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Nathan MacKinnon is Right, Artemiy Panarin Should Win NHL’s Hart Trophy

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NHLI via Getty Images

With NHL Awards voting officially underway, I present to you the final edition of “For Your Consideration.”

In what feels forever ago, although it was only March 2, I wrote that Panarin was the true front-runner for the Hart Trophy, and not much has changed so I will try to not retrace mostly covered ground.

Panarin’s first regular season on Broadway closed with an impressive stat line both by the metrics you can find at NHL dot com, and on your favorite fancy stats site of choice. Using the traditional numbers, Panarin finished first in even strength points (71), third in points (95), assists (63), points per game (1.38), and 4th in average ice-time (20:36) at his position of left wing. And for those who care about plus-minus (you shouldn’t), his rating of +36 was first among forwards and second in the league to some Colorado Avalanche defender by the name of Ryan Graves.

These stats alone, in context to what he meant to the Rangers, should give him a very strong case.

If we get fancier, he also was worth a league leading 24.9 goals above replacement according to Evolving-Hockey, a league leading 4.4 wins above replacement, and a league leading 8.5 standings points above replacement. Elias Petterson finished second to Panarin in each of the above categories, and it is a shame he hasn’t received the love he deserves when it comes to Hart Trophy buzz.

While fancy stats aren’t the be all, end all, they certainly should mean something in conjunction with Panarin’s box cars, and the all mighty “eye test”.

But despite his impressive credentials, a challenger awaits ready to claim his prize. It seems that Leon Draisaitl has been preordained as the rightful winner of the Hart Trophy. While the reigning Art Ross winner had a fine year in which he finished with 110 points in just 71 games, he simply doesn’t have the strongest case.

But just don’t take my word for it, for now. Here’s what Nathan MacKinnon — one of the league’s top players and someone who played against Draisaitl in the Western Conference this season — had to say.

“I knew he was a free agent so I was kind of watching him with Columbus. What an amazing player,” MacKinnon said. “And then I watched him all season - just from talking to him, really nice guy, so maybe I’m a little biased with that - but that’s why I think he should win the Hart this year.” (The Score)

It is a pretty basic quote that doesn’t say much, but it’s still worth mentioning that MacKinnon, someone who should be in the Hart Trophy race as well, is vocally supporting Panarin’s candidacy.

In the second installment I went into details on the players who were among the NHL dot com leaders, and in the final poll posted the results were as follows:

Voting totals (points awarded on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis): Leon Draisaitl, Oilers, 83 points (12 first-place votes); Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche, 64 points (four first-place votes); David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins, 45 points (one first-place vote); Connor McDavid, Oilers, 34 points (one first-place vote); Artemi Panarin, New York Rangers, 30 points; Roman Josi, Nashville Predators, 6 points; Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning, 2 points; Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets, 2 points; John Carlson, Washington Capitals, 1 point; Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres, 1 point; Brad Marchand, Bruins, 1 point

I obviously don’t agree with this list, but given the nature of the voting pool, I have resigned myself to the fact that Draisaitl is bound to be one of the finalists so I will assign him a spot. With Panarin as someone who should be in the running, that leaves one spot for the top three.

Buffalo Sabres v Winnipeg Jets Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images

Personally, I feel Connor Hellebuyck should be garnering a lot more consideration than he’s received given what he did behind a poor defensive Winnipeg Jets squad, but there will be many who look at his 2.57 goals against average instead of his 4.8 wins above replacement, 21.04 goals saved above average, or 19.86 goals saved above expected which were tops among goalies this season. That final spot should, and will likely, go to MacKinnon who had one of the more impressive seasons in recent memory.

Finishing with 93 points in 69 games is impressive, and doing so while the Avalanche were without key players including Cale Makar, Mikko Rantanen, Nazem Kadri, and assorted others for good chunks of the season deserves mentioning. He was also worth 19.8 goals above replacement and 3.5 wins above replacement which puts him in good company of those listed in the NHL dot com trophy tracker.

I feel MacKinnon did more than enough to edge out Pastrnak, someone who was well on his way to the first 50-plus goal/100 point season of his career, but I feel there’s also the factor of Brad Marchand having a strong season himself which could play a role in siphoning votes away. The same could be said about McDavid, although in his case, he’s had much stronger seasons in the past individually so there isn’t as compelling reason for this to be a year in which he gets a considerable amount of votes.

What ends up being a difference maker, in a year full of offensive excellence, is defensive ability — although I’m not sure how that will be factored on the ballots.

Panarin’s, Draisaitl’s, MacKinnon’s, McDavid’s and Pastrnak’s offensive production are not that dissimilar; all check the offensive excellence box for Hart Trophy consideration. By points per game average, the leaders are as follows: Draisaitl (1.55), McDavid (1.52), Panarin (1.38), Pastrnak (1.36), and MacKinnon (1.35). While there’s a clear gap between the Edmonton duo and the rest of the field. we can’t ignore that Draisaitl’s most frequent linemate was McDavid.

That certainly played a factor in him finishing with a 0.17 higher points per game average, and helped him win the Art Ross. On the season, McDavid assisted on 21 of Draisaitl’s goals, Draisaitl assisted on 16 of McDavid’s goals, so right there that’s 37 instances of the two teaming up for points. Obviously players make the most of the hand they are dealt, but it is something voters should factor in when looking at players who averaged well over a point per game.

While Mika Zibanejad had an amazing season, he picked up an assist on just seven of Panarin’s goals, and Panarin assisted on 16 of Zibanejad’s goals. On an even more drilled down level, the difference in P/60 is Draisaitl 4.11, Panarin 4.01 in all situations, and Panarin 3.28, Draisaitl 2.86 at 5v5.

So, again, while Draisaitl’s production certainly is impressive, the Hart trophy should go to the player who checks the most boxes. Offensively both him and Panarin check that box, but there’s more to hockey than just goals and points. Defensive ability should also be one of theme. It isn’t to say that the player should be a Selke candidate, but they shouldn’t have such a weakness to his game either.

Via HockeyViz.com, an amazing resource you should support on Patreon if you can, there are isolated summary charts which round up a number of factors when look at a player’s impact. Here’s my hypothetical three finalists side by side by side.

https://hockeyviz.com/

Here you can see varying degree of solid offensive impact at both 5v5 and power play situations. The only player of the three to actually make their team better in their own end while on the ice is Panarin. MacKinnon comes in pretty much neutral, whereas the Oilers are six percent worse when Draisaitl is on.

This snapshot is another good example of impact, and here’s another look

https://hockeyviz.com/

And another for good measure.

Speaking of on/off impacts, here’s another stark visual highlighting just the difference Panarin stepping off and on the bench makes for the Rangers.

Given all the available evidence, Panarin has a very strong case. The one thing that may trip him up is if writers unjustly hold the fact that the Rangers are only a playoff team due to the 24-team format against him. It would be wrong, because if we want to play that game; there are only eight true playoff teams right now with the remainder participating in the play in round. Are writers going to vote for the Hart Trophy based of those eight teams? Some might, but it is still something to point out.

There’s certainly a lot of ways to spin the Hart Trophy debate, and there’s no doubt that a number of players had impressive, amazing, impactful, and valuable seasons. But the award should go to the individual who had the greatest impact to their team, and that includes contributions on both sides of the puck. The Rangers are a lottery team without Panarin in the picture. The Oilers without Draisaitl still have Connor McDavid. The Avalanche without MacKinnon would be in rough shape, especially given what they went through this year.

Saying that Draisaitl shouldn’t win the Hart shouldn’t be taken as an insult. Yes, he brought a lot to the table offensively, but defensively he hurt his team. And while the month of December certainly drives a lot of those negative numbers — a month he scored just 14 points and had a 10.97 GF%, 31.32 xGF%, and a 6.38 GA/60 — you can’t just throw out that month. It’s a cumulative award where everything is considered.

To those who say he had the most points and edged out Panarin in other categories, while true, you need to look at the whole picture. Panarin was a net positive, a beast 5v5 where most of the game is played through and through, and that with everything else on his resume should be enough to win the Hart Trophy.


Prediction

  1. Leon Draisaitl
  2. Nathan MacKinnon
  3. Artemiy Panarin
  4. Connor McDavid
  5. David Pastrnak

Preference

  1. Artemiy Panarin
  2. Nathan MacKinnon
  3. Connor Hellebuyck
  4. Elias Petterson
  5. David Pastrnak

Advanced metrics via Evolving-Hockey unless otherwise noted.