Colorado Avalanche: Nathan MacKinnon over Taylor Hall for Hart

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 28: (R-L) Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Wayne Simmonds #17 of the Philadelphia Flyers, Taylor Hall #9 of the New Jersey Devils, Brad Marchand #63 of the Boston Bruins, Frans Nielsen #51 of the Detroit Red Wings, Erik Karlsson #65 of the Ottawa Senators, Victor Hedman #77 of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Nathan MacKinnon #29 of the Colorado Avalanche, Justin Faulk #27 of the Carolina Hurricanes and Ryan McDonagh #27 of the New York Rangers look on during the 2017 Coors Light NHL All-Star Skills Competition at Staples Center on January 28, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NHLI via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 28: (R-L) Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Wayne Simmonds #17 of the Philadelphia Flyers, Taylor Hall #9 of the New Jersey Devils, Brad Marchand #63 of the Boston Bruins, Frans Nielsen #51 of the Detroit Red Wings, Erik Karlsson #65 of the Ottawa Senators, Victor Hedman #77 of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Nathan MacKinnon #29 of the Colorado Avalanche, Justin Faulk #27 of the Carolina Hurricanes and Ryan McDonagh #27 of the New York Rangers look on during the 2017 Coors Light NHL All-Star Skills Competition at Staples Center on January 28, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NHLI via Getty Images) /
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Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon could and should win the Hart Trophy this year. The 2018 NHL Awards take place in Vegas on June 20.

Colorado Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon is up for the Hart Trophy as team MVP in the regular season. Needless to say, here in Avs Nation we all think he’s the prime candidate.

Also needless to say, other teams’ fanbases have differing opinions. Indeed, nothing was more amusing when the finalists were announced than to hear all the Philadelphia Flyers fans howl, “What about Claude Girouuuuuuuuuuuux?”

While a case could be made for one of the other finalists, Anze Kopitar, most people think it’s going to come down to Nathan MacKinnon or his New Jersey Devils counterpart, Taylor Hall.

Let’s do a quick rundown of the numbers:

One other statistic is often considered heavily. The New Jersey Devils finished #27 in the 2016-17 season but jumped up to #15 the very next season. The Colorado Avalanche finished #30 in the 2016-17 but jumped up to #17 the very next season. New Jersey increased their points total by 27 points. Colorado jumped from 48 to 95, almost doubling their points.

Both teams made the playoffs this year.

Let’s start with rationale for choosing Taylor Hall over Nathan MacKinnon.

Related Story: MacKinnon Forceful About Next Season

Taylor Hall over Nathan MacKinnon

For this argument, I asked Nick Villano of sister site Pucks and Pitchforks to give me his ideas. Here are his thoughts on Hall’s incredible play.

"“Obviously, I think Taylor Hall is the candidate for the Hart Trophy that should win. He literally carried the New Jersey Devils on his back to the postseason when they needed to win basically every game from the middle of February on.”"

We know what that feels like, eh Avs Nation?

Villano continues:

"“His linemates for most of the season were Jesper Bratt and Nico Hischier, two rookies. He was almost always put out against the best possible competition.”"

It’s true that MacKinnon’s linemates, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen are more seasoned.  The line always saw the best possible competition, too.

Are we going to focus on the fact that Nico Hischier should have been Colorado’s rookie by virtue of the 48-point season?

No, we’re not

.

Yes, we are

. No, we’re not.

More from Villano:

"“From January 1st on, Taylor Hall had four games without a point. Four. That of course includes 26 straight games in January and February, tied for the most in 20 years!”"

To be honest, that’s impressive. I’m also going to add that Hall scored 15.7% of the Devils’ goals. MacKinnon scored 15.1% of the Avalanche’s goals the difference between the two percentages is quibbling. And 12 of those were game-winning goals — the most in the NHL last season.

Villano addresses that:

"“While Nathan MacKinnon may have more total game-winning goals than Hall over the season, both players had four game winners in one-goal games. None of Anze Kopitar’s game-winning goals came in one-goal games.”"

Take that, Anze.

In conclusion:

"“Hall was the player the Devils needed all season long. The Devils had zero expectations, coming off one of the worst seasons in franchise history. He proved himself a leader, and the most valuable player in the league.”"

Those are all excellent points, Nick. And I completely agree that Taylor Hall deserves the Hart Trophy over Anze Kopitar. However, there’s one man standing in Hall’s way, and that’s our Colorado Avalanche superstar, Nathan MacKinnon.

Related Story: MacKinnon's Game-Winning Goals

Nathan MacKinnon over Taylor Hall

More from Mile High Sticking

It’s a little hard to articulate how important MacKinnon was to the Avs’ success last season because here in Avs Nation, we all know the only reason Colorado made the playoffs was because of Nate. It’s obvious.

However, our superstar deserves to have his case made properly, so let’s do it. And let’s start easy — MacKinnon scored more points overall than Hall — just two, but still. What’s more, he scored more points in fewer games — 74 games over 76. That pace amounted to 1.31 points-per-game, which was just 0.01 less than league-leading Connor McDavid‘s 1.32.

I find that just as impressive as the 26-game streak. That’s some regular production, too.

Let’s go back to the goals themselves, though. MacKinnon and Hall had equal amounts. However, Nate had more game-winners. Sorry, but that’s important. Twelve times the Colorado Avalanche won because Nathan MacKinnon scored a goal.

We do certainly need to address the issue of quality in linemates. Mikko Rantanen had a career year, recording 29 goals and 55 assists for 84 points. Gabriel Landeskog had his second-best year — 62 points (25 goals, 37 assists). When the two had to go eight games without Nate, though, due to injury, they put up just four points. Total.

In other words, Rantanen and Landeskog were benefitting from MacKinnon a lot more than vice versa. They have an edge over the Devils’ rookies in terms of experience, but not so much in terms of talent.

It wasn’t just Rantanen and Landeskog were riding Nate’s coattails — the whole team was. Just like Hall, Nathan MacKinnon put the team on his back throughout the season. And he had to carry them a lot farther — from 48 points and the worst record in the salary cap era of any team to 95 points and the playoffs.

When you talk to players, coaches, GM, even opponent fans, they all talk about just shaking their heads at how electric MacK was on the ice this season. You were literally on the edge of your seat, expecting him to score, every time he had the puck.

Here’s what P.K. Subban, who saw too much of Nate in the playoffs, said of MacK:

"“You guys know I’m biased about [Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne], but in my opinion, he was the best player in the league this year. That’s not to take anything away from other guys like Taylor Hall who have had great years. But I think for him and what he’s done with this team, a team that’s been up and down since they brought in the new coach. He’s just come into his own and he’s a phenomenal hockey player. He’s so tough to handle, so fast, strong and shifty. My expectation for him as a player is to be a Hall of Famer by the end of his career. He understands that. Just tremendous respect for him. I just told him I hope he takes home that trophy that he deserves as the MVP. He deserves it.”"

That is some high, high praise from a player who didn’t have to say even one nice thing about MacKinnon, much less all that. And don’t forget — Subban isn’t exactly a scrub. He’s a Norris Trophy defenseman who just spent the whole season playing in MacKinnon’s division.

Bottom line is this: The Hart Trophy is awarded to the player whom outsiders — sports writers in this case — have adjudged to be the most valuable to his team. I can’t judge what “objective” writer saw. But I don’t know how they could fail to see how exciting MacKinnon was every time he took the ice:

But maybe you could say the same for Hall.

If you look at the small stats — more points per game, more overall points, more game-winning goals — you start to edge, even objectively, toward MacKinnon.

The sticking point for me is the turnaround, though. The Colorado Avalanche didn’t have one of the worst seasons in franchise history last year — they were the literal laughingstock of the NHL. 48 points, worst in the salary cap era. It was embarrassing.

This year, MacKinnon found a new mode — god mode — for his play. He led the team on and off the ice. He put his teammates on his shoulders and said, “C’mon boys, let’s do this.” And the results of his play marked the sharpest turnaround of the two seasons — a 47-point improvement from 48 points to 95. From laughingstock to a playoff berth.

Next: Get MacKinnon a Stanley Cup

Nathan MacKinnon deserves to win the Hart Trophy as MVP of the Colorado Avalanche.