B/R NHL Roundtable: Who Should Win the Hart, Auston Matthews or Connor McDavid?

Bleacher Report NHL StaffFeatured ColumnistApril 7, 2022

B/R NHL Roundtable: Who Should Win the Hart, Auston Matthews or Connor McDavid?

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    Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

    They are two of the best players in the world today. And they are both front-runners for the 2022 Hart Trophy, given to the NHL's Most Valuable Player.

    What is there to say about Connor McDavid other than he's the best player in the sport? Currently leading the league with 106 points (41 goals, 65 assists) in 70 games, McDavid seemingly tilts the ice every time he's on it. The reigning Hart Trophy winner—and a two-time winner of the accolade—continues to be the driving force for the Edmonton Oilers.

    While no one will argue McDavid's credentials, some will argue whether he's having a better overall season compared to Matthews. The 24-year-old is having a career year with 54 goals in 65 games and has tied the Toronto Maple Leafs' franchise record for goals in a single season.

    Two superstar talents, only one Hart Trophy. Who wins it?

    Our B/R NHL staff gathered together for another roundtable to debate the topic. Want to have your say? Sound off in the comments about who you think should win!

It's Close, but Matthews Just Edges McDavid

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    It's difficult to determine whether Auston Matthews or Connor McDavid is more deserving of the 2021-22 Hart Memorial Trophy. They are clearly this season's best players.

    McDavid sits atop the individual points race while leading the Oilers as team captain. Matthews centers the Leafs top line, leads all NHL goal scorers and could become the first player to reach 60 goals in a season since the Tampa Bay Lightning's Steven Stamkos did it in 2011-12.

    While a good argument can be made for McDavid, Matthews' goal-scoring prowess makes him the more deserving candidate.

    With 54 goals in 65 games, the 24-year-old has an excellent chance of hitting the 60-goal plateau. He also has a decent shot of becoming the first player to reach 65 goals since Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin in 2007-08.

    Ovechkin, by the way, won the Hart Trophy and the Maurice Richard Trophy that season. Matthews appears in line to do the same.

    Matthews isn't padding his stats with power-play or empty-net goals. He leads the league with 40 even-strength goals. Only 14 have come with the man advantage, and only four were empty-netters.

    What's also impressive is Matthews has accomplished these goal-scoring feats while improving his defensive game. He's a strong puck-possession player, leading the Leafs with a shot-attempt percentage of 59.6. With 78 takeaways, Matthews is second among all NHL skaters. He's is also reliable in the faceoff circle, winning 56.7 percent of his defensive-zone draws.

    Add it all up, and Matthews should become the first Toronto Maple Leaf to win the Hart Trophy since Ted "Teeder" Kennedy in 1955.

    Lyle Richardson

Auston Matthews' Resume This Season Is Just Better Than Everyone Else's

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    For a while, it looked like a two-horse race between the Leafs' Auston Matthews and New York Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin. In the past couple of weeks, though, Shesterkin's game has dropped to merely league average (the horror!), while Matthews has kept his foot on the pedal. The American center has posted video-game numbers, with 21 goals and 15 assists in his past 19 games.

    In fact, he's dominated for the entire length of the season. Matthews leads the league with 54 goals in 65 games—four more than second-place Leon Draisaitl has produced despite playing five fewer games. Combined with 41 assists, Mathews' point total of 95 is superlative in any context but especially in a tough Atlantic Division. Matthews also leads the league in even-strength goals with 40.

    But it's not just the offense. Matthews has developed into an exemplary defensive center. Per Evolving Hockey, Matthews has added 5.3 goals above replacement value through his defensive work, ranking fourth among all NHL forwards.

    It's worth mentioning that he's doing this in a Toronto media market that isn't currently offering much kudos for regular-season wins while simultaneously catastrophizing the losses.

    Don't get me wrong—Connor McDavid faces similar scrutiny, but there's no media market quite like Toronto, a pressure cooker of a town that's desperate for a Stanley Cup.

    If the season ended today, Matthews would finish with a league-leading 28.4 total goals above replacement, which would be the best total from an NHL skater since McDavid in 2016-17 and the eighth-best output by an NHL skater since 2007-08. There is still time for Johnny Gaudreau, Shesterkin or McDavid to catch him, but assuming Matthews can stick the landing, this should be his award in a landslide.

    Adam Herman

Don't Take Connor McDavid's Greatness for Granted...He's the MVP!

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    There's a scene in the 1991 movie City Slickers in which a Bruno Kirby character and a Daniel Stern character are debating Roberto Clemente's and Hank Aaron's credentials as the best right fielders of their generation.

    And after Kirby rails about Clemente's running and throwing prowess, Stern responds with this: "I'm going to say one thing to you, OK? 755 home runs. Goodbye."

    I was reminded of that exchange when the roundtable came together again this week.

    And no matter how many times my colleagues tossed numbers like 54 goals and 95 points in 65 games in my direction, all I could bring myself to say was: "Best player in the world. Goodbye."

    Because that's what McDavid is. And given the flotsam and jetsam that surrounds him on the rest of the Edmonton Oilers in the form of players not named Leon Draisaitl, that's all that's needed.

    While you're perusing a Maple Leafs roster packed to almost embarrassing levels with talent—four more 20-goal scorers, four others with at least 60 points—it's hardly hyperbolic to suggest Toronto would still be pretty competitive, though admittedly not quite as elite, without No. 34 leading the way.

    Now take a minute to ponder the Oilers without No. 97. Not a pretty sight, is it?

    Outside of McDavid, exactly two players have 20 goals.

    And outside of McDavid, exactly one has passed 50 points.

    As respectable as they may be as pros, the idea that a team led by the likes of Zach Hyman, Kailer Yamamoto and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins alone would be tied for the most points in the league since Jay Woodcroft's arrival as coach is laughable at best. And the fact that they've reached those heights is a testament to just how great—and how valuable—McDavid is.

    No one is suggesting Matthews isn't a top-shelf NHL star. But just because we've grown accustomed to No. 97's greatness doesn't mean we should take it for granted come awards time.

    Lyle Fitzsimmons

McDavid and Matthews Are Great, but Spare a Thought for Johnny Hockey

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    There's no way to argue that Johnny Gaudreau should win the Hart Trophy. It's Matthews' to lose at this juncture, and the only one who could probably catch him is McDavid. Simply being nominated for the award is an honor in and of itself, however, and there are plenty of reasons that the Calgary Flames forward should see his name right alongside Matthews and McDavid as a Hart finalist.

    Recently, Dom Luszczyszyn of The Athletic released his updated trophy tracker. It leverages his GSVA model in an attempt to "create a strong shortlist of candidates worthy of deeper exploration," as he wrote.

    This list ranks Matthews as the deserving winner, with Gaudreau trailing just behind him. Luszczyszyn reasons that McDavid should be in second because of a variety of factors, but it's still telling to see Johnny Hockey included in a ranking of the best hockey players from this season.

    He's been integral for a Flames team that has gone from afterthought to potential Stanley Cup finalist in just one year's time and is on a pace that would see him score 40 goals and possibly crack 100 points. Both of those numbers would represent career highs for the 28-year-old, and it's worth noting that the offensive production hasn't come in lieu of defense.

    Through the lens of expected goals percentage (via HockeyPuck.com), Gaudreau is the driver of the NHL's fifth-most effective line. Calgary badly out-chances and outscores opponents when the left wing is on the ice, and he's one of the on-ice leaders that has helped head coach Darryl Sutter's message land with such effectiveness.

    Gaudreau might win the Hart Trophy in a normal season, but this hasn't been a regular campaign in terms of offensive output across the league. Still, he deserves recognition for the role that he's played in Calgary's rise to the elite in the Western Conference. 

    Franklin Steele