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It was after Monday’s morning skate when Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock was asked if he was paying attention to the fact that the Boston Bruins had been chasing down the Tampa Bay Lightning for first place in the Eastern Conference standings.
Yes, he replied, before giving a rundown of the previous night’s channel surfing.
“I was watching Nashville and Winnipeg last night, and it was awesome. I just love watching them — it was unbelievable how good they were on both power plays,” said Babcock. “And then I turned over to watch Minny and Boston and then I saw Boston make about 15 plays in two minutes on the power play, and so I just shut it off. It was getting too… ”
About 12 or 13 of those plays involved Brad Marchand, who in Patrice Bergeron’s absence has quietly crept up into the Hart Trophy debate.
Despite playing only 60 of the Bruins’ 74 games so far this season, Marchand is tied for 14th in scoring with 33 goals and 80 points. Only Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon has a better point per game average, while only Edmonton’s Connor McDavid has produced more points in the month of March.
In any other season, Marchand would win MVP or at the very least be one of the three finalists. But this isn’t any other season. With two weeks remaining, five players are on pace for 100 points and three others could hit the 50-goal mark.
In all, he is competing against 10 other legitimate Hart Trophy candidates — and that’s leaving out two or three deserving names, such as Aleksander Barkov and Eric Staal. Here’s the lowdown on each of those players’ chances.
Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado
Why he deserves to win: After finishing dead last in the standings in 2016-17, Colorado was supposed to be even worse after trading away Matt Duchene. But thanks to MacKinnon, who is tied for third in scoring with 92 points and has a league-best 1.37 points per game, the Avs are in a wild card spot.
Why he won’t: Colorado has just a one-point lead on St. Louis for the final playoff spot. If the Avalanche fall out of the mix, so could MacKinnon.
Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh
Why he deserves to win: Malkin is ranked third in the Rocket Richard Trophy race with 42 goals and is tied for third in overall scoring with 92 points. Since the All-Star break, only McDavid has scored more than Malkin, who has 40 points in his past 25 games.
Why he won’t: Unlike McDavid or MacKinnon, Malkin has the luxury of being on a team where Phil Kessel (85 points) and Sidney Crosby (83) are also in the top 10 in scoring.
Connor McDavid, Edmonton
Why he deserves to win: The reigning Hart Trophy winner has been even better this year. McDavid leads all players with 99 points and has a plus-24 rating on a team that is a minus-22. Since the All-Star break he has an unreal 24 goals and 45 points in 27 games.
Why he won’t: It’s hard to make the argument that he is valuable to the Oilers when the Oilers have been this bad. The last player to win MVP on a non-playoff team was Mario Lemieux, who led all scorers by almost 20 points.
Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay
Why he deserves to win: No one was better in the first half than Kucherov, who scored 64 points in 49 games heading into the All-Star break. He’s cooled slightly since then — and others have really heated up — but the Lightning forward is still ranked second in scoring with 96 points.
Why he won’t: Getting passed by McDavid hurts. So does the fact that he plays on a star-studded team.
William Karlsson, Vegas
Why he deserves to win: Karlsson had six goals last season. On Monday, he scored his 40th. And he did it while playing on an expansion team with linemates who were essentially unwanted by their previous teams.
Why he won’t: Though he leads the Golden Knights in goals, you could argue that Jonathan Marchessault (72 points) has been the better forward and that goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has been the team’s MVP.
Taylor Hall, New Jersey
Why he deserves to win: Hall is ranked outside the top 10 in scoring with 82 points, but without him the Devils would not be battling for a wild card spot. In fact, he has 33 more points than the next-highest scorer on his team.
Why he won’t: Unless he can get on another scoring streak, his point total won’t be enough to win the Hart Trophy.
Alex Ovechkin, Washington
Why he deserves to win: The Rocket Richard Trophy leader is five goals away from reaching the 50-goal mark, plus he’s amongst the top 10 in league scoring. Unlike previous years, he doesn’t have a teammate with him there.
Why he won’t: Based on the stats, Ovechkin hasn’t played well with others. His 38 assists are lower than anyone else ranked amongst the top 20 in scoring.
Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg
Why he deserves to win: The Jets captain, who is tied for eighth in scoring, has really done it all. He’s played centre and wing, picked up the slack whenever Mark Scheifele got hurt, and helped with Kyle Connor’s breakout year.
Why he won’t: For whatever reason, Wheeler hasn’t received much attention. Maybe it’s because he plays on a team where Patrik Laine (43 goals) — and his goat beard — tend to overshadow everyone else.
Claude Giroux, Philadelphia
Why he deserves to win: Just look at his points (91). Giroux is amongst the top five in scoring — something he has maintained for most of the season — while propelling the Flyers to a playoff berth.
Why he won’t: Most top players have someone riding shotgun with them, but Giroux has the even greater luxury of playing on a line with Jakub Voracek (80 points) and Sean Couturier (71 points).
Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles
Why he deserves to win: The Selke Trophy favourite has shown a different side to his game this year with 34 goals and 88 points to rank sixth in scoring. The fact no other Los Angeles player is ranked inside the top 65 makes it even more impressive.
Why he won’t: Only Sergei Fedorov has won the Selke and Hart in the same year — and he did it by finishing second in points and third in goals.
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