The penultimate day of the NHL’s award nominee rollout is upon us, with the finalists for the league’s top individual prize officially being selected.
The NHL announced on Thursday morning that Edmonton’s Connor McDavid, Toronto’s Auston Matthews, and Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon have been selected as the three nominees for the 2021 Hart Memorial Trophy. The award, as voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, is given to the player who they deem to be the most valuable to their own team.
And when judging what each of this year’s candidates bring to the table, it’s hard to poke any holes in the result.
Outlining McDavid’s dominance would almost be redundant, at this point. But we’re going to do it anyway, just for fun. The Oilers captain is the consensus best player on the planet, having led the NHL in points during three of his six professional seasons, including 2021, while seemingly taking his game to new heights year after year.
This season was no different, with McDavid accomplishing the unthinkable and cracking the 100-point barrier in a 56-game, pandemic-shortened season. So dominant was McDavid, in fact, that the 24-year-old finished with nearly as many assists (72) as his next highest-scoring teammate, Leon Draisaital, had points (84).
And for an award meant to judge one’s team-specific value, a better case than that may not exist.
Matthews’ first career Hart nomination caps off a 2021 campaign that saw him reach new heights of NHL stardom, while becoming the first Maple Leaf finalist for the award since Doug Gilmour finished second in the voting back in 1992-93.
The 23-year-old staked his claim as the best pure goal scorer in all of hockey this season, racking up an eye-popping 41 goals in just 52 games, all while reportedly playing over a month with a wrist injury that severely hampered his ability to shoot the puck. That’s just unfair, quite frankly.
Not to mention, Matthews’ 9.5 point share in 2021, a stat that estimates the number of points contributed by a player to his team’s season total, was more than two points greater than that of his next closest Maple Leaf teammate and ranked fifth league-wide, demonstrating just how valuable the young sniper was to Toronto’s regular-season success.
With goals at a premium in the modern NHL and Matthews being perhaps the best player in the world at scoring them, it’s hard to discount him for Hart honours.
And then there’s MacKinnon, the lone member of this trio to still be playing hockey games at this point, whose status as the straw that stirs the potentially dynastic drink up in Colorado earns him a second consecutive Hart nomination — the third of his career.
MacKinnon’s unrelenting annual production may often get lost in the thin mountain air occupying the market he plays in, but the 25-year-old is unquestionably a top-five NHL player with a resume to prove it.
In just 48 games this season, MacKinnon generated a dazzling 65 points all while leading the Avalanche in assists with 45 and all Avalanche forwards in average time on ice at over 20 minutes per game. Despite missing eight games due to injury, MacKinnon managed to contribute a 7.7 point share to his team that put him top-20 league-wide, and ended up matching his career-best scoring pace of 1.35 points per game.
Whether it’s this year or not, it’s hard to imagine a future in which MacKinnon’s name doesn’t end up engraved on the Hart Trophy one day.