It’s been a stunning ascent for Brad Marchand. The Bruins winger has developed over the years from pure pest, to pest with skill, to sniper, to star, to MVP candidate.
That last part? Still up for debate. Especially when you consider how often Marchand has been called to the principal’s office. But when he has the puck on his stick, he’s one of the NHL’s most supremely dangerous talents.
So now, it’s fair to ask: how legitimate is Marchand’s case to win the Hart Trophy as league MVP?
Unfortunately, history is not even close to being on Marchand’s side. The league’s criteria appears pretty simple. Of the last 15 Hart Trophy winners, 13 have been forwards, and 10 of them have won the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s scoring leader and/or the Maurice Richard Trophy as the leading goal scorer. Alex Ovechkin won all three in 2007-08.
Marchand sits second in the league with 1.33 points per game. But unless he goes on an absolutely outrageous surge to close the season, he won’t sniff those other trophies. So for Marchand to win the Hart would be rather unprecedented in recent league history. But he should still be In The Conversation™ for the Hart, considering his clutch play. He’s tied for fourth in the NHL in game-winning goals with eight, and leads the league with five overtime goals. To produce at an elite level, and do it repeatedly in crunch-time situations, should at least earn you some votes.
While a Hart Trophy win for Marchand would be a surprise, this isn’t your typical Hart race. It’s unusually wide-open. There’s no singularly dominant skater or goalie. Many recent MVPs have been clear-cut; this season is not the case.
Connor McDavid could very well win the Art Ross Trophy again this year. Entering Tuesday, he leads the league with 99 points. But the Oilers have stunk all season, so how “valuable” has McDavid been to his team this year, really?
You’ll have to limit the real candidates for the Hart to playoff teams. And it’s often the top teams that contain the league MVP. So Marchand will garner at least some consideration for that reason. But still, the Bruins have rolled for most of the season no matter who they’ve lost. It’s hard to say that any single player on the Bruins would hold Hart-level value when the team has won at times without Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, Tuukka Rask, and others.
Ultimately, it could be the Bruins’ depth that leaves Marchand off the MVP short list. It should be the same reason that Tampa’s Nikita Kucherov (96 points) falls short.
Who SHOULD Win?
The real value should be in players who make the difference between their teams making and missing the playoffs. Without Marchand, the Bruins should still be a good team and a playoff team. It’s much different for, say, Taylor Hall and the New Jersey Devils (86 points, second Wild Card in the Eastern Conference).
That’s why there should also be serious consideration for Nathan MacKinnon, whose Colorado Avalanche could end up in the playoffs a year after finishing dead last (by far) in the NHL. MacKinnon has taken his game to another level in 2017-18, with 92 points in 68 games.
Where would the Avs be without him? Well, they’d still have former first-round pick Mikko Rantanen (80 points in 75 games), but it’s clear that MacKinnon has elevated not only his linemate but the Avs as a team. The Avs were a sneaky-terrible 3-4-1 without MacKinnon when he missed eight games in the middle of the season with an upper body injury.
For the same reasons outlined above, there should also be serious talk for Hall (82 points, 33 more than the next player) and the Kings’ Anze Kopitar (88 points, also 33 points more than the next) for the Hart. Kopitar has been described in the past as the Patrice Bergeron of the Western Conference. He plays a strong 200-foot game and he’s already reached a career-high in scoring. What may hurt Kopitar is that L.A. still has perennial Norris candidate Drew Doughty, but if the Slovenian superstar doesn’t get legit consideration this year, he may never get it.
The Harsh Reality
In the end, the thing that keeps Marchand from winning the Hart may not be his production. Or his team. It could be the fact that he got suspended, once again, for crossing the line with an elbow to the head of the Devils’ Marcus Johansson. The New Jersey winger still hasn’t returned from a concussion he suffered from Marchand’s elbow, and offered a fairly scathing critique of his playing style on Monday.
Let’s be honest: the NHL probably isn’t in the business of awarding its most prestigious individual award to the player who’s been suspended more games than anyone (besides Raffi Torres) since the establishment of the Department of Player Safety in 2011. It wouldn’t quite be an unprecedented move, though; Ovechkin won the Hart in 2013 after getting suspended for a total of seven games in the previous four years. Still, Ovechkin hasn’t found himself in trouble to the extent of Marchand, who’s been suspended 19 games in his career. None of the last 15 Hart Trophy winners were suspended during the season in which they won it.
There’s no question that Marchand has become one of the most prolific scorers in the NHL. He should be a Hart Trophy candidate. But it could be his history of extracurricular activity that hurts his chances more than anything.
What To Expect
Since the NHL still leans toward scoring leaders as its MVP, you can reasonably expect that to be the case once again. If McDavid wins the scoring title, that could throw a wrench into their plans. But MacKinnon, Evgeni Malkin, and Kucherov are all right there. So is the Flyers’ Claude Giroux, for that matter. If one of the aforementioned four players ends up with the Art Ross, they’ll be the leader in the clubhouse for the Hart.
Marchand should be a legitimate candidate. But in terms of the league’s history – and his own – there’s probably too much working against him to make him the first Bruin to win MVP since Phil Esposito (!) in 1973-74. He’s done enough to hurt his own case at this point. It’s too bad, because his mistakes have taken the shine off who should now be one of the league’s most celebrated players.
He will be for the local fans, anyway. And perhaps he leads the Bruins to the trophy that actually matters. The big, old one you get to hoist in June. Which is probably all that matters in the end.
— By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at email@example.com.