Auston Matthews, Igor Shesterkin and Connor McDavid were announced Thursday as finalists for the NHL's 2021-22 Hart Trophy, awarded annually to "the player adjudged to be most valuable to his team."
Members of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association vote for the Hart. All NHL award winners will be announced during the conference finals and Stanley Cup Final, at dates and times to be announced.
The Hart Trophy field was packed with eligible candidates this season, encouraging heated debates around the league about what criteria best defines the NHL's MVP. Should a goaltender like Shesterkin be in the mix when he doesn't play every night? Should a forward like Jonathan Huberdeau be held back by defensive stats when offensively his 115 points were tied for second most in the NHL? And are defensemen like Roman Josi overlooked for not being explosive enough?
PHWA members had the last word on who would make the Hart Trophy ballot. Each finalist has played a pivotal role in his team's success.
Toronto's Matthews is a Hart finalist for the second straight season, finishing behind McDavid in voting last year. The 24-year-old dominated league scoring this season, earning his second consecutive Rocket Richard Trophy in a 60-goal, 106-point campaign. Matthews is one of only 22 NHL players to have hit the 60-goal threshold, and at the 55-goal mark he set a single-season franchise record in scoring for the Leafs. Toronto's alternate captain played a key role in helping the organization achieve other records this season in most wins (54) and most points (115) as the Leafs surged to a second-place finish in the Atlantic Division.
Matthews would become the third Hart Trophy winner in Toronto's history, and the first since Ted Kennedy in 1954-55.
New York's Shesterkin is a first-time Hart Trophy finalist and was previously named a first-time finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's best goaltender. Shesterkin had a sensational regular season for the Rangers, collecting a 36-13-4 record while leading league starters in save percentage (.935) and goals-against average (2.07) and posting the third-most shutouts (6). On the strength of Shesterkin's stellar campaign, New York averaged the second-fewest goals-against (2.49) and finished second in the competitive Metropolitan Division.
Shesterkin would become the first Hart Trophy for New York since Mark Messier in 1991-92. He would also be just the third goaltender since 2000 to win the award, joining Jose Theodore and Carey Price.
Edmonton's McDavid is a Hart Trophy finalist for the fourth time after unanimously winning the award last season (he also took home the Hart in 2016-17). The Oilers' captain had another prolific season offensively as he led the league in points (123), was seventh overall in goals (44), second in assists (79) and second in even-strength points (78).
Along with teammate Leon Draisaitl, McDavid was the catalyst for Edmonton recovering from a midseason slump that had them out of the playoff picture and achieving a 104-point campaign to finish second in the Pacific Division. McDavid's dynamic play on the ice frequently produces highlight-reel worthy material and his ever-evolving defensive game consistently earns McDavid praise as the NHL's most generational talent.