With the NHL regular season reaching its abrupt end and no playoff hockey for at least another month, many have turned to the discussion of the NHL awards. Some awards such as the Maurice Richard trophy, the Art Ross, and the William M. Jennings trophy are purely based on stats and have already been awarded to Leon Draisaitl, David Pastrnak, and the Bruins goalie tandem of Tuuka Rask and Jaroslav Halak respectively. However, the majority of the awards need to be voted on by their respective "judges", including the GM's, the players, or the Professional Hockey Writers Association.
This year there has been a fair amount of controversy on who should win the Hart trophy, which is awarded to the league's most valuable player. Well, I am here to clear up any bit of uncertainty you may have and explain why Artemi Panarin is the clear choice for the Hart.
There is no question that Panarin was a superstar before coming to New York. He posted 320 points in 322 games before joining the Rangers last July and was sought after by almost every single NHL team that was able to afford him during free agency. His point totals from this season speak for themselves. The Russian winger posted career high totals in goals, assists, points, and plus-minus with a 32-63-95 stat line and a +36 rating. There is much more to be said about Panarin's offensive ability but I will let the below graphic speak for itself.
However, Panarin's defensive play and overall quality is often overlooked. Panarin doesn't only pot goals and hang in the neutral zone like some of his other Russian comrades. Instead, he is one of the hardest workers on the forecheck, the backcheck, and has the poise to get out of very sticky situations with the puck. Below is a video of David Quinn, Rangers head coach, breaking down some of these defensive plays that push Panarin over the top.
Not only has Panarin's offensive and defensive play raised eyebrows but his ability to elevate those around him has been nothing short of spectacular. Spending almost 39% of his time on the ice with Ryan Strome, Artemi Panarin has helped the NHLer bloom into the player that he was meant to be ever since being selected 5th overall by the New York Islanders. Strome has put up a career 59 points in 11 games fewer than his prior most productive season. Before Panarin's arrival in NY, Strome played one full season with the Rangers. In that season he put up 18 goals and 15 assists with a -2 rating. Since Panarin's arrival, the second line center put up 18 goals and 43 assists with a +21 rating. With all other variables pretty much staying the same other than the acquisition of Artemi Panarin, Strome has managed to have his most productive season in NY. Panarin's other linemate, Jesper Fast was also expected to finish the season with career high numbers before the season was halted. The one stat that stands about Fast however, is that in each of his 7 years with the Rangers, Fast finished with a negative +/- rating except for two of those seasons, but never surpassed a +9 rating. This season he ended with a +16 rating.
Even with all of these arguments on hand, there still remains the fact that there are other players in the NHL that do deserve to be Hart Trophy finalists as well. Such as Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid, David Pastrnak, and Nathan MacKinnon. All of these players have had amazing seasons as well but the fact still remains that the supporting cast of most of these players are far superior to that of Broadway's High Leg Kicker. Leon Draisaitl's point production is connected heavily to Connor McDavid, arguably the best raw talent we have seen, comparable to Crosby and Gretzky. Not to diminish the Art Ross winning season Draisaitl had, but one does wonder if he would have the same success without the 2015 1st overall selection, Connor McDavid. Either way, it is evident that Draisaitl was no more valuable to the playoff-bound Oilers, than McDavid was. To a similar effect, David Pastrnak plays with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, forming the best line in hockey. Marchand, when not slew footing or licking people, puts on a show. His electric stick handling and grit makes him one of the most elusive players in hockey while Bergeron is one of the best defensive centers in the game. Nathan MacKinnon also has the luxury of playing with Mikko Rantanen, one of the league's premier goal scorers. Apart from Rantanen, who was hurt for almost half the season, MacKinnon does have a similar supporting cast to Panarin. Nonetheless, Panarin has him beat in 2 of the major 3 offensive categories and was actually endorsed to win the Hart by MacKinnon earlier this week.
Bottom line is that no other player in the NHL transformed his team from observers to contenders as Panarin did, no player elevated the play of teammates like Panarin did, and no player deserves the Hart Trophy more than Panarin does.