Weekly Reader: Ranking long-shot MVP candidates for 2018-19

Could Jack Eichel have a Taylor Hall-esque breakout campaign in 2018-19, leading the Sabres back to the playoffs? Jerome Davis/Icon Sportswire

Bovada, the online sportsbook and generator of sports talk debate fodder, released its latest Hart Trophy odds for the 2018-19 NHL season.

Connor McDavid leads at 10-3, assuming he'll win another scoring title and the Edmonton Oilers actually make the playoffs again. Sidney Crosby is second (13-2), and both Auston Matthews and John Tavares are at 10-1, which is interesting, because if the Maple Leafs are exponentially better this season and Tavares plays to his career averages, there's virtually no way he won't get the credit for it.

Beyond the usual suspects are some interesting names with longer odds, and that's important: Keep in mind that all three finalists for the Hart Trophy last season weren't even listed in the preseason odds for the award by Bovada in 2017. They are now: Taylor Hall and Nathan MacKinnon are 15-1 choices, while Anze Kopitar is 18-1.

Here are a few players with longer Hart Trophy odds who could produce a windfall:

Patrick Kane, RW, Chicago Blackhawks (20-1)

For some voters, Kane carries more personal baggage than a carousel at O'Hare, but that didn't stop him from winning the Hart in 2016, with 106 points. That noted, the same formula that applied to last season's finalists could apply here: If Kane manages an outstanding offensive season, exponentially better than those of his teammates, while the Blackhawks return to the playoffs, he could easily be a finalist. The question is whether he can scale those heights without Artemi Panarin on his line, as his two best statistical seasons were spent with The Bread Man before he was shipped to the Columbus Blue Jackets. (Of course, there's also my theory that the Panarin trade was an intricate player-laundering scheme by Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman that will result in him returning to Chicago in 2019 ...)

Claude Giroux, LW/C, Philadelphia Flyers (25-1)

The Flyers made the playoffs with 98 points last season, and Giroux was fourth in the Hart voting with 102 points, including a league-leading 68 assists. His shift to the wing was a godsend, and the re-acquisition of James van Riemsdyk could solidify a second scoring line that relieves some pressure from Giroux's top unit. Another 100-point season for a Flyers playoff team, and there might be a cumulative effect for voters looking to honor the Hearst, Ontario, native with some hardware. Keep in mind he's finished in the top four for the Hart three times in his career.

Steven Stamkos, C, Tampa Bay Lightning (25-1)

His linemate Nikita Kucherov is listed at 15-1, but I like the juice on Stamkos as a Hart Trophy long shot. He was a distant second in team scoring to Kucherov, finishing 14 points behind him. It would likely take a reversal of those roles, or a Stamkos assault on the goal-scoring title, to put him in the Hart conversation. But the one-time Hart finalist could get some love as the face of the franchise and the "Good Canadian Boy" bump from voters. Or perhaps they'll just look at the Lightning roster and assume there's no one player more valuable than the others, which might have hurt Kucherov last season, what with the team having Norris (Victor Hedman) and Vezina (Andrei Vasilevskiy) finalists as well.

Brad Marchand, LW, Boston Bruins (25-1)

How's this for a narrative: Marchand leads the Bruins to the top of their division, puts together a fourth straight 30-plus-goal effort and keeps his nose clean (a considerable feat!) for a full season while living up to the "I have to be on my best behavior to be a great leader" mantra he had after last season. If that plays out, would voters who find him repellent relent, or would they be unable to lick their preconceptions?

Jack Eichel, C, Buffalo Sabres (33-1)

When the odds came out, a huge collection of NHL fans zeroed in on this pick. Again, think of the Taylor Hall model: If the Sabres go from worst to a playoff spot and Eichel increases his offensive output to a 90-point pace -- perhaps with the additions of Jeff Skinner on his wing and Rasmus Dahlin on his blue line -- he's a stone-cold lock to be a Hart Trophy finalist. But even the most optimistic Sabres fans would admit that's a tall ask for next season.

Patrik Laine, RW, Winnipeg Jets (40-1)

He hit 44 goals last season and has to be considered a contender for the Rocket Richard Trophy. The Jets are likely going to be great again and have already produced a Hart contender in Blake Wheeler last season. Laine probably has to get his point total a little higher -- Alex Ovechkin won the Richard and had a 100-point pace for each of his Hart wins -- but he's a solid long shot here. Let's hope he wins and delivers a speech with the highest weirdness-per-word ratio in NHL Awards Show history.

Aleksander Barkov, C, Florida Panthers (100-1)

Now, this is a long shot worth watching. Barkov hit a career high with 78 points last season and finally got some awards love with a Lady Byng nomination and finishing fourth for the Selke. I'm pretty high on the Panthers this season, so it's conceivable that a big lift in the standings could considerably raise Barkov's profile. But it's also probably accurate to say that he won't come within sniffing distance of the Art Ross or Richard trophies, and that could be a problem.

Mathew Barzal (off the board)

The fact that Barzal isn't even listed among the possible Hart winners is a rather striking indictment of the Islanders' chances next season, but it's a rather large oversight. Let's say Barry Trotz and Lou Lamoriello sprinkle some kind of contender dust on the roster, the Islanders make the playoffs against all odds and Barzal has a 90-plus-point season that's significantly better than any of his teammates. How could voters ignore that level of defiant redemption angle, in light of John Tavares leaving the Islanders high and dry? If you can find odds on him, it'd be worth a shot. Albeit a long one.

Puck headlines

Introducing "Ahockalypse," the new movie about "a group of hockey players who try to survive a zombie apocalypse after winning a championship." Honestly surprised this isn't how it ended for the Capitals.

Interesting Q&A with New York Islanders coach Barry Trotz, including this on losing John Tavares: "This team can score, with John Tavares or without John Tavares. The area it's failed in maybe the last year and a half is on the defensive end. Just looking at the trends over the last four years, it's clear that's an area we need to fix. The great thing about the game, one of the hardest things to do in this league, is create offense and score goals. This team has been able to do that in the last four years."

IIHF boss Rene Fasel sees four options for Olympic hockey: The NHL comes back; the Olympics do the same thing they did in 2018; going with an all-under-23 model (which would be awesome, but not ideal for every nation); or to not have any men's Olympic hockey, which is ... not good.

If the Seattle franchise picks "Sockeyes" as its nickname, it should have its charter revoked. Kraken 4 life!

The Nashville Predators are salary-cap wizards.

Brian Gionta on life after the NHL, which, by the way, isn't there for him, as he hasn't retired yet.

Travis Yost on how the NHL's best goal scorers score their goals. Brad Marchand's backhand is vastly underappreciated.

Vice President Pence congratulates the University of Minnesota-Duluth for their [checks notes] high school hockey national championship. Woof.

Ryan Reaves: "If you can't play hockey hungover, then you probably shouldn't be in the league." Or, at the very least, you shouldn't be playing in Las Vegas.

The Minnesota Wild's Stanley Cup window is ... not a window.

Hockey tl;dr (too long; didn't read)

How well does your team forecheck? And does it matter?

In case you missed this from your friends at ESPN

Sean Allen previews the Eastern Conference in fantasy hockey.