June 7, 2023

*Stats updated after Nov. 12 games

Welcome to THW’s 2022-23 Hart Trophy tracker. Using a mix of traditional analysis and newer analytical tools, this list will serve as a ranking of the NHL’s top Most Valuable Player (MVP) candidates over the course of the regular season. Just to get out ahead of the crowd, here’s an explanation for why points aren’t everything, in case some players aren’t ranked as high as you may believe is warranted.

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Before the inaugural top 5 is unveiled, a few qualifying criteria should be established. First, skaters must have appeared in at least 75 percent of their team’s total games to qualify for these rankings. For a goaltender to qualify, they must make a majority of their team’s starts. A player’s per-game production or performance will be considered, but staying healthy is crucial in determining which individual provided more overall value to their team. Lastly, those who provide greater relative value (due to a weak supporting cast, for example) will be ranked higher except in rare cases where a player is clearly above the pack.

2022-23 Hart Trophy Tracker Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid, and Nathan MacKinnon
Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid, and Nathan MacKinnon (The Hockey Writers)

It also bears keeping in mind that the season is still young, and the small sample size of on-ice results could lead to surprising names making the grade for the first few rankings. Things will shake out eventually, but for now, enjoy the early-season wonkiness. With those stipulations in place, let’s dive into the inaugural edition of the Hart Trophy rankings through the first month of play in the 2022-23 season.

5. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers

2022-23 Stats: 16 GP – 9 G – 19 A – 28 PTS – 22:05 ATOI

Through the first month of the season, it appears as though Leon Draisaitl has fully recovered from the high-ankle sprain which hampered him during the 2022 Playoffs. The German center once again finds himself atop the NHL’s scoring leaderboards, sitting first in total (18) and primary assists (15) and second in points (28). He isn’t just feasting on the power play either, given that he’s supplied the fourth-most even-strength assists (nine), eight of which are of the primary variety (second in the NHL).

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For most players, that level of production is good enough to rank atop this list, but unfortunately for Draisaitl, he shares the spotlight with the individual who (spoiler) leads the Hart Trophy power rankings. The 27-year-old pivot won his only MVP award for his performance during the 2019-20 season, coincidentally a season in which Connor McDavid missed time through injury. The circumstances allowed Draisaitl to counter arguments that his numbers were just a byproduct of his teammate’s otherworldly talent, and he was justly rewarded for his efforts.

Leon Draisaitl Edmonton Oilers
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

One notable strike against Draisaitl’s MVP case is his negative defensive impact at 5v5, something that’s often been levied as a criticism against him since he joined the league. The Edmonton Oilers are running a leaky ship when he takes the ice, only controlling 45.8 percent of shots (SF%), 46.4 percent of expected goals (xGF%), and 48.8 percent of scoring chances (SCF%). There’s no denying his eye-popping boxscore stats, but giving away a significant amount of value on the defensive end cuts into his overall value.

If it weren’t for McDavid, Draisaitl could fashion a stronger argument that he provides the most relative value to his team. Given that the pair is currently neck-and-neck in scoring, this award may come down to which of the two manages to play in more games this season. Fairly or not, it’s difficult to contend that he should win the Hart Trophy when this generation’s most dynamic skater plays on the same team unless he outpaces him by a noticeable margin. Improving his defensive numbers would also go a long way in solidifying his MVP argument, but that’s easier said than done.

4. David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins

2022-23 Stats: 15 GP – 9 G – 14 A – 23 PTS – 19:47 ATOI

When the Boston Bruins announced that Brad Marchand and Charlie McAvoy would miss the start of the season while recovering from offseason surgery, many wondered if that spelled the end of the franchise’s Stanley Cup ambitions. Instead, the team chugged along without the aforementioned pair and currently sits first in the Eastern Conference and second in the league overall. Now that the injured stars are back in the fold, the team looks primed to make one last Cup run with their veteran core headlined by Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci.

One reason that the Bruins stayed afloat through the first month of the season was the inspired play of winger David Pastrnak, currently on pace to set career highs in every offensive category. He’s tied for fifth in the league in goals (nine), fourth in assists (14), third in points (23), and is firing the most shots on goal per game (5.3) in the NHL. He’s been a potent even-strength scorer (tied for third in points) and has piled up the opportunities to power his scoring totals (fifth in individual scoring chances). The injuries forced him to become the focal point of the offence, and he hasn’t shied away from the increased defensive attention and responsibility.

David Pastrnak
David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins (Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

Pastrnak has enjoyed the boost provided by the contract year phenomenon, and he has every incentive to continue bolstering his offensive numbers. With underlining numbers demonstrating that he’s firing on all cylinders, his MVP case could come down to team record. If he’s the clear offensive metronome on a Presidents’ Trophy contender, the case to crown him as the Hart Trophy winner becomes much more evident. He did enough while Marchand and McAvoy were injured to show that he doesn’t necessarily need them to generate MVP-caliber production, which should help him as the early-season performance gets further in the rearview.

3. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets

2022-23 Stats: 11 GP – .935 SV% – 2.08 GAA – 12.05 GSAx

Given that the 2022-23 season is less than 20 games old, the conditions are ripe for truly outlandish results in small sample sizes, particularly when it comes to goaltending. The year is long and every player goes through inconsistent stretches, but we can only evaluate the evidence placed in front of us thus far. For the Winnipeg Jets’ Connor Hellebuyck, that variance is painting him as not only an early Vezina Trophy candidate but a leading contender for the Hart Trophy.

The Jets have surprisingly staked an early lead in the Central Division with an 8-4-1 record and most, if not all, of the credit should be assigned to the team’s American netminder. Defensively, the Jets are in disarray, in spite of what their record would indicate. They rank 20th in 5v5 shots allowed per 60 minutes (SA/60) and 27th in 5v5 expected goals against (xGA/60) and high-danger chances against per 60 (HDCA/60), rates which demonstrate that they are leaning heavily on Hellebuyck to paper over the deficiencies in their own end.

Connor Hellebuyck Winnipeg Jets
Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Despite the team in front of him conceding one of the highest rates of shots and scoring chances in the league at 5v5, Hellebuyck has restored his reputation as an elite NHL goalie. His .935 save percentage (SV%) ranks third among goalies who have played in more than one game and he’s tied for the league lead in shutouts (two) through the first month of the season. After a poor 2021-22 campaign in which his SV% dropped to a modest .910, his return to form is a welcome development.

Although performance by traditional metrics is impressive enough, his underlying results are just as sparkling. Goals saved above expected (GSAx) is a new metric which accounts for the quality of a goaltender’s workload, rather than treating each shot as an equal opportunity to score. By that standard, he’s saved over 12 goals more than expected (third in the NHL), which would rank within the overall top 10 last season. It’s unlikely that he maintains that pace all season long and is due for a bad game on occasion, but almost no one has been as directly responsible for their team’s success as the 29-year-old netminder.

2. Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers

2022-23 Stats: 10 GP – .937 SV% – 2.18 GAA – 15.79 GSAx

That Hellebuyck has been relegated to third in this ranking is a testament to the impact that Carter Hart has had on the fortunes of the Philadelphia Flyers’ results this season. Despite bringing in John Tortorella as the new head coach and fostering a more positive vibe around the team, their on-ice results (save for Hart) have predictably been well below the league average.

At 5v5, the Flyers are allowing the second-highest rate of high-danger chances and expected goals, the seventh-highest rate of shots, and the most scoring chances (SCA/60). Those are defensive metrics typically sported by the NHL’s basement dwellers but through Hart’s superhuman efforts in the crease, the Flyers have flipped the script. They rank fourth in the Eastern Conference and ninth in the league by points percentage (PTS%) with a record of 7-5-2. For a team tipped before the season to be a frontrunner in the Connor Bedard sweepstakes, that represents an incredible overperformance.

Carter Hart Philadelphia Flyers
Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Hart’s .937 SV% ranks second in the league (minimum two games played) and he’s saved nearly four more goals above expected than the New York Islanders’ Ilya Sorokin in second place. If the season ended today, his cumulative GSAx total would rank 59th among single-season performances since the stat started to be tracked in 2007-08. The sheer volume of the workload Hart is bound to face this season likely wears him down and his struggles in recent seasons suggest this start may be a mirage, but he’s currently playing at a historic pace — that deserves recognition.

1. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

2022-23 Stats: 15 GP – 15 G – 16 A – 31 PTS – 22:10 ATOI

Could number one on this list be anyone but Connor McDavid? The Oilers’ superstar has gone supernova to start the season, powered by the desire to leave no doubt as to who the NHL’s best player is after conceding the Hart Trophy last season to 60-goal man Auston Matthews. If the Oilers accrue a strong record and he maintains his robust pace, a unanimous win could be in his immediate future.

McDavid is firing at a goal-per-game pace (15 in 15) and owns a 2.07 points per game (P/GP) scoring rate, putting him on track to eclipse Nikita Kucherov’s 128-point season and establishing the new single-season points record for the 21st century. He won’t score at such a high rate all year (25 percent shooting), but he’s getting looks (eighth in shots) and isn’t exclusively feasting on the power play (leads the league with 16 even-strength points).

Connor McDavid Edmonton Oilers Jacob Markstrom Calgary Flames
Jacob Markstrom of the Calgary Flames makes a save against Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers (Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)

McDavid’s offensive output is undeniable, but his play on the defensive side of the puck has been brought into question at various points during his already-illustrious NHL career. In a development which bodes well for his award chances, McDavid’s underlying numbers at 5v5 are respectable enough to not stir up a conversation about whether or not his net impact grades out as positive. The Oilers control around 51 percent of shots, scoring chances, and expected goals at 5v5 when McDavid takes the ice, an even distribution which he is able to outperform with his absurd playmaking talent and finishing skill. Defensive issues used to be a legitimate concern with the 25-year-old center, but that no longer appears to be the case.

Barring a significant collapse by the Oilers in which they fail to secure a playoff spot, the 2022-23 Hart Trophy looks to be McDavid’s to lose. He’s scoring at a historic rate, isn’t solely relying on power-play production, and has improved his defensive game enough that he is no longer a liability in terms of losing the shot and chance battle at 5v5. The season has just begun, but McDavid has established himself as the frontrunner — can he maintain his lead?

2022-23 Hart Trophy Honourable Mentions

Here are 10 additional honourable mentions — in no particular order — to round out the inaugural edition of the Hart Trophy rankings: Jesper Bratt (New Jersey Devils); Rasmus Dahlin (Buffalo Sabres); Jack Eichel (Vegas Golden Knights); Nico Hischier (New Jersey Devils); Erik Karlsson (San Jose Sharks); Nikita Kucherov (Tampa Bay Lightning); Hampus Lindholm (Boston Bruins); Nathan MacKinnon (Colorado Avalanche); Jake Oettinger (Dallas Stars) and Ilya Sorokin (New York Islanders).

As the season progresses, the list will be whittled down to 10 names but there were many players worthy of an honourable mention through the first month of the campaign. Let me know in the comments if I missed anyone who should’ve made the first edition of these rankings. Circle back in December to see the revamped order after another month’s worth of games are in the books.

Data courtesy of Evolving HockeyHockey ReferenceMoneyPuck, and Natural Stat Trick. Statistics are accurate as of November 11th.

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