Ask anyone in the NHL in December who would win the NHL’s Hart Trophy (the award given annually to the league’s MVP) and they would have said Patrick Kane. The Blackhawks’ winger burst out to a massive lead in the scoring race before the NHL season was even a month old and plenty of people were handing him the theoretical trophy in the dead of winter.
But with the turning of the calendar in the city of Pittsburgh came the resurgence not only of the local hockey team, but of its captain, Sidney Crosby. He’s spring boarded over dozens of players on the scoring list and is guiding his Malkin-less team through one of the toughest stretch run schedules with poise. And Patrick Kane? Should probably put the pen down and focus on the hockey if he wants to take any awards home at the season’s end.
Sidney Crosby did not start well. Of course, over the years he has been known as a slower starter. When he struggled through the first two weeks of the season local writers pointed this out. Two weeks turned into a month which turned into two months. Then people started to call Crosby washed up. The thing is that Crosby, while yes slumping, wasn’t an outlier on his team. The entire Penguins roster, save for Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleur,y were all out of sorts to begin the 2015-2016 campaign.
Enter Mike Sullivan and suddenly everything has changed.
Crosby has two point streaks of more than ten games. He has a three-game multi-point game streak. He has only failed to register a point in 10 of 42 contests since the NHL’s winter break, three of which were shutouts for the opponent. This means that in 39 games since the winter break where the Penguins scored at least one goal, Crosby has recorded at least one point in 32 of them or 82% of the time.
But we cannot ignore Kane’s streak. Kane’s scoring streak, which is the longest ever among a player born in America, lasted for 26 games and was incredibly impressive from a hockey playing standpoint. Over that span he notched 40 points. The streak also included a 4 point night, two 3 point nights, and seven 2 point nights, but never in those 26 games did he score more than one goal. For the sake of argument let’s put Crosby’s two streaks (11 and 12 games respectively) together. This is a total of 23 peak performance games. In this time, the Penguins’ captain tallied 42 points including two 4 point nights, two 3 point nights, and nine 2 point nights. He also notched one hat trick (3 goal night) and four 2 goal performances in that span.
Okay, but what have those streaks meant to each player’s respective teams?
During Kane’s streak, the Blackhawks won 15 of the 26 games. This is good for 57.7% of the games in that span. During Crosby’s 23 games of streak or peak performance the Penguins won 18 of 23 games. This is good for 78.2% of the games in that span.
I know, I know. Kane’s streak was one consecutive streak. And while Crosby has been better lately that doesn’t necessarily mean he can oust Kane from the award. Or does it? Let’s ask Corey Perry. In the 2010-2011 season, Perry was named the NHL’s MVP thanks to a stellar second half. This proves the voters do have a bit of recency bias. Add in the fact that the Hawks loaded up at the trade deadline, while the Penguins added just a handful of small pieces, then proceeded to lose Malkin to injury and it’s a perfect storm for Crosby’s candidacy.
The Penguins, while deeper than in the past, are depending on Crosby more during the stretch run here than they would if Malkin was healthy. And he’s proving himself important to the team’s ability to win hockey games every chance he gets. He’s jockeying to catch Kane. Some games, he single handedly does everything for the heavily injured Penguins, while Kane and his stagnant Blackhawks seem to be treading water. It’s no longer an easy choice. So the question is, who would you pick to win the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player?