By: Lydia Murray | Follow Me on Twitter @lydia_murray12
The 2020 Hart Trophy finalists were announced on Monday, and much to the dismay of Bruins fans, superstar winger David Pastrnak was not one of them. According to NHL.com, the Hart Memorial Trophy is an annual award given “to the player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team.” The winner is selected in a poll of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association in all NHL cities at the end of the regular season.
Considering just how good Pastrnak was this season and how valuable he was to the Bruins, one can easily argue that he was snubbed. At the very least, he was certainly worthy of a nomination. But, however disappointing it may be, for a lot of reasons, I can’t say I’m surprised.
He Plays on the Best Line in Hockey
The biggest reason I think Pastrnak was snubbed this season is his linemates. Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron are some of the top players in the league, and their line is one of, and in my opinion the, best lines in hockey. It’s true their line is like a cheat code most nights. I mean, just look at the play in the video above. It’s truly remarkable the speed and precision with which they execute it, which is the result of the incredible chemistry they’ve built between them. They just always seem to know where the others are. But, because they’re so good together, Pastrnak doesn’t get the recognition he deserves (other than for scoring this year) league-wide, and even from Bruins fans sometimes, for the player he is.
Pastrnak’s not just one of the best goal scorers in the league. He’s an excellent passer and playmaker. Also, thanks to guidance from Bergeron and Marchand, Pastrnak is developing into a strong two-way player. That’s not something you can say about many of the league’s best goal scorers. Does he still have his lapses? Yeah, but that’s to be expected. What’s important is they’re getting fewer and farther between. As it stands, he’s already better defensively than a lot of the league’s top goal-scorers.
He’s Good No Matter Who He Plays With
One of the most common arguments I see from people surrounding why Pastrnak doesn’t get more recognition is that without Marchand and Bergeron, he wouldn’t be as good. But that’s simply not true. Head coach Bruce Cassidy is known for mixing his lines up, and there were several times this season where he’d split his top line up and put Pastrnak down with David Krejci to try and get some secondary scoring going.
When Cassidy did this, Pastrnak played just as well as he did on the top line. For example, look at the play he made to set up Krejci for the OT goal above. It’s just nuts, and it shows that Pastrnak’s talent didn’t go away when he was put with different linemates. So, yes, he really is that good. It’s not just Bergeron and Marchand making him look better, which they’ve been known to do with a lot of players.
The Stats Agree With the Eye Test
Don’t believe my eye test assessment alone? Let’s look at some advanced stats.
Here’s the line tool from Natural Stat Trick. There’s a lot of stats for me to choose from here to illustrate what I mean, but I’m going to pick just Corsi-For percentage (CF%) for simplicity reasons. For those of you that don’t know, CF% is the percentage of shots on goal at even strength that are for the team when those players are on the ice. So, it’s a positive stat, and if used correctly, it can tell you a lot.
As you can see from the picture above, when intact, the trio of Bergeron, Marchand, and Pastrnak has a staggering 58.56 CF%. That’s an incredible percentage, particularly given the strength of the competition they often face. Then, when Pastrnak is away from the other two, his CF% drops to 50%.
Line CF% Is Not A Good Way To Evaluate An Individual
Before I go any further, some may use this information and argue that it shows that Pastrnak is not as good without Bergeron and Marchand. But, this particular stat is not a fair assessment of an individual’s play. In this scenario, CF% is a line stat. That means that how much his linemates control possession has an effect on it. With a line as good as the one of Bergeron, Marchand, and Pastrnak is, of course, they are going to control possession way more than average. So, it’s not a knock on Pastrnak that his percentage goes down away from Bergeron and Marchand. It likely just means his linemates don’t control possession as well as Bergeron and Marchand, as is expected.
If you still don’t believe me, look at Bergeron’s without Marchand and Pastrnak. Is anyone really going to argue that Bergeron’s stats are inflated by Marchand and Pastrnak? No. But, by the logic of CF% determines how good a player is without certain others, Bergeron’s CF% is greatly inflated by the other two, given it drops to a measly 32.56% without them. But, that doesn’t mean Bergeron is that bad of a possession player. No, it just means that whoever he is playing with when away from Marchand and Pastrnak is not as good of possession players as they are.
Pastrnak’s Individual CF%? Excellent.
While line CF% is not a good assessment of an individual player, CF% is kept for individual players. In Pastrnak’s case, he had a CF% of 55.3% (stat courtesy of Pastrnak’s hockey-reference.com page) this season. That’s an incredible percentage on its own, and it’s especially so given how tightly he is usually defended. Plus, it’s close to the CF% of Bergeron, Marchand, and Pastrnak as a line, which shows that Pastrnak is not carried by the other two. If that were the case, his individual CF% would be much lower than the lines. But that’s not what’s happening here. Instead, it’s rather close, which shows that he’s pulling plenty of his own weight. So, the argument that without Bergeron and Marchand, Pastrnak is not as good, is just not true.
Pastrnak Had A Truly Remarkable Season
Watching Pastrnak’s development since entering the league has truly been a treat, especially these past few seasons. He’s worked hard to make himself into the player he is today. He’s one of the best in the league right now, and he’s only getting better. In just 70 games this season, he set career highs in goals, assists, and points this season with 48, 47, and 95, respectively. He was also named to the NHL All-Star Game, and he was even voted Atlantic Division captain. Pastrnak did all of this while continuing to develop his two-way game and just generally being a dominant force on the ice at all times and strengths and in all situations.
Simply put, without Pastrnak this season, the Bruins would not have been as good as they were. He was a driving force behind much of their success, particularly on the power play and in the offensive zone. Because of this, he was worthy of a Hart Trophy nomination.
All Finalists Were Deserving
Now, all of that being said, as much as I (and all other Bruins fans) would’ve liked to see Pastrnak nominated for the Hart Trophy, everyone who is a finalist is deserving.
Nathan MacKinnon played an integral role in helping the Colorado Avalanche make up for the losses of Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog for extended periods due to injury. Not only did he just help them through it, though, but he enjoyed a level of success that far surpassed anything that could’ve been expected. Then, when they came back, he kept up that level of play, and the Avs went on a tear all the way to second place in the Central Division. At the end of the season, they sat just two points behind the Blues for first place, and Colorado played one less game than St. Louis. But anyways, MacKinnon ended the season with 93 points in 69 games for the Avalanche this season despite not having his normal linemates for long stretches. To say that without him, the Avalanche would’ve struggled a lot more this season is an understatement. He’s certainly worthy of the nomination.
As for Artemi Panarin, there was no doubt in my mind that he’d be nominated, especially once it was announced that the Rangers would take part in the play-ins this summer. In my opinion, he deserves to take it home this year. He was a major reason the New York Rangers improved as much as they did this season. His 95 points in 69 games were a career-high and good for third in the league, behind only Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Without him, the Rangers would not be within reach of the playoffs. They wouldn’t have even been close. There are not many players you can say that about. He’s truly deserving of the Hart.
Finally, Leon Draisaitl had a mind-bogglingly good season this year. He led the league in points with 110 in 71 games. There’s no denying how important he was to the Oilers this season. Without him, it’s unlikely the Edmonton Oilers would’ve made the playoffs, as Connor McDavid can’t drag them there all by himself. So, yes, he did deserve the nomination. Was he more deserving of it than McDavid? That’s debatable for me. McDavid is the better all-around player, and between that and his leadership, he probably deserved it more. But, these things usually go by points, so it’s not surprising Draisaitl got it. Even if he might not have the most deserving Oiler, he does deserve this nomination. He’ll likely win the trophy too, even though I think the other two deserve it more.
In the End, the Other Finalists Deserved It More
As much as this pains me to say, in the end, Pastrnak was not deserving of being a Hart Trophy finalist over Draisaitl, MacKinnon, and Panarin. Don’t get me wrong, Pastrnak had a truly incredible season, and he was certainly extremely valuable to the Bruins. He was definitely worthy of the nomination. But, without Draisaitl, MacKinnon, and Panarin, the Oilers, Avalanche, and Rangers (respectively) all would’ve been in much worse positions than the Bruins would’ve been without Pastrnak. For that reason, they deserved to be nominated for the trophy over him.
That shouldn’t take away from just how good Pastrnak was this season, though. There were plenty of people who deserved to be finalists this year that aren’t, including Pastrnak. Even though it won’t come this season, if he continues on this path, a Hart Trophy will be in Pastrnak’s future, so don’t fret too much Bruins fans. His time will come. And in the meantime, he can just be a Hart Trophy winner in our books.