A few days ago, I wrote about how the process for awarding the Hart Trophy should change. Instead of naming three finalists, why not give every team the opportunity to name a candidate? If this were the case, the Atlantic Division has some powerful contenders to take home hardware in June.
[See related: Why Every Team Deserves a Hart Trophy Candidate]
In order of where teams sit in the standings, here is each team’s candidate for league MVP.
Tampa Bay Lightning – Nikita Kucherov
Kucherov is not only the Lightning’s pick for Hart Trophy, he is likely going to end the year as a finalist by today’s voting process. The fifth-year pro has already surpassed career highs set a year ago in assists and points as he currently is in second of the NHL scoring race (97 points). He’s been the catalyst for the Lightning’s prolific offense all season long. In the 17 games he has not scored a point, the team with the best record in the NHL is a measly 7-9-1 and have been outscored 54-41 in that span.
Boston Bruins – Brad Marchand
The most polarizing player in the NHL is at it again. Although Marchand received his sixth suspension since 2011 this season (this time was five games for elbowing), the scrappy winger is leading his team in goals (34), assists (50) and points (84), despite playing in 62 of his team’s 74 games. The Halifax, Nova Scotia, native probably wouldn’t get the recognition he deserves around the league even if every team received a Hart Trophy candidate due to his oftentimes questionable play. However, Marchand has contributed 25 multi-point games, including a three-goal, five-point performance on March 6 in a 6-5 overtime victory over the division-rival Detroit Red Wings. In true superstar fashion, Marchand had the game-winning tally just 34 ticks into the extra period.
Toronto Maple Leafs – James van Riemsdyk
This may seem like an odd pick for a playoff team, considering van Riemsdyk is fourth on the roster in points. But the nine-season veteran has found the goal-scoring touch more so than ever before. The former second overall pick has tallied 35 goals, already a career high, while playing in important scoring situations. This was especially the case when Toronto’s elite center, Auston Matthews, missed time with a month-long injury. In Matthews’ 11-game absence, van Riemsdyk netted eight goals and three assists.
Florida Panthers – Aleksander Barkov
It’s been the Barkov show in Sunrise, Fla. this season. With the Panthers hot on the tail of the New Jersey Devils for the final wild card position, Barkov has been the brightest spot on an upstart Panthers roster. His 75 points this season surpassed his career high 16 points ago, while he stands a chance to be the first Panthers skater to finish in the top 20 in NHL scoring since Olli Jokinen did so in 2006-07 (91 points; 14th).
Montreal Canadiens – Karl Alzner
It’s crazy to not see Carey Price’s or Max Pacioretty’s name on this list. If you look at the spot this team is in, though, it’s obvious the team’s top players have not been any reason for success. You have to dig deep to find a player who has risen above the rest to lead the team in any positive direction, and the answer is a player whom has played his position to the best of his abilities and is used in various situations. Alzner, who signed a five-year deal this past summer with Montreal, averages the second most time on ice on the team (20:07), has registered the third most hits (131) and is second on the team in blocked shots (142). He also leads the team in defensive zone faceoffs (438), which shows that coach Claude Julien trusts the 6-foot-3-inch defenseman. In a season where the team has underperformed, Canadiens management can at least hang their hats on a solid signing in the offseason.
Detroit Red Wings – Henrik Zetterberg
A team finding its identity, the Red Wings are coming off a modern-era, pro sports-record 25 playoff appearances. Remaining from those championship teams is the captain, Zetterberg, who continues to play at a high level, despite slowing down a bit and missing his long-time set-up man, Pavel Datsyuk. Zetterberg currently ranks second on the team with 50 points, appearing in every game thus far in 2017-18 for Detroit. The 37-year-old workhorse has become more of an assist man for the young guns on Detroit’s offense, tabulating 40 helpers this season. Although there hasn’t been much to cheer about for the Red Wings fans this season, they can still credit the veteran forward for getting the franchise through their worst years since the 1980s.
Ottawa Senators – Mark Stone
It’s been a forgettable season in Ottawa, but Stone has been a consistent performer on a struggling squad. Leading the team in points (62), Stone edges out the always-favorite Erik Karlsson due to his ability to put up points in a shorter span of games (58 games compared to Karlsson’s 68). On a team that has always struggled to put goals on the board, Stone has been a consistent key to the team’s offense, scoring from multiple angles and serving as a needed net-front presence for teammates like Karlsson to utilize. His skill in front of the net has kept Ottawa within shouting distance of games in which they may have otherwise been blown out.
Buffalo Sabres – Marco Scandella
The Atlantic Division: Consensus Pick
Nikita Kucherov (Tampa Bay Lightning)
If anyone is going to come out of the Atlantic Division with the Hart Trophy, it’s the winger still in the Art Ross race. The 2011 second round draft pick has rounded out into an NHL superstar and has been scoring at an alarming rate all season.
The only thing hurting Kucherov’s chances is that his linemate, Steven Stamkos, is also posting exceptional numbers (27G, 59A, 86P in 76 games). This may sway voters to choose Stamkos as the MVP, likely splitting the vote for a Lightning pick as most voters would hesitate at putting two players from the same team on their ballot. However, Kucherov’s ability to remain relevant in the Art Ross race all season long should make him the top name out of the Atlantic.
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