Four of the NHL’s top six scorers from the 2021-22 campaign are among the five favorites to win the Hart Trophy in 2022-23.
NHL betting lines have Connor McDavid as the +300 favorite, while Auston Matthews (+450), Leon Draisaitl (+650), Nathan MacKinnon (+1000) and Nikita Kucherov (+1400) round out the lead horses.
The only two top scorers from last season not among the five favorites go by the same name, although spelled differently. Jonathan Huberdeau and Johnny Gaudreau, last season’s joint-second top scorers, are the ninth and 19th favorites, respectively.
After his shocking move to middling Columbus, it’s no surprise to see Johnny Hockey’s Hart Trophy stock plummet. He starts the 2022-23 season at +4000.
On the other hand, Huberdeau has been knocked down the totem pole by top-caliber players who couldn’t play the entire 2021-22 season but enjoyed exquisite campaigns.
Two of those players, MacKinnon and Kucherov, justifiably cracked the top five.
5. Nikita Kucherov (+1400)
Kucherov is the craftiest, most magician-like player of the five Hart Trophy favorites. The 29-year-old won the award in 2018-19 and, had it not been for long-term absences last season and in the 2020-21 campaign, probably would have at least two MVP awards glistening in his trophy cabinet.
Kucherov missed the entire, albeit abbreviated, 56-game 2020-21 campaign while recovering from hip surgery. However, he returned for the first game of the playoffs and, as his team’s top scorer, led the Lightning to their second straight Stanley Cup.
Last season Kucherov was forced to miss 35 games with a lower-body injury but still notched 69 points in 47 games, a 1.47 points per game ratio. Of the five Hart Trophy favorites, only McDavid scored at a more prolific rate (1.53 points per game).
Kucherov led his team in playoff scoring in the last three playoffs, two of which resulted in Stanley Cup triumphs. He is sneaky good, and unstoppable at times.
One of the two knocks on Kucherov is the amount of time he spends on the treatment table. The other revolves around his tendency to periodically check out of regular-season games, particularly in the defensive end.
Imagine what his points total would look like if he were unremittingly focused. Not only would he put up record-breaking numbers, but he’d also almost assuredly earn his second Hart Trophy. If he stays healthy, Kucherov offers the best value of the top five.
4. Nathan MacKinnon (+1000)
The Avs’ bulldog is a handful for even the NHL’s best defensive defensemen. He has power, pace, skill, agility and puts in a relentless professional effort every time he hits the ice. The 26-year-old won the Stanley Cup with the Avs in his ninth season and was a contender for the Conn Smythe Trophy, which teammate Cale Makar eventually won.
MacKinnon missed 17 games during the 2021-22 season and finished with 88 points in 65 games, a 1.35 points per game scoring rate. A native of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia he has every chance of winning the 2022-23 Hart Trophy but is accurately positioned as the fourth favorite.
He is the only one of the five favorites still looking for his first Hart Trophy. Although he shares rarified air with Kucherov, the only other member of this exclusive top-five club who has won what every other player would trade their Hart Trophies for, the Stanley Cup.
3. Leon Draisaitl (+1000)
Draisaitl is one of two Oilers’ players among the five favorites. He won the Hart Trophy after the 2019-20 season when he scored 110 points in 71 games. While Draisaitl is to McDavid what Dr. John Watson is to Sherlock Holmes, the 26-year-old German deserved the spotlight in 2019-20. However, his -7 overall plus/minus rating is a glaring eyesore in what was otherwise a showstopper season.
He scored 110 points in 80 games last season and finished fourth in league scoring. He was also a warrior in the playoffs, playing through a severe ankle injury to lead the Oilers to the Western Conference Final. He finished the 2021-22 playoffs with 32 points, just one behind McDavid.
It feels like Draisaitl already cashed in on the only season (2019-20) when he had the opportunity to be the lead act in Edmonton. If an Oilers player wins the 2022-23 Hart Trophy, it’s hard to envision it being anyone other than McDavid.
2. Auston Matthews (+450)
NHL odds have Auston Matthews entering the season as the second favorite (+450) to defend his Hart Trophy crown. The Maple Leafs’ sniper scored 60 goals in 73 games last season, an astonishing 0.82 goals per game ratio. Matthews, who scored 51 of his 60 goals in a 50-game span, became the first player since Mario Lemieux in 1995-95 to bulge the twine so often in such a condensed time span.
Matthews finished the 2021-22 season with 106 points in 73 games, a 1.45 points per game rate. Toronto’s offense, thus far anyway, remains pretty much untouched, which bodes well for Matthews’ back-to-back Hart Trophy quest.
1. Connor McDavid (+300)
McDavid, the undisputed favorite heading into the 2022-23 campaign, was arguably the MVP in 2021-22. Of course, that honor went to Matthews, who also deserved the individual accolade. People often argue that this award should be given to the league’s best player and not the most valuable player to his team.
If they had their way, McDavid would probably never relinquish the crown he’s already won twice.
Conclusively the world’s best hockey player, McDavid scored 123 points in 80 games last season, a league-best 1.53 points per game. He carried that prodigiousness into the playoffs and scored an outrageous 33 points in 16 games, becoming the first player in over 30 years to notch over two points per game in the postseason.
Mario Lemieux was the last, scoring 2.27 points per game in the 1991-92 playoffs en route to his second Stanley Cup in as many seasons.
McDavid’s two previous Hart Trophies came in 2017 and 2021. It’s almost guaranteed he’ll add a third. The question is will it be next season. With Evander Kane and Draisaitl by his side for the duration of the 2022-23 campaign, all signs point to yes.