The NHL Awards for the 2022-2023 season are in the books. The night featured relatively few surprises with the favorites winning pretty much every award. At least seeing Paul Bissonette in a “Canadian tuxedo” while Dierks Bentley drank from the Stanley Cup was cool.
One of those favorites was Connor McDavid, who won his third Hart trophy for player “who contributes most to their team’s success’, or defacto league MVP. McDavid beat out David Pastrnak from the Boston Bruins and Matthew Tkachuk from the Florida Panthers. No one’s arguing the player who scored 153 points in the regular season didn’t deserve the honors, but the down voting made us raise our eyebrows a bit.
Matthew Tkachuk came in third in Hart Trophy voting after a 109 point season. Was he more important to his team’s success than David Pastrnak or Connor McDavid?
Voting is done on a weighted scale, with voters, selecting a player for first through fifth place with a first place vote counting for more than a fifth place vote. McDavid had 1951 voting points, avote described by CNN as “near unanimous. That was followed by Pastrnak with 1053 points and Tkachuk with 741. Shouldn’t the player who has become the face of hockey in South Florida been given more credit than a seemingly distant third? No Panther has ever scored higher than third in Hart Trophy voting, with John Vandiesbrouck placing third in 1994 and Pavel Bure placing third in 2000.
The Panthers struggled just to get into the playoffs. Tkachuk’s 109 point season, good enough for seventh in the league this season, was a huge part in getting them to sneak into that final playoff spot. Doesn’t that sound like someone who “most contributed to his team’s success”?
No disrespect to Pastrnak here. He edged out Tkachuk by a few regular season points with 113 but was on a historically great team that was firing on all cylinders all season. Pastrnak had league best goaltending (teammate Linus Ullmark won the Vezina trophy), league best coaching (Jim Montgomery won the Jack Adams award), and was on a team that had the league’s second best goals for per game and league’s best goals against per game.
Was Pastrnak an important contributor to their success? Absolutely, but the Bruins still could have been successful if he wasn’t playing at a Hart Trophy level. Meanwhile, Florida would have been buried in the Atlantic Division basement for much of the first half without Tkachuk’s scoring touch.
Tkachuk’s candidacy reminds us a little bit of Taylor Hall’s Hart trophy winning season with the New Jersey Devils in 2018. That Devils team was filled with a bunch of players who over exceeded their wildest expectations and rode Hall’s 93 point season to a playoff spot. There’s no way the Devils made that year’s playoffs without Hall. Eventually Florida found their footing, but without Tkachuk, Florida might not have been in a position to make that late season play-off push either.
Maybe we have the benefit of hindsight. Maybe we’re overvaluing Tkachuk’s candidacy because of all the times he played playoff hero for Florida on their run to the Stanley Cup finals. The Hart Trophy only takes the regular season into consideration, so voters weren’t swayed by his multiple overtime and series clinching goals.
If Florida can ride the momentum they’ve had this spring into next season it’ll be the start of the best era of Florida Panthers hockey. A win for Tkachuk would have been great, but this is only the beginning. If he can begin next season healthy he can make another run at league MVP, and most importantly, another run at the Stanley Cup.