The 2021-22 NHL regular season ends in roughly two and a half weeks, but there is becoming a clear frontrunner in the MVP conversation.
Auston Matthews continues to light the lamp night in and night out and with every goal he scores, it feels like he’s getting closer and closer to his name being on the NHL Hart Trophy.
However, the season is not over yet and a lot can happen in last games of the season. There are others like Connor McDavid, Jonathan Huberdeau and Igor Shesterkin whose play have been MVP-worthy.
Let’s take a look at the leading candidates for NHL MVP as we hit the home stretch of the season.
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NHL Hart Trophy Ladder
1. Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs super star refuses to stop scoring. The last time Matthews didn’t post goals in consecutive games? The beginning of March when he didn’t score in Toronto’s Feb. 28 and March 2 contests.
He’s pulled way ahead of Leon Draisaitl for the NHL’s lead in goals with 58. Matthews broke the Maple Leafs single-season goals record, passing by Rick Vaive’s mark of 54. If he hits 60 goals, he’ll be the first player to reach that threshold since Steven Stamkos did in the 2010-11 season and only the third player in this century to score at least 60 goals (Stamkos and Alex Ovechkin in 2007-08).
Matthews sits at 99 points and with eight games in the season, he should be able to hit triple digits by the end of the season. The 24-year-old is scoring at such a rare rate in hockey these days, with every goal he scored, the grip around the Hart Trophy gets tighter and tighter.
2. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
In my last MVP ladder, I mentioned how it felt like McDavid was slipping out of the top of the Hart conversation due to voter fatigue. I had him at No. 4 behind Matthews, Igor Shesterkin and Jonathan Huberdeau.
Well I’ve done some reminiscing and I want to apologize to McDavid. He certainly deserves to be higher up, no matter how many times he’s already won the award. He’s tearing up the league again, leading the way with 108 points in 72 games.
Edmonton recently won six in a row, with McDavid scoring in every one of those games. I still think it’s Matthews’ trophy to lose considering the pace at which he’s scoring, and that voters may shy away from putting McDavid high up on the ballots because he just won it last year.
But the Oilers are playing some of their best hockey as of late, shooting up the Pacific Division, and a lot of that has to do with McDavid.
3. Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers
If people were refusing to acknowledge Huberdeau’s position in the NHL MVP race, it’s impossible to ignore it now.
The Panthers forward has hit 100 points and has passed by Draisaitl to take over second place in the league in points. He’s up to 104 points in 72 games and is the franchise’s new record holder for points in a single season.
Huberdeau’s 77 assists are nine more than the next closest player. He’s been scorching hot lately, riding a 12-game point streak into Florida’s final nine games of the regular season. Forget about his defensive weaknesses, he deserves to be seriously considered for the Hart Trophy.
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4. Igor Shesterkin, New York Rangers
Turns out, Shesterkin is a human. Damn.
The Rangers goalie ended March with his “worst” numbers in a month yet – 7-3-0 record with a 2.68 GAA and a .916 SV%. He’s followed that up by giving up three goals in five outings in April. Despite his numbers dropping, he’s still in first in SV% with a .934% and tied for first in GAA with Frederik Andersen with a 2.07 Excellent numbers for a goaltender, but not necessarily what he needs to win the Hart Trophy.
I explained in one of my previous NHL MVP ladders how hard it is for goalies to win the award. The last four times a goalie has been given the award, he has started in over 80% of their team’s games. Shesterkin has only started 65% and he needed to continue to put up video game numbers if he wanted a shot.
Now, with Shesterkin coming back down to Earth, it feels like he’s slipping out of serious contention. How dare he give up more than two goals in multiple games!
5. Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames
Somehow, Gaudreau’s career year still doesn’t feel like it’s getting enough appreciation.
The Flames forward became the first Flames player since Theo Fleury in 1993 to hit 100 points in a season. Gaudreau sits in fourth in points and his 66 assists are tied for fourth in the league. He’s set a new career-high in assists and points, and his 34 goals are just two away from his previous career-best of 36.
Gaudreau has come out of nowhere this year, making up one-third of one of the best lines in hockey with Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk. Even if he doesn’t end up with the Hart, Gaudreau’s about to get PAID this summer, with his contract expiring at the end of this season.
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Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers forward is one of only three players to hit 100 points this season with 102 points in 73 games. He is second in the league in goals with 51 as Matthews has blown past him for the lead. The 2020 winner likely won’t repeat but with his third 100-point season, he’ll get onto ballots.
Roman Josi, Nashville Predators
Josi has cooled off in April after an insane month of March where he had 28 points in 14 games. He hasn’t recorded a point in his last three games, but he’s still the highest-scoring defenseman in the league and sits in 10th out of all players with 87 points. He’s become a top candidate for the Norris and will get consideration for the Hart.