It's a tribute to Connor McDavid's second-half surge, having scored a preposterous 49 points in 29 games since the NHL All-Star break, that he's making some very smart people advance a very stupid idea, which is that a player whose team is 17 points out of the wild card should be a finalist for the Hart Trophy.
It's a stance that requires mental gymnastics of such a high degree of difficulty that they would give Gabby Douglas pause. It's a notion without precedent, and one that gnaws at established standards like a rat hopelessly trying to chew through a beer bottle.
How did we get here? It's a bit of a perfect storm, to be honest. The field for the Hart Memorial Trophy, given to the player judged to be the most valuable to his team, is the deepest it's been in recent memory. At any point in the past few months, campaigns have been waged for Nathan MacKinnon (my clubhouse leader), Taylor Hall, Nikita Kucherov, Anze Kopitar, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Blake Wheeler, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, as well as Claude Giroux, Eric Staal and Aleksander Barkov. (You might notice, by the way, that none of these players are currently 17 points out of the wild card.)
Since the Hart is perhaps the most subjective award in a field of subjective awards, the criteria can be folded up like an origami swan performance in an attempt to get McDavid a second consecutive MVP. Without a consensus pick, everyone feels empowered to state the case for their guy, and frequently that guy has been McDavid. He's rallied to take the Art Ross lead, he's challenging for the NHL goals lead, and he's basically just toying with defensive players now.
So you have legions of bored Edmonton fans focusing their energies in getting McDavid the Hart; mischievous analytics pundits who are doing what they do best, which is disrupt societal norms; and Professional Hockey Writers Association voters whose knees are starting to buckle from the force of this wave, and perhaps because they know their votes will be public for the first time and just don't want the wrath of McDavid fans ruining their summer.
A few clarifications, from someone who won't be voting for him:
1. This is not about Connor McDavid. I'm not sure how opposition to rewarding a player on an also-ran team has been warped into some anti-McDavid stance, but here we are.
I love McDavid. He's the most offensively dominant player since Mario Lemieux, and the most exhilarating youngster to watch since Ovechkin. He is, without question, the player of the year. If only the NHL Players' Association had an award they could bestow upon him that would celebrate that ...
2. Yes, this is a team award. A frequent rejoinder from the McDavid-for-Hart backers is that he shouldn't be penalized for playing on a bad hockey team, which is ironic given that his candidacy is bolstered by being so good on such a bad hockey team. But the fact is that the Hart is one of two individual awards that reference "team" in its criteria. The other is the Jack Adams (coach of the year), whose winner is clearly determined by team success. While the Hart isn't nearly as beholden to wins and losses, it's not without consideration of the candidate's team and what value his performance holds within the context of that team.
3. Value is relative. I've mentioned incessantly that I'm an "in it to win it" guy when it comes to the NHL MVP, to the point of saying players who don't make the playoffs are dead to me. This is mostly hyperbolic nonsense meant to underscore the importance of postseason contention as it relates to value -- in fact, I'd consider someone who falls just short of the playoffs for the award. There is value in what MacKinnon and Hall and Kopitar have done, which is to lift their teams onto the playoff bubble with performances that put them dozens of points ahead of their teammates. There is value in what Marchand, Malkin and Kucherov have done, which is to take probable playoff teams and elevate them in the standings. There is no value in Connor McDavid dragging the dead carcass of the 2017-18 Edmonton Oilers from 30th to 26th, and decreasing their chances at winning the first overall pick in the draft.
(This is where very smart people do another stupid thing, which is to construct a rickety strawman and ask if the worst player on the worst team can also be the MVP because he's ensured them of the best lottery odds. Awesome take. Let me know when you've completed that PowerPoint presentation on Nathan Beaulieu's Hart candidacy.)
4. We're not the ones redefining the Hart. One of the basic arguments from Camp McDavid is that by not acknowledging the valuable contributions to a team that's 17 points out of the wild card, voters are "redefining" the criteria of the award. It would be a worthwhile argument were it not for fact that, for at least the past 50 years, the Hart Trophy voting has summarily ignored players whose teams miss the playoffs. Which means this approach to McDavid doesn't redefine anything, but rather underscores the accepted dogma of the award.
I looked back at the Hart Trophy voting since NHL expansion in 1967-68. In 50 years, players from non-playoff teams made the top five in the voting eight times. Of those, five players ended up as Hart Trophy finalists from non-playoff teams. That included Mario Lemieux, who led the Pittsburgh Penguins to within two points of the last playoff spot in 1986 and one point out in 1988, when he became the only player in the past 50 years to win the Hart while missing the playoffs. That also included goalie John Vanbiesbrouck, who backstopped the expansion Florida Panthers to one point out of a playoff spot in 1994.
The other two players are a bit more relevant to McDavid's case: Teemu Selanne was third for the Hart in 1998 despite his Mighty Ducks of Anaheim being 13 points out of a playoff spot; and Jarome Iginla was second for the Hart in 2002, despite the Calgary Flames also being 13 points out of a playoff spot.
Now, one could look at these two outliers in the past 50 years, note that they both won the Art Ross (and, in Iginla's case, led the league in goals, too) and establish that a team 13 points out can in fact have an MVP finalist. But this would ignore that a 13-point deficit today is much different than in these two seasons thanks to the shootout as well as loser points. And also ignore that, at last count, 17 is greater than 13.
It also ignores the context of these candidates. Selanne got a Hart nomination for putting up incredible numbers despite Paul Kariya playing only 22 games. Iginla's candidacy was historic at the time, as he had a chance to become "the first player of his race so honored" by winning the Hart, as The New York Times put it.
McDavid, meanwhile is ... scoring at a slightly higher rate than Nathan MacKinnon while playing 387 minutes at even strength with Leon Draisaitl this season. The struggle is real.
I know I wrote that this debate isn't about McDavid, but that's not entirely true: This campaign is happening because this is about Connor McDavid. It didn't happen when Ilya Kovalchuk scored 52 goals for an Atlanta Thrashers team that finished 18 points out of the playoffs in 2007-08. Or when Ziggy Palffy was 26 points better than any other Islander, scoring 48 goals in 1996-97 for a team that finished seven points out. It never happened for Rick Nash on some terrible Blue Jackets teams. It's happening because we're in awe of McDavid, and desire for him to be our Gretzky, collecting Hart trophies like they're coins on a Super Mario Bros. bonus level.
But other than the Conn Smythe, no trophy is a monument and a testament more than the Hart. It's an award that spotlights one individual above all others, defined not only by statistical achievement but by how that performance was valuable to his team.
When I see McDavid's name on the Hart for 2016-17, it means something: His first serious challenge to "best player in the world" status, and the end of a playoff drought that promised he could help the Oilers finally turn the corner after a decade of squandered prospects.
What would it mean if he won it in 2017-18? Nothing. It would be a reminder of a squandered promise and an invaluable season, as well as a regretful moment when logic and legacy were willfully ignored by people who should know better.
Jersey fouls of the week
Where do you even start here?
- Ben Gulka (@bengulka) March 29, 2018
This FrankenJersey was seen at the Florida Panthers' game at the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday, and it's basically a seamstress's waking nightmare. There's no justifiable reason for it to exist -- they're division rivals, for puck's sake! -- other than a valiant effort to keep Aleksander Barkov's name out there for the Selke Trophy voters while also ensuring everyone in Toronto still knows you genuflect at the altar of Auston Matthews.
- Ian (@hoser25) March 30, 2018
I appreciate this jersey as a monument to that rather insane post-lockout 2005-06 season that culminated in a Stanley Cup Final featuring the Carolina Hurricanes' rookie goalie against the No. 8-seeded Edmonton Oilers. It turned out to be a hell of a series, from Ty Conklin's botch in Game 1 through Game 7 being a one-goal affair before a Carolina empty netter. Good times. Not so much this Jersey Foul, though.
Goodnight, Knights Twitter guy
The Vegas Golden Knights clinched a playoff spot this week, which remains an achievement equal parts charming and absolutely ridiculous for an expansion team. It was also a moment when one expected their infamous Twitter feed to start spouting off the kinds of self-deprecating boasts and shade at opponents that both endeared and annoyed fans throughout the Knights' inaugural season.
But the reaction was muted. Strangely muted. Turns out there's a reason for that: Dan Marrazza, the team's director of social media and the voice behind its divisive Twitter handle, had parted ways with Vegas earlier this month.
"He's no longer with the team, and has moved on to pursue other opportunities. Those are just changes that happen during the course of any business year," Vegas team president Kerry Bubolz told ESPN.
Marrazza told us that it's "all good," and would announce his next destination at a later date. He tweeted on Tuesday: "I left my position with the Vegas Golden Knights. Living in Las Vegas the past two years and having the opportunity to grow this new brand from scratch has been a once in a lifetime opportunity. I want to thank the city, the team and especially the fans for a lifetime of memories -- having the chance to represent you on Twitter dot com has been a privilege."
The Golden Knights' Twitter feed earned the team immediate attention during its early months of success, sometimes for the wrong reasons. Marrazza pushed the boundaries, antagonizing other fan bases and teams. Sometimes he overstepped those boundaries, like when the Golden Knights had to apologize for a joke borrowed from the movie "Ted" in which Vegas tweeted out the Boston Bruins' starting lineup using women's names in place of those of the players. "That is not who we are as an organization and not who we are as people," the team said in a statement.
There was speculation that Marrazza had been fired from the Knights, but Bubolz called it a parting of ways and that Marrazza was exploring "future endeavors."
Say what you will about his approach, but Marrazza delivered a unique voice to an NHL newbie. Do the Knights plan on trying to continue tweeting in that voice?
"Candidly, we have already," Bubolz said. "It's been a couple weeks since he had decided to move on. The voice itself is really the team brand. As an organization, not as the person typing actual thoughts and ideas. But he did a real nice job for us."
Listen To ESPN On Ice
Can't recommend this episode of ESPN on Ice enough. Eddie Olczyk of NBC Sports joined us to talk about his battle with cancer, being an inspiration to those fighting the disease and getting his life back in order after beating it. (Plus much on the Chicago Blackhawks.) We also speak with Golden Knights LW Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and talk playoff formats. Stream it here and grab it on iTunes here. Thanks for listening.
Somehow, building a hockey rink in one's front yard is not in keeping with the community standards for aesthetics in Minnesota. Shocking, frankly. [Star Tribune]
An illustrated tribute to Larry Kwong, the Canadian hockey player broke the NHL's color barrier, but has been largely forgotten. [The Nib]
Remembering what was perhaps the scariest logo in the history of minor league hockey. [Vice Sports]
Serah Small breastfeeding her 8-week-old in the dressing room between periods of her hockey game is (a) beautiful and the most Canadian thing ever and (b) a reminder that, since there was some kind of social media kerfuffle about it, breastfeeding in public remains stigmatized and everyone needs to get over their hang-ups about this. [Canoe]
Meanwhile, in Men's Health: "A new study published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology found an increase in hospital admissions for men under 55 presenting with symptoms of ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI) or heart attack the day after a Montreal Canadiens win." [Science Daily]
Finally, my favorite Sidney Crosby is an angry and frustrated Sidney Crosby. He was shadowed effectively by Devils center Travis Zajac for most of the game on Thursday night, including a butt-end of the stick to his side that left him wincing in pain. So then, of course, Crosby channels all that into one of the best goals of the season, in which he basically beats Keith Kincaid twice in like a second:
Crosby is here for opening day in OT. ⚾️ pic.twitter.com/hy4PUGJn00
- NHL GIFs (@NHLGIFs) March 30, 2018
All hail Sidney, boy prince of baseball goals.
Hockey tl;dr (too long; didn't read)
In case you missed this from your friends at ESPN
Why it's a golden age for NHL iron men. [ESPN]