By Chris Nosek
Last season, Leon Draisaitl walked away with the Hart Trophy after posting 110 points for the Edmonton Oilers. Who will be deemed the most valuable to their team for the 2020-21 season?
Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon, and Auston Matthews are the favorites in Vegas and rightly so – they will all likely be high up on the scoring list when the season is over. All three are poised to have fantastic seasons and help get their teams to nice, deep playoff runs. At the end of the 2018-19 season, McDavid suffered tears to his medial meniscus, lateral meniscus, a fracture to his tibial plateau, and completely tore both his PCL and popliteus muscle – all in his knee. After opting for rehab over surgery, he wasn’t playing at full health last season and still posted 97 points over his 64 games played. Now, back at full health, watching him take back his title as the best player in the game wouldn’t be a shock to anyone.
Many believe that MacKinnon has surpassed McDavid as the best player in the league, which will make this scoring race really exciting to watch over the course of the season. With the addition of Jumbo Joe Thornton, Austin Matthews looks to put the Maple Leafs over the top in the newly aligned North Division. Paired with Marner and Thornton, the former number one overall pick looks to improve on his career points per game total and certainly won’t have any issues with doing so.
So who else could fight these Vegas favorites for the Most Valuable Player for this season?
Other Top Options:
The Rangers are working in a number of new players while trying to help their surplus of young players gain more experience. While one of the biggest focuses of this season for the Rangers will be who takes the bigger step between the pipes, if they are able to sneak into the playoffs, Artemi Panarin will be the biggest reason why. Currently averaging 1.06 points per game over his career, Panarin was in serious consideration last season for the trophy and should make a push for it again this season.
After playing only 2 minutes and 47 seconds in the bubble, due to recovering from surgery on his core muscle, the 30-year-old is primed for a comeback season. Taking over for Nikita Kucherov on the top line with Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat, Stammer will also see plenty of time on the powerplay for the defending champions. Like Panarin, Stamkos has also averaged more than a point-per-game over the duration of his career and will be looking to prove that he still has it.
After suffering just the fourth season he has had a +/- in the negative, Ovechkin will also be looking to prove that despite their average age of 29.3 years of age the Washington Capitals are still a team to contend with. With Washington being in one of the more competitive divisions after the re-alignment, a performance that puts Washington in a top position – especially after losing Braden Holtby – Ovechkin can put himself at the top of this list again just before going into an offseason in which he will be looking for a new contract.
Averaging 1.28 points per game over his career, Crosby sees Jake Guentzel return to his line after the winger played in only 39 games last season. Having familiar linemates will be crucial if Crosby wants to help lead the Penguins back to the playoffs after they were eliminated by the Montreal Canadiens in the bubble last post-season. More will be put on the shoulders of Crosby to lead the scoring charge for this team as they will lean on 25-year-old Tristan Jarry in goal after they sent their second multi-cup winning goaltender out of town over the past four seasons. If Crosby can play his elite level game for the duration of the shortened season, he will turn heads back his way – especially if Pittsburgh can keep pushing for a playoff position.
Admittedly one of the longest shots across the league for this – which is partly why he is on this list under “longshots” – Marchand has posted an outstanding 187 points over 149 games since the start of the 2018-19 season. After going through sports hernia surgery this past off-season, Marchand made comments shortly before this season began that he had been experiencing pain and discomfort for 2 years that kept him to “around 80%.” If he is able to average 1.26 points per game when he is only at 80% of his full capabilities, then he should be pushing 90 points during this shortened season. If he is able to post these kinds of numbers – there is no reason he won’t be in consideration for the league’s most valuable player.
Last season, Blackwood burst onto the scene by starting 43 games and finished 6th in voting for the Calder Trophy. With a save percentage of .916 and a goals against average of 2.71, Blackwood has posted a quality start (a start with a SV% greater than what the player has posted over the season to that point OR a SV% of at least 88.5% when facing 20 or fewer shots) in almost 57% of his 71 career starts – Blackwood is in arguable the toughest division in the league this season and will be facing Sidney Crosby/Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin/Backstrom, Artemi Panarin/Chris Kreider, Jack Eichel/Taylor Hall, Mathew Barzal/Anders Leel, Claude Giroux/Sean Couturier, OR David Pastrnak/Brad Marchand for the entire season. If he is able to keep the Devils in games and playing meaningful games for a potential playoff spot – he will be able to make a name for himself and push for the Hart Trophy.