In installment one of this series, I wrote about Artemiy Panarin’s magnificent season and why, despite the New York Rangers not being in a playoff race, he should be in serious consideration for the Hart Trophy.
Since January 15, the Rangers’ top player has continued to dazzle each and every night, and remains one of the league’s most electric players. In that same span the team’s playoff odds have significantly improved. As of this writing the Blueshirts are in the thick of it with a record of 35-26-4 and 74 points.
I realize that making the playoffs seemingly remains an unwritten requirement to win the Hart Trophy, but I’m here to say that doesn’t matter. If a 42-year-old Zamboni driver can shut down the league-leading Toronto Maple Leafs offense for a period as an emergency backup goalie, surely Panarin can win the Hart Trophy regardless of whether or not the Blueshirts make the playoffs.
The NHL has had a reoccurring series on awards where they look at each contender, and here are the most recent results for the Hart.
Voting totals (points awarded on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis): Leon Draisaitl, Oilers, 79 (nine first-place votes); Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche, 72 (seven first-place votes); David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins, 46 (two first-place votes); Connor McDavid, Oilers, 32; Artemi Panarin, New York Rangers, 11; Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs, 6; Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning, 5; Nikita Kucherov, Lightning, 5; Roman Josi, Nashville Predators, 4; John Carlson, Washington Capitals, 3; Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres, 2; Elvis Merzlikins, Columbus Blue Jackets, 1; Alex Ovechkin, Capitals, 1.
There are a ton of players listed here, but I am going to go into a few of them, and look at why or why not they should be a candidate.
David Pastrnak - 91 Points | 64.68 GF%, 53.09 xGF%, 55.02 CF%
I’m a little surprised that David Pastrnak ranks as highly as he does, and that there’s no mention of Brad Marchand. I understand where Pastrnak ranks in the top considered categories, but this year he’s been slightly off of where he was last year.
That aside, I also think Marchand is having a very fine season with 83 points in 66 games while having some elite underlyings (63.42 GF%, 55.59 xGF%, 56.94 CF%) , and to be honest I think he’s having a better overall year than David Pastrnak.
While Pastrnak is having the best box score season of his career, and is currently leading the league with 47 goals, he actually trails in both GAR and WAR to Marchand.
Overall you can see they are pretty close with the biggest difference being Marchand’s shorthanded defense, and penalty differential, but that won’t matter given that Pastrnak’s near the top of the league in both points and goals. While Pastrnak is having a great offensive season, I think Marchand doing all the little things, while putting up top tier offensive numbers, should have him in the conversation, and that should also weaken some of the support for Pastrnak.
So with that said, there’s still Nathan MacKinnon, Connor McDavid, and Leon Draisaitl.
Connor McDavid - 89 Points | 51.2 GF%, 49.16 xGF%, 48.62 CF%
If there’s going to be a player who falls out of contention I think it will be McDavid because of his injury, and how Draisaitl played in his absence. To be fair though, there are things concerning the Edmonton Oilers’ captain which can/should hurt his overall candidacy. While McDavid’s season has been very good, there have been other years in which he’s had a much more noticeable impact, and that’s something that should be considered given the field of deserving candidates.
The numbers above reflect McDavid’s performance in each area per 60 at evens, because using the raw numbers with such a wide gap in games played wouldn’t be truly representative given how the stats are calculated.
Overall he’s not been as impactful offensively at even strength, although he has seen a spike in power play productivity, and been better defensively while shorthanded. But the key thing to look at here is that vs. last year he’s been worth -0.15 goals above replacement per 60, -0.03 wins above replacement per 60, and -0.06 standings points above replacement per 60.
I bring this up because I feel it is an important area of context as most voters will look at McDavid and his 1.51 P/GP (89 points in 59 games) and feel that he’s been more important than he’s actually been. This is not to say that McDavid hasn’t been impactful — anyone who looks at the roster and who he’s dragged up and down the ice will be able to tell you that — but the Hart Trophy should go to the most valuable/impactful player.
Besides McDavid’s overall drop off compared to last year, there’s also a very good chance that Leon will win the Art Ross, and that’s something that could mean a lot to voters. That and the recency bias of him having a strong run of play when McDavid was sidelined which could theoretically indicate that in 2019-20, Draisaitl’s been more important to the Oilers.
Back-to-back campaigns with 100+ points... and we still have over a month left in the season!— NHL (@NHL) March 1, 2020
Yeah, no question Leon Draisaitl is first star of the month. pic.twitter.com/9rTpvQDnf2
So if that ultimately does happen, it becomes a trio of MacKinnon, Draisaitl, and Panarin, and from this list it should be a no-brainer who wins.
Panarin is the true front-runner for this award because of his his completeness as a player. Simply stated, Panarin has an impact in all three zones, something that can’t be said of all the others in the hunt. Overall impact is something I believe is very important for the Hart Trophy, because what good are you to your team if your performance on the defensive side of the puck undermines the offense you bring?
Leon Draisaitl - 102 Points | 50.99 GF%, 48.2 xGF%, 48.12 CF%
To be specific here, I’m talking about Draisaitl who was picked as the leader of the pack in the NHL dot com poll likely because he has 102 points in 65 games, and he was able to keep the Oilers going while McDavid was sidelined.
And look, I really like Draisaitl, and think he’s an amazing goal scorer, playmaker, and offensive player, but there are parts of his game that hurt the Oilers in a way that can’t be said about Panarin and the Rangers. I recognize that hockey is a game with all different types of players who bring strengths and weaknesses, and there’s only a select few who can do it all. So if it appears that I’m trying to drag Draisaitl, I’m not. He does bring value, he does have impact; but for an award like the Hart, it should go to the individual who really can do it all at a high level.
With that said, here’s a look at his career performance 5v5.
For the entirety of his career he’s been a positive offensively, but this year he’s having the lowest individual offensive impact of his career 5v5. He’s also having his worst performance defensively. This is especially visible if you look at Draisaitl’s GAR numbers from Evolving Hockey this season, and his line looks like this:
The TL/DR of this is at evens Draisaitl has had a net impact of 7 goals above replacement which comprises of a 12.2 for offense and a -5.2 against for defense. He’s added some value on the power play, but hasn’t been great killing penalties, and is decent in the penalties taken/drawn category. Overall he’s been worth 13.5 goals above replacement, 2.4 wins above replacement, and 4.6 standings points above replacement.
Nathan MacKinnon - 85 Points | 57.51 GF%, 53.54 xGF%, 54.27 CF%
Next up is Nathan MacKinnon, who is someone I expected to lead the pack on the NHL dot com poll. He’s certainly someone deserving of recognition and praise due to the heavy lifting he’s done for a Colorado Avalanche squad that has been banged up for a good portion of the 2019-20 season.
MacKinnon’s offensive impact here is truly staggering, and I was surprised to see that so far it’s not his best year to date. Defensively, he’s had virtually the same impact as last year, and outside his rookie year he’s not been someone to worry about in that regard.
From a checking the boxes standpoint, MacKinnon is among the league leaders in key categories as his 33 goals and 52 assists are the eighth and seventh most in the league respectively, and he’s fifth in points with 85. MacKinnon also is third in even strength points with 56.
What’s most impressive about his production is that by and large, he’s been doing all by himself as Mikko Rantanen has been sidelined on multiple occasions. Cale Makar is having a tremendous season, although he’s no Adam Fox ;p, but up front it’s been MacKinnon and then everyone else. Makar is second in scoring, and right behind him is Andre Burakovsky who has been a tremendous pickup for the Avs. There are others who have contributed by committee, but there’s a discernible drop off in overall ability/production this season.
These aren’t the only favorable numbers for the Avalanche’ center. Here’s how MacKinnon stacks up using Evolving Hockey’s goals above replacement metrics.
Here you can see that he has a larger overall net impact at evens with 12.9 goals above replacement, and he holds a good edge on goals and standings point above replacement. That’s because MacKinnon’s been a positive impact player in all situations, where as Draisaitl has been dinged pretty hard on the defensive side of the puck which limits his overall value to the Oilers. Again, this is not to say that having an offensive juggernaut is bad, but when it comes to the Hart Trophy, why settle when you can pick a hockey man who can do both?
The best way to sum up MacKinnon’s year to date is that he checks a lot of the important boxes, and has done it all while having very little support. It is impressive where he sits from both an NHL dot com numbers perspective, and an X-stat-above replacement standpoint too. If you were to take these and add in the noise of the narrative about how he’s been the motor for the Colorado Avalanche, I think in any other year he’d been the odds-on-favorite by a good margin. That said, I still think he could win, and if that happens it would be well deserved. But this year it should be really hard to deny Panarin the accolades he deserves.
Artemiy Panarin - 90 Points | 66.98 GF%, 51.36 xGF%, 49.56 CF%
This season Panarin’s having one of the more impressive seasons in recent NHL history, one to the point that should get him serious consideration even if the Rangers do fall short.
Since making his NHL debut, Panarin’s improved his overall impact year-over-year, and that’s evident by looking at his impact heat maps via HockeyViz. His impact offensively has been very impressive, and this year his defensive impact is very impressive for someone that’s also among the league leaders in scoring.
Panarin picked up points 89 & 90 during Sunday’s loss vs. the Philadelphia Flyers, and extended his point streak to 13 games in a row which is a career high. He’s currently third in the league in scoring behind Draisaitl and Pastrnak, but leads the league with a staggering 67 points at even strength.
While a causal viewer and voter might say that Panarin’s production isn’t surprising given how well Mika Zibanejad (65 points in 52 games) has played, the two have only shared the ice for 212:55 5v5, whereas the Breadman has logged 648:42 with Ryan Strome. There have been instances in which the two have teamed up offensively, but it isn’t a regular occurence.
But offense isn’t the only part of Panarin’s game, and he’s shown on numerous occasions this year how playing strong defense can create offensive opportunities. Panarin’s a tenacious player who hounds the opposition with an ever active stick, and a great example of this came vs. the San Jose Sharks.
Artemiy Panarin is a freak. pic.twitter.com/ATnWIvIxql— Tom Urtz Jr. (@TomUrtzJr) February 23, 2020
Here Panarin pressures Evander Kane and his stick check put the puck on a tee for Mika Zibanejad to hammer it home. Just ask yourselves, how many other players would have let up, or left the zone to start a line change, and allow Kane to pause to set up a controlled exit? This is something Panarin’s done all year long, and another example of this type of play came earlier this year vs. Rasmus Dahlin of the Buffalo Sabres.
Panarin’s also made the highlight reel for making dazzling plays, and most fans are familiar with his recent showing vs. the New York Islanders.
Here he pushed the puck forward after making a play in his own end, recognized that he was going to be outnumbered, but was still able to maintain puck possession before once again putting the puck on a tee for Zibanejad. Panarin’s awareness, instincts, and never quit attitude has allowed him to create offense by making plays defensively, and makes him threat at all times.
Panarin’s been a true force at evens, with a total even strength impact of 20.4 which comprises of an 19.6 for offensively, and a 0.8 impact for defensively. All in, Panarin’s been worth 24.6 goals above replacement, 4.4 wins above replacement, and 8.4 standings points above replacement, which is best in the entire league by a good margin among candidates seriously being considered for the Hart Trophy. Right now his GAR is the seventh highest overall in the last five years, and with 17 games left to play, there’s a good chance he could move into the top five. He also ranks 13th overall in the last 10 years, and again, there’s still time for him to move up the list.
With all of that said, it should be clear that Panarin is the true favorite for the Hart Trophy, because he checks off all the boxes.
- He’s among the league leaders in scoring
- He’s a complete player who has made a very clear impact to his team
- He’s got the underlying numbers which highlight his worth compared to his peers
- He’s just been that much better than everyone else.
The current top five of GAR & WAR looks like this like this:
- Panarin - 24.6 GAR | 4.4 WAR
- Elias Petterson - 21.9 GAR | 3.9 WAR
- Ryan Ellis - 21.7 GAR | 3.9 WAR
- Brad Marchand - 20.7 | 3.7 WAR
- Brayden Point - 20.6 | 3.7 WAR
And just because I thought it was interesting, here’s the last four skaters to win the Hart, and how they finished their season.
- 2018-19: Nikita Kucherov - 18 GAR | 3.4 WAR
- 2017-18: Taylor Hall - 26.2 GAR | 5.1 WAR
- 2016-17: Connor McDavid - 33.6 GAR | 6.3 WAR
- 2015-16: Patrick Kane - 19.9 GAR | 3.8 WAR
While these stats aren’t the be all end all, when you factor them in with Panarin’s other numbers (and #watchthegameNERD), he truly deserves the Hart Trophy for the 2019-20 season.
There’s still a month of games to be played, but it would take a lot for him to fall out of contention — even if the Rangers ultimately fall short of the postseason.
Stats via Evolving Hockey unless otherwise noted.
Evolving-Hockey GAR component explanation can be found here
HockeyViz heat map how to read explanation can be found here