Brad Marchand makes Hart Trophy race an absolute cluster

Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand tallied a hat trick on Monday night, giving him 35 goals on the season. That’s as many as Sidney Crosby, who co-leads the league. It gave him 74 points on the season. That’s one less than Connor McDavid, who leads the league.

So, welcome to the Hart Trophy conversation, Brad Marchand. But please speak up, because this conversation is as loud and confusing as [expletive].

The NHL MVP race seems to change every night. Part of that is due to the forced parity of the playoff race, as the candidates’ standing seems to yo-yo with their team’s place in the standings.

Part of that is due to the fact that while scoring is up overall this season, the scoring for star players isn’t. McDavid might top out at 90 points. Barring something unforeseen, we’re going to have the lowest goal total for a Richard winner since Rick Nash, Jarome Iginla and Ilya Kovalchuk shared the goals title with 41 in 2004-04, a.k.a. the last breaths taken by the trap years.

As a result, there are no less than 11 players with a legitimate claim to the Hart Trophy this season that could also conceivably win it.

Here’s how we see the field through Monday night…

The Superstars

Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks

Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

McDavid has been our clubhouse leader for MVP throughout the season. He’s still the best choice, if he wins the Art Ross, as the Oilers are a completely different team when he’s on the ice.

Yes, Cam Talbot’s goaltending can be credited with the Oilers being in a playoff spot; but if we’re going to bring “quality of teammates” into the discussion, then we should probably note that there’s a better-than-good chance that Crosby and Malkin split the Art Ross and the Richard as teammates. Wow.

Crosby’s a great choice, obviously. He passes the stats test, the metrics test, the eye test, a litmus test, a driver’s test … like, name your test. And we’re still living in the Year of Sidney, so you’re going to have writers looking to give him that victory lap.

Kane’s intriguing because we haven’t had a back-to-back winner since Ovechkin in 2008-09. But it would take either him winning the Art Ross or the Blackhawks winning the Presidents’ Trophy for him to seriously make a run at it.

The ‘Hey, I Know Claude Julien Too!’ Guys

Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins

Max Pacioretty, Montreal Canadiens

Marchand has a legitimate shot at this, if he wins the points or goals races.

The World Cup of Hockey was like his Bar Mitzvah, when he stopped being everyone’s favorite rat and became a man of unquestionably elite skills. And by that we mean “played with Crosby.”

He’s 14 points better than the second-highest scorer on the Bruins, and plays well in every situation, including three shorthanded goals. There are some other intangibles here – playing in the Northeast, for an Original Six team – that play in his favor, but perhaps the best is that, like McDavid, he’s a new face getting crowned.

As the Little Ball of Hart.

Pacioretty is, like, basically doing the same stuff as Marchand. He’s 14 points better than any other Hab, plays in all situations, drives possession and does everything that’s asked of him. He started a bit slowly, before scoring 45 points in 46 games, many of them while Carey Price was struggling and a stretch that bridges the coaching change.

He’s two points back in the goals race, but doesn’t seem to have the same hype as his counterpart in Boston.

Why? Who nose, er, knows.

The X-Factor

Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks 

Burns is going to win the Norris in a walk – despite Erik Karlsson not winning it last season for doing much the same thing, and despite Erik Karlsson arguably being a better MVP candidate this season.

But we digress.

The hope here for Burns is that voters decide to really, really reward one of the best offensive seasons by a defenseman with the Hart and not just the Norris, and that McDavid and Crosby split the vote somehow. But the reality is that he took at team with a .598 points percentage to .654, after they made the Stanley Cup Final last season. Take him off the team, and they’d have to make due with several great forwards and Vlasic. Woe is them.

The Goalies

Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets

Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild

Carey Price showed the path to winning the Hart for a goaltender: Leading an offensively challenged team to an amazing record, while compiling league-leading stats.

Both of these guys pass the amazing record and the stats tests. Bob is at 37-13-4 with a .929 save percentage and a 2.08 GAA. Dubnyk is at 36-14-3 with a .931 and a 2.07 GAA.

But the Wild and the Blue Jackets are in the top five in goals-per-game, unlike when Price won it while the Canadiens were at No. 20 (2.61).

So they fail the Hart test, but should still get support.

(Braden Holtby, it should be said, has similar stats and his team could win the President’s Trophy. But there’s a perception this season that he’s not been as good as he won the Vezina last season.)

Would, If …

Jeff Carter, Los Angeles Kings

Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning

Carter’s been incredible. He’s 18 points and nine goals better that the second-best scorers on the Kings this season, a team that’s seen its other offensive weapons firing blanks all year. He plays in every situation. He scores big goals. If the Kings stagger into a playoff spot, he’d have a top-three vote from me.

Kucherov’s candidacy was explained on Puck Daddy yesterday, and he’s added two assists since then. While you can’t simply say that the games later in the season mean more than the ones in October, you can say that his offensive performance in these later games, with the Lightning missing key players due to injury and trades, has been nothing short of remarkable.

The Rookie

Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs

Yes, begrudging the hype machine that has Matthews over Patrik Laine for the Calder – despite not leading the NHL in rookie points or goals – while calling him a Hart candidate is total hypocrisy.

But if the Leafs make the playoffs, he’s going to get some support from the writers, and there’s a case to be made here.

“First Goals” is a stat many abhor as a metric for valuable players but one I’m always curious about. Matthews has set the tone for the Leafs with 12 goals to kick off a game. For a young team, that’s a boost.

He won’t win, obviously. And especially not with Connor ahead of him in the Team North America line for MVP.

But he’ll get his, eventually.

Best Guess

If the Oilers are in, then Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby are your locks. The intrigue now is over Burns, Kane and Marchand for the third spot.

Best guess, right now: Crosby, Marchand, McDavid, unless Burns gets within two points of the Art Ross (or wins it, obviously). Marchand has the heat, and the Bruins are trending up.

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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