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(Nikita Kucherov (86) via NHL PR)

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Nikita Kucherov’s Case for the Hart

With just over 20 games left in the NHL regular season, award races have taken shape.

Last year saw Taylor Hall earn some well deserved hardware. Many thought Nathan MacKinnon or Claude Giroux deserved it over Hall, but we’ve had those debates.

Now, it’s time to prematurely determine two or three very realistic candidates.

Since 2000 (18 seasons) the Art Ross winner took home the Hart ten times. With Nikita Kucherov sitting at 99 points in just 60 games, he may have a case to be the 11th.

The number one argument against Kucherov is the four-line powerhouse surrounding him in Tampa. On a team shooting for 100 points by the trade deadline, how valuable can one player really be?

If Kucherov were to go down with an injury, they have names like Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Andrej Vasilevskiy, Brayden Point, Yanni Gourde— you get the idea. Even Louis Domingue, backup goaltender, has an 18-4 record.

Is he more valuable to that group of players than Connor McDavid is to the Oilers? With respect to Leon Draisaitl (69) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (53), the points gap gets farther and farther away from McDavid’s 83. Darnell Nurse is 4th on the team with 7 goals and 28 points.

Actually, yes.

Even with McDavid, the Oilers are a floundering, bottom of the West team. While he does keeps them somewhat afloat, it’s hard to reward “preventing disaster”. The same factors kept him from winning last year’s award despite his Art Ross.

Kucherov has elevated the Lightning to where they are: the runaway Stanley Cup favorite. He’s got 18 points in the last five games. He’s scoring at a pace the league hasn’t seen since Mario Lemeiux in 1996.

Those 18 points would be good for 6th on the Oilers for the entire 2018-19 season.

Nobody has eclipsed 125 points since Jaromir Jagr scored 127 in 1999. Kucherov’s pace? Over 135. At a $4.7M cap hit.

If McDavid, bless his soul, can drag his Oilers to the sacrificial round one of the Western Conference playoffs, give the man a nomination. Unfortunately for him, Kucherov is doubling down on last year’s efforts.

Another deserving candidate is Patrick Kane, on his quest to become the greatest American born player ever. Kane is riding an 18 game point streak, and sits 2nd in NHL scoring with 90.

With significantly less help in Chicago, Kane is at a 125 point clip. His Blackhawks have been on a tear, and are right in the thick of the playoff race— as are most other western teams.

Kane will get bonus points for taking his team above expectations. He’s 30 points ahead of his next teammate, Alex DeBrincat, and it feels almost Hall-like. Voters love a good carry.

Even so, Kucherov has a slight edge. To feel comfortable, he’ll have to seriously outplay Kane in the final stretch of games. It’s between the two of them.

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