Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews follows
Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews follows through on a shot in the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Colorado Avalanche, Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/Geneva Heffernan)

NHL FUTURES – BETTING THE HART TROPHY WINNER

Mike Shara

The NHL All-Star break is almost upon us so it seemed the appropriate time to have a look at what Vegas thinks about who’s likely to win the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP this year and see if any candidate sticks out like they might be a better bet than the others. The race is still pretty deep, with all five guys I’m going to mention here genuinely still in the race (well… the top four, anyway). I have ranked the players in order of who I think is most likely to win – not necessarily their betting odds.

Note that the only major betting house that currently has available odds on the Hart Trophy race for 2021-22 is FanDuel, so all odds posted in this article are theirs.

5. CHRIS KREIDER, NY Rangers (+6000)
The Rangers are currently in second place in the Metropolitan Division and are winning a lot of tough games under first year Head Coach Gerard Gallant. A huge reason for their great record is the performance of goalie Igor Shesterkin, who I’d pick as the current favorite to win the Vezina Trophy, especially given New York’s underwhelming advanced overall team stats. Shesterkin’s not likely to get many serious MVP votes, but if the Rangers continue to win games in the sport’s biggest market, then at some point someone is going to notice that Kreider is currently leading the league in goals and power play goals and is fourth in shooting percentage and figure somebody on the Rangers should get some credit.

4. AUSTON MATTHEWS, Toronto (+1500)
He has been in Toronto long enough now that he’s starting to break all kinds of franchise records for scoring goals at such a young age – no small feat when your team is over 100 years old. He sometimes doesn’t get enough credit for how skilled he is because he plays with several other talented forwards like Mitch Marner and John Tavares, but he has averaged a goal per game over the last two months and he has been on the score sheet for over 30% of the Leafs’ total goals this season. He is more than 10 points ahead of any of his talented teammates and Toronto is a playoff team (at least). New York may be the biggest NHL market, but Toronto is the most hockey-crazed city and if their team continues to excel, their former first overall pick deserves the lion’s share of the credit this year.

3. ALEXANDER OVECHKIN, Washington (+350)
Had he not just been placed on the Covid Reserve list, I might have him at #2. We’ll have to see how long he’s out and how he plays upon returning. Whether he continues on his current pace or not, Alexander the Great is nothing short of amazing and at age 37 he is almost single-handedly dragging the Capitals into a battle for postseason play. He’s tied with Matthews for third place in the NHL in goals scored, and is fifth in the scoring race, behind four players all at least 10 years younger than him. No one in hockey is more beloved than Ovy and if McJesus’ team doesn’t reach the playoffs and Huberdeau slows down at all, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the writers give him the award as a way of recognizing his late-career excellence. Remember – writers love a narrative to go along with their vote and Ovechkin’s MVP campaign is a better story than the anyone else’s on this list – by far.

2. JONATHAN HUBERDEAU, Florida (+650)
He is leading the NHL scoring race (although currently just by one point), the Panthers are the NHL’s highest-scoring and highest-flying team and must be firmly recognized as being among the 4 or 5 serious contenders to win this year’s Stanley Cup. The former third overall pick of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, he finished 13th in Hart voting last season but has upped his game in every category this year and is the deadliest player on a very good team. If he goes on a run in the second half and wins the scoring title and Florida also wins their division and gets a #1 or #2 seed, voters will notice. Like it or not, many of the hockey writers will not give a vote to a player whose team fails to reach the postseason. Which brings us to…

1. CONOR MCDAVID, Edmonton (+200)
Remember, this award isn’t as simple as “Who’s the NHL’s Best Player?” because if it were, there wouldn’t even be an article to write. His superstar teammate Leon Draisatl is second in the league in both goals and points, so that may split some votes between the two of them, even though a cursory look at Draisatl’s advanced stats reveal that he hasn’t been nearly as good as his fellow Wonder Twin. The Oilers recently emerged from a seven-game winless streak to win four in a row and if the season ended right now, they’d just squeeze into the playoffs, which would help McDavid’s cause.  Of course, none of the disappointments about his team are his fault – every available measure shows he’s been as good this year as he was when he won the Hart in 2017 and 2021. What I said about writers remains worth remembering, though – if Edmonton misses the playoffs and Ovechkin somehow sneaks the Caps in or Huberdeau wins the scoring race while playing for a top-seeded team, the fact that Conor remains the best player in the world might not be enough to guarantee him another MVP.

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