The Toronto Maple Leafs' Phil Kessel has not been merely good over the course of the 2013-14 season. He has been exceptional for the Leafs and, unquestionably, he has entered the Hart Trophy conversation.
Kessel has been one of the top offensive players in the game, as seen in the first table. These are the top three point producers in the NHL this season and are the three forwards most likely to be garnering early attention for the prestigious Hart Trophy.
If we look at just even-strength numbers, along with ice time, Kessel's numbers are very good. He is certainly in the same league as both Getzlaf and Crosby, who are obvious contenders for the Hart this season.
Kessel is posting these strong numbers with less ice time than either of these elite forwards.
Of course, it is always a subjective process to determine a player's value to his team. An interesting advanced stat that attempts to do this is the Goal Versus Threshold stat, or GVT. In its simplest terms, it is an attempt to measure a player's value, in goals, over and above what a replacement player could be expected to contribute.
If we think of Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf and Kessel as the front-runners among forwards for the Hart, then Crosby's calculated GVT is superior to both Getzlaf and Kessel. According to Hockey Prospectus, Crosby scores a 21.8, Getzlaf a 18.3 and Kessel a 16.5 in terms of GVT.
Finally, I think another pertinent stat to consider is each player's offensive contribution relative to their team's offense.
|Player||Goals||Assists||Team Goals||% Contributed|
From these numbers, it is clear that Kessel has been extremely important to the Leafs. While Crosby has contributed a higher percentage, both Getzlaf and Kessel are key offensive contributors to their teams.
Kessel has moved to another level this season. He posted eight points at the Olympics and was electrifying in Sochi. Kessel is a long shot to win the Hart this season, with these two forwards, along with Tampa Bay's Ben Bishop and Boston's Tuukka Rask likely to receive a lot of consideration.
At the very least, Kessel deserves to be in the conversation thanks to his strong offensive output and the fact that the Leafs have been one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference for most of the season.
Is Phil Kessel a Hart Trophy candidate this season?
All statistics were up-to-date prior to play on Mar. 18, 2014.