Early Season MVPs: Who has been the standout for each NHL team?

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Earlier this week, we dissected the NHL awards races through the first quarter of the 2019-20 campaign, and one of the more interesting debates was that of the Hart Trophy, particularly with the razor-thin margin between teammates Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid.

As was discussed, what makes the near-equal scoring rates of the duo so ripe for debate is that it raises the question of a one-two punch earning top billing for the same award. And as far as the MVP honor is concerned, it’s a situation we haven’t seen in some time. Not since 1971 when the Boston Bruins’ Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito finished one-two have a pair of teammates dominated the voting. That instance, too, was the first of teammates finishing atop the voting since 1955, when Ted Kennedy eked out a win over Toronto Maple Leafs teammate Harry Lumley. And even that came a full decade after Elmer Lach’s Hart victory over fellow Montreal Canadien Maurice Richard.

So, it’s unlikely Draisaitl and McDavid finish first and second in Hart voting. So, what separates the two? As we also outlined in the earlier look, it might come down to something as simple as point generation at five-a-side. In that measure, Draisaitl takes the cake. His 12 goals and 27 points at 5-on-5 are five clear, respectively, of McDavid’s totals. That puts No. 29 ahead of No. 97 in the MVP race, both in Edmonton and league-wide – at least for the time being.

But not every club has a pair of players who are so evenly matched offensively, nor do they have two players who are as even in terms of value to their own club through the early part of the campaign. So, if we were to take a look at team-by-team MVPs, who would they be? Here’s a look at the quarter-season MVPs for the other 31 franchises:

Anaheim Ducks: His numbers are by no means gaudy – Ryan Miller actually has the better statistics of the two – but one can’t help but wonder where the Ducks would be without John Gibson. Of the 38 goaltenders with at least 10 games played, Gibson ranks 12th in the NHL with a 2.85 goals saved above average at all strengths.

Arizona Coyotes: We can’t say Darcy Kuemper is the Vezina Trophy frontrunner at this point in the season and not list him as the Coyotes’ MVP. Among the same group of goaltenders Gibson was measured against, Kuemper ranks second with a 12.21 GSAA and his .937 SP at all strengths is the second-best mark among those netminders. He’s been Arizona’s backbone for a calendar year now.

Boston Bruins: Are you one of those who wants to watch the world burn? Then try this on for size: Brad Marchand as the 2019-20 Hart Trophy winner. It’s not that far-fetched! His 35 points in 21 games are the fourth-most in the NHL behind Oilers duo Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid and Capitals defenseman John Carlson. Marchand’s MVP credentials also include remarkable all-situations play. He’s legitimately transformed into one of the most dynamic players in the league.

Buffalo Sabres: After an excellent start, everything is again falling apart in Buffalo. The Sabres have lost eight of their past nine and 10 of their past 11 games. But imagine for a second how much worse things would be without Jack Eichel. In 21 games, Eichel has a team-leading 13 goals and 25 points. The only skater averaging more ice time is defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen.

Calgary Flames: Matthew Tkachuk has been the Flames’ MVP. There’s no question about it, frankly. Not only has he been effective offensively, but he has arguably been Calgary’s best two-way player, as well. Not much is going right for the Flames right now, but Tkachuk’s game has been a highlight.

Carolina Hurricanes: Andrei Svechnikov has been the leader up front, but it’s Dougie Hamilton who deserves the highest praise. His 23 points are tied for the team lead and his nine goals are tops among all NHL rearguards. He might not be the player who makes the blueline tick – hello, Jaccob Slavin – but Hamilton is the quarter-season MVP.

Chicago Blackhawks: Patrick Kane’s 11 goals and 28 points put him head-and-shoulders ahead of the rest of his teammates, but Robin Lehner has been a show-stealer in Chicago. One year after finishing third in Vezina voting, Lehner looks dead-set on throwing his hat into the ring for the hardware again. His 5-4-2 record belies his .934 save percentage and 11.02 GSAA.

Colorado Avalanche: There’s a case to be made that Nathan MacKinnon is the best player in the world. His 13 goals and 31 points are tops on the team, and if there was ever any question who was the true leader in Colorado – Narrator: “There wasn’t.” – MacKinnon’s point total despite being without usual running-mates Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen for roughly half of Colorado’s games is proof positive that it’s No. 29’s team.

Columbus Blue Jackets: The departure of top talents put more onus on the blueline than ever, and Seth Jones has answered the call. But Pierre-Luc Dubois’ continued emergence as a true top-line center is something to behold. He’s driving play, producing and proving that he can be an elite two-way player in the NHL.

Dallas Stars: The unhappiness with the play of the top stars, Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, has overshadowed Miro Heiskanen’s stellar sophomore season. Through 22 games, he’s averaging 25 minutes per outing and his six goals put him second in team scoring. His 16 points are also the second-most in Dallas. Heiskanen has a potential Norris case through the first quarter of the season.

Detroit Red Wings: Steve Yzerman? After all, the Robby Fabbri deal has been a clear-cut win for the Red Wings so far. Realistically, though, it’s Anthony Mantha. No one has ever questioned Mantha’s skillset, but he’s truly putting it together this season. His 22 points in 23 games have signalled his arrival as a legitimate top-line winger.

Florida Panthers: This is the reverse of the Oilers. Jonathan Huberdeau is leading the Panthers’ scoring race with 28 points in 21 games, but second-place Aleksander Barkov, who has 27 points in 21 games, gets the nod. It comes down to all-situations play, and that Barkov is more than one minute clear of all other forwards in average ice time speaks volumes about how heavily coach Joel Quenneville has leaned on the pivot.

Los Angeles Kings: We have to pick someone? OK. Anze Kopitar. This is less about him leading the team in points than it is his overall play, though. Playing against the opposition’s best, he has been a play-driver and boasts an even 50 percent goals percentage at five-a-side. That’s impressive when you consider the Kings’ 5-on-5 goal differential is minus-six.

Minnesota Wild: The Wild have been unremarkable this season, but maybe the most noteworthy development has come in the crease, where Alex Stalock is legitimately outplaying Devan Dubnyk. The former boasts a .911 SP and 2.63 goals-against average, heaps better than the latter’s .893 SP and 3.35 GAA. Stalock might be due a run of starts soon.

Montreal Canadiens: A few Canadiens have had stellar performances, but how about Shea Weber? His return last season seemingly turned Carey Price into a different netminder and the burly blueliner looks like his old Norris-contending self right now. He has six goals and 17 points in 22 games, is averaging 23:11 per game and boasts solid underlying numbers.

Nashville Predators: It’s a close race between a pair of blueliners, but for the sake of simple production, we have to give the nod to Roman Josi over Ryan Ellis. That said, based on overall play, we could be persuaded to give the nod to Ellis. So, again, this might be a situation where the quarter-season crown should be split in half.

New Jersey Devils: Despite a mere two goals in 20 games, Taylor Hall is generating a remarkable amount of opportunities. His 71 shots are tied for the 20th-most in the NHL and his 17 points put him atop all scorers in New Jersey. Nothing has gone all that well for the Devils this season, though.

New York Islanders: Let’s heap some well-deserved praise on Mat Barzal for the continued transformation into an all-zones player who can put points on the board. That said, he finishes second behind Thomas Greiss, who has been out-of-this-world for the Islanders. His .938 SP is among the league’s best marks and his sub-2.00 GAA has him in line to land among the Vezina nominees at season’s end.

New York Rangers: The Rangers are a .500 outfit, but Artemi Panarin is still proving why he was worth the massive off-season payday. Of those who’ve appeared in every game for New York, the winger is skating more minutes than all but defenseman Jacob Trouba, and Panarin’s 11 goals and 25 points are the team’s best marks.

Ottawa Senators: Hard to ignore Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s numbers. He’s an all-situations player who is excelling right now on the back of a 24.5 percent shooting success rate. The Senators have to start talking contract with the pending unrestricted free agent. He could be a middle-six cornerstone for seasons to come and just the kind of player Ottawa could use when success finally comes around.

Philadelphia Flyers: The true standouts are few and far between in Philadelphia, but Travis Konecny is turning heads and earning his keep with the Flyers. His eight goals and 20 points rank second and first, respectively, in Philadelphia. And as importantly, he’s proven he can be a possession beast. The Flyers have something special on their hands.

Pittsburgh Penguins: It could be said that Jake Guentzel is the MVP by virtue of, you know, actually playing a quarter of the season. He is one of only seven Penguins who have appeared in every game this season and leads the team in scoring with 18 points. But Kris Letang is doing yeoman’s work on the blueline. He’s averaging 25 minutes per outing with solid underlying numbers and four goals and 12 points. Checkmarks across the board.

San Jose Sharks: One of the reasons the Sharks felt comfortable letting Joe Pavelski walk was the belief the next generation would step up. Tomas Hertl has done just that. His 10 goals are two off the team lead and his 21 points put him one back of Logan Couture. Hertl is also logging 19-plus minutes per game, has been exceptional in the faceoff circle and has tilted the ice in the Sharks’ favor consistently.

St. Louis Blues: With absolutely, positively, all due respect to David Perron, who is having himself a whale of start to the season, Jordan Binnington has been and continues to be the backbone of the Blues. With a .920 SP and 2.32 GAA through 17 starts this season, Binnington has silenced any critics who believed he’d be a one-season wonder.

Tampa Bay Lightning: The Lightning aren’t meeting expectations. That is no fault of Victor Hedman’s, however. The one-time Norris Trophy winner, who has been a finalist for the award for three consecutive seasons, is third in team scoring with 17 points, is the ice time leader and has done everything in his power to quiet the opposition’s best on a nightly basis.

Toronto Maple Leafs: It’s a toss-up, but Frederik Andersen falls maybe a hair behind Auston Matthews in the quarter-season MVP race. While Toronto is sliding and have just sacked coach Mike Babcock, Matthews’ offensive production has been exceptional. His 14 goals and 27 points are nine more than Mitch Marner’s second-best 18 points and 10 points more than any other Maple Leafs skater.

Vancouver Canucks: Sophomore slump? Elias Pettersson laughs at your sophomore slump. One season after dazzling as a rookie, the dynamic young scorer has eight goals and 27 points in 22 games. But forget his numbers for a second. He deserves the nod for this play alone, where he banks a saucer pass in off of J.T. Miller’s thigh. Genius.

Vegas Golden Knights: It’s Marc-Andre Fleury. No question. Yes, William Karlsson is playing the same brand of special two-way hockey, Max Pacioretty seems to be, well, Max Pacioretty again and Mark Stone continues to fit right in, but Fleury has been in goal for every single Golden Knights victory this season.

Washington Capitals: John Carlson is really going to keep this up, huh? Now up to eight goals and 36 points in 24 games, the blueliner is on pace to obliterate the modern-era record for points by a defenseman. He’s scored as many points this season as Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson combined.

Winnipeg Jets: A few candidates, including sniper-turned-assist machine Patrik Laine (?!), but Connor Hellebuyck has bounced back from last season’s mediocre performance and is posting outstanding numbers. His .930 SP ranks fourth among goalies with 10 games played and Hellebuyck has turned aside more rubber than any other netminder.

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