the lineup, the Pens continue to look like they’ll comfortably cruise into the playoffs as they currently sit tied for first in the tight East Division.
Aleksander Barkov | Florida Panthers
I’ve been watching the Panthers a lot more this season and while I’ve always marveled at Barkov’s talent, this season he’s taken things to another level. It’s remarkable how different that team looks when he’s out of the lineup, as evidenced by a recent sweep at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks. They’ve since rattled off a bunch of wins, but when Barkov is in the lineup, they’ve not only looked like one of the best teams in the league, they are one of the best teams in the league.
Visit Betway's NHL betting page.