//

Kucherov a Lock to Win Hart Trophy

In each of the last four seasons, the Hart Trophy for NHL MVP has gone to a first-time winner: Carey Price (2015), Patrick Kane (2016), Connor McDavid (2017), and Taylor Hall (2018).  

With less a month to play in the regular season, we appear headed for a fifth straight first-time Hart Trophy winner.

Tampa Bay center Nikita Kucherov leads the league in both points (111) and assists (78). He’s on pace for 130 points. To put that in perspective, no player has reached 130 points since Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr in 1995-96. Kucherov was two years old at the time.

Sidney Crosby has never done it. Evgeni Malkin has never done it. Alex Ovechkin has never done it.

On top of Kucherov’s impressive individual performance, the Lightning are the best team in the NHL by a wide margin. With 110 points, they are 16 points ahead of the next-best team, the San Jose Sharks.

According to Sascha Paruk, heads oddsmaker at SportsBettingDime.com, that’s part of why Kucherov is destined to win the Hart Trophy. “The NHL MVP doesn’t always go to a player on the best team, but it almost always goes to a player on a team that reached the postseason. The second-best player this year has been Patrick Kane, and his Blackhawks are six points out of a Wild Card spot. Barring a miraculous playoff run spearheaded by the American sniper, Kucherov has the Hart Trophy in the bag.”

No player on a team that’s currently in a postseason position is within 20 points of Kucherov in the race for the scoring title.

Arguably, Kucherov’s stiffest competition for MVP comes from within his own team. Tampa goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy is fourth in the NHL in wins with 32 despite missing a big part of the season due to injury. He’s also second in save percentage and fourth in goals-against average. The race for the Vezina Trophy is likely between him and Ben Bishop.

But goalies rarely win MVP. In the last 15 years, Carey Price is the only goalie to win.

Kucherov continues his quest to make history on Thursday in Detroit. He scored his 32nd and 33rd goals of the season when the Lightning beat the Red Wings 3-2 last Saturday.