As we approach the NHL trade deadline and close in on the end of the season, the awards debates are going to heat up. The Tampa Bay Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov is obviously in the mix for the Hart Trophy MVP award as he leads the scoring race. But there’s already nay sayers within the media that are attempting to find negatives wherever they can to justify throwing their vote to lesser qualified candidates. They’ll point to things like the depth of the team and quality of teammates around him. They’ll point out that the Lightning would still be a playoff team without him.
While those points are true, they are nitpicking and unnecessary because those questions were irrelevant to most of the Hart winners since the 2004 lockout. Sidney Crosby wasn’t doubted either of the times he won the Hart and Art Ross while surrounded by multiple high end forwards (Evgeni Malkin and Mark Recchi in 2006-07 and Malkin, Chris Kunitz, James Neal, and Jussi Jokinen in 2013-14) and offensively talented defensemen (Sergei Gonchar and Rayn Whitney in 2006-07 and Matt Niskanen in 2013-14). Alex Ovechkin didn’t get these kind of arguments the three times he has won the Hart Trophy while playing with one of the best playmakers in the game (Niklas Backstrom) and a high end offensive defenseman (Mike Green) playing along side him.
Since the 2004 lockout, with the exception of Taylor Hall in 2017-18 and Carey Price in 2014-15, the Hart Trophy winner either won the Art Ross for most points or dominantly won the Rocket Richard for most goals. Kucherov is well on his way towards winning the Art Ross and Ovechkin is leading the Rocket Richard race, but not by an outrageous number of goals like he did in 2007-08 (13 goals) and 2008-09 (10 goals).
And there are some other things that have stuck out to me that point towards the absolute dominance of Kucherov this year. Among players with at least 50 minutes played, he leads the NHL in points per 60 minutes in all situations with 4.94 according to Evolving-Hockey. [Editor’s Note: After last night’s five point game in Columbus, Kucherov’s P60 has now pushed up to 5.11.] Just stop and think about that time on ice requirement. 50 minutes is maybe five or six games for a fourth line player. The only two players at all with a higher scoring rate than Kucherov are Brendan Gaunce in three goals with the Vancouver Canucks and just under 23 minutes of TOI and Zac Dalpe in nine minutes in one game with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The thing that got me looking in this direction about his scoring rate was looking at the TOI per game for the Top 20 scorers in the league. Of those 20 players, only David Pastrnak (66 points, tied 18th, 19:02), Brayden Point (75 points, tied 6th, 18:41), and Steven Stamkos (71 points, 9th, 18:09) have less time on ice per game than Kucherov’s 19:32.
The two players sitting behind him in the scoring race, and the ones that have the best chance of catching him, are Patrick Kane with 22:17 and Connor McDavid with 22:56. McDavid is the only one of the three that plays shorthanded time, but he’s only averaging 27 seconds per game. So if we remove that time, then we have Kucherov playing 2:45 less than Kane and 2:57 less than McDavid at even strength and on the power play.
So we have Kucherov scoring 4.94 points per 60 minutes while Kane is scoring 4.04 and McDavid 3.77. The reason that Kane and McDavid are even close to Kucherov in point totlas is because their extra TOI equates to roughly six extra games worth of ice time over Kucherov.
As an experiment, I took the top 20 scorers in the NHL, plus Auston Matthews and Patrice Bergeron because they are near the top of the Points per 60 rankings but have been limited due to injuries. I divided their P60 to get “P20” or Points per 20 minutes and then calculated how many points each player would have if they played exactly 20 minutes in each of their games. Kucherov would sit at 97 points with Point in second at 79 points. He would be followed by Stamkos and Kane at 78 points a piece and Johnny Gaudreau at 77 points.
Calculated the same way over an 82 game season for everyone, Kucherov would be sitting at 135 points followed by Point and Bergeron at 112 points and Kane at 110 points. Stamkos would be coming up next tied with Gaudreau at 109 points.
Now granted, this is a bit of a cheeky way to play with the numbers. There’s no guarantee that any of these players would have the same exact point production if they all had equal ice time. But it does put into perspective how dominating Kucherov has been in with his more limited minutes compared to some of the players that are chasing him.
Our resident numbers person, Loserpoints, pulled information from Hockey-Reference.com to see how Kucherov’s season is ranking in terms of Points per 60. Time on ice data only goes back to the 1998-99 season so we can’t accurately compare him to the mega stars of the 80s. That was also a different era completely that would be hard to compare to. But what we found in this data is that he isn’t far off from setting the record during the Time On Ice Era.
The other thing it points out for me is how many of the players that top this list won the Hart Trophy.
For the list, I eliminated any players with less than 500 minutes TOI. While this is a fairly low bar to clear in a full season, it also helps to keep the 2012-13 season relevant with it’s shorter schedule. Among this group, Kucherov’s season is at the top of the list with 4.89 points per 60. This number is coming out slightly different from Evolving-Hockey which is likely due to some small differences in the calculation of time on ice at the two sites.
But let’s look at some of the runners up and how they did in regards to the Hart Trophy.
Joe Thornton, 4.48 P60, 2005-06, Hart Winner
After an early season trade from the Boston Bruins to the San Jose Sharks, Thornton led the league in assists and points to win the Art Ross. He also won the Hart Trophy and was a first team All Star.
Sidney Crosby, 4.42 P60, 2012-13, Hart Finalist
Crosby finished the lockout shortened season with 56 points and missed six games. He lost the Art Ross to Martin St. Louis by just four points. He still finished second in the Hart voting and won the Pearson, the player voted most outstanding award, as well as being a first team All Star. He lost the Hart to Alex Ovechkin’s 32 goals in 42 games to win the Rocket Richard and the Hart Trophy.
Peter Forsberg, 4.45 P60, 2003-04
Forsberg’s season was shortened to just 39 games a year after winning the Hart and Ross trophies.
Sidney Crosby, 4.40 P60, 2010-11
Crosby suffered a concussion this season and was held to just 41 games, but still put up 66 points.
Sidney Crosby, 4.40 P60, 2006-07, Hart Winner
Crosby won his first Hart Trophy at the age of 19 finishing ahead of Roberto Luongo and Martin Brodeur.
Peter Forsberg, 4.40 P60, 2002-03, Hart Winner
Forsberg led the league in assists and points and won the Hart and Ross trophies and was a first team All Star.
Mario Lemieux, 4.36 P60, 2000-01
Lemieux returned after a two year absence to play 43 games and scored 76 points. Despite playing barely half the season, he still was the runner up for the Hart Trophy and a second-team All Star. He lost to Joe Sakic’s 118 point season that came up three points short of Jaromir Jagr for the Art Ross.
Daniel Sedin, 4.10 P60, 2009-10
Injuries shortened Daniel Sedin’s season to just 63 games while his brother Henrik Sedin went on to win the Hart trophy.
Jason Spezza, 4.18 P60, 2005-06
As impressive as this output was, he only played in 68 games. Thornton listed above won the Hart Trophy.
Alex Ovechkin, 4.17 P60, 2009-10, Hart Finalist
Ovechkin narrowly lost the Hart Trophy by 60 votes to Henrik Sedin who also won the Art Ross. Ovechkin finished one goal behind Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos for the Rocket Richard and three points behind Sedin for the Ross.
Henrik Sedin, 4.16 P60, 2009-10, Hart Winner
As mentioned above, he won the Hart Trophy and was just a smidge behind Ovechkin in P60 on the year.
Evgeni Malkin, 4.15 P60, 2011-12, Hart Winner
Malkin won the Hart, Art Ross, and Pearson as well as being a first team All Star.
Joe Thornton, 4.11 P60, 2006-07
Thornton finished behind Hart winner Crosby in P60 and points.
I could continue on down the list, but much of it continues to look the same. Almost every one of these top performances either resulted in a Hart Trophy, the player being beat by another player with a better P60, or an injury shortened season. Kucherov’s performance thus far is head and shoulders above many of these Hart winners and the competition for the Hart Trophy this year.
There will continue to be naysayers of Kucherov for various reasons. Either because they want to create controversy, come up with nitpicked reasons to not vote for a player from a non-traditional market, or just to create their own narrative. To this point, Kucherov has been the best, and most valuable, player in the league. And the numbers point him to being in very good Hart Trophy company.
Stats as of 12/18/2019.