While the NHL has seen no shortage of excellent individual play throughout the season, only one player can walk away with the historic Hart Memorial Trophy. While this season has cases to be made for players such as Pekka Rinne, Claude Giroux, Nikita Kucherov, Evgeni Malkin, Connor McDavid, and others still, Taylor Hall is the most deserving of the honors. The dynamic forward for the New Jersey Devils has been the most valuable to his team’s success, even if others may have a higher point total, or play for a team that fared better in the standings.
The Devils have made the playoffs for first time since the 2010-11 season, and have done so with Hall carrying them on his back while setting career high totals in virtually every major statistic. The Devils are set to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning after a 44-29-9 record that saw them achieve 97 points in the standings, largely due to Hall’s career best 39 goals, 54, assists, 93 total points, 7 game winning goals, and the league’s fourth best total of offensive points shares number among skaters in 9.9.
For further context in looking at some of Hall’s standard numbers, he had 41 more points than the Devils’ second-leading scorer, Nico Hischier, who had finished the season playing in six more games than Hall, and achieved 52 points. Hall’s differential was larger than the gap between last year’s Hart winner and this season’s points leader, Connor McDavid (108 points), and his teammate Leon Draisaitl (70 points).
With a 38-point gap for the Oilers’ leading scorers, they also missed the playoffs and only put up 78 points in the standings with a 36-40-6 record. Hall’s production also game in a season in which the team’s true number one goalie, Cory Schneider, only appeared in 40 games largely due to injuries. For further context on Schneider’s history, he had started an average of roughly under 62 games per season over the previous three seasons. While Keith Kinkaid was forced to start in 38 games, he ranked 24th in the league in goals against average, and tied for 20th in save percentage among goalies that had played in at least 30 games this season.
Taylor Hall also heated up during the stretch run, as players such as Evgeni Malkin were touted for during the season. Hall recorded an official point streak of 19 straight games with a point, while accounting for injuries, was part of a larger 26-appearance streak with a point. In his officially recognized 19-game streak, Hall accounted for 13 goals and 13 assists. Without this point streak throughout 2018, and Hall’s seven game winning goals, the Devils are easily on the outside of the playoff picture.
While accounting for shifts per game, the comparative fifth and sixth best point scorers, Evgeni Malkin and Nathan MacKinnon respectively, should also be considered in the context of their teams. While MacKinnon played in two less games than Hall, and Malkin appeared in two more, they both had more shifts per game than Hall, with teammates who kept up the pace. Hall played 22.9 shifts per games compared to Malkin’s 23.4 (98 points) and MacKinnon’s 23.9 (97 points). Comparatively, Malkin’s teammates Phil Kessel and Sidney Crosby, who finished 8th and 10th in scoring, also played 22.2 shifts (Kessel), and 25.7 (Crosby) shifts respectively, and were arguably as important to the team’s success as Malkin’s dominance.
In MacKinnon’s case, Mikko Rantanen played in 81 games, posted 84 points, and played 22.8 shifts per game. Gabriel Landeskog (62 points) and Tyson Barrie (57 points) also both outperformed Hall’s next best teammate, Hischier, on a raw points basis. While that isn’t a knock on MacKinnon’s incredible stretch, it places further emphasis on how well Hall carried his team, especially with Hischier being a rookie. In fact, three of the other top five scorers on the Devils were rookies, with Kyle Palmieri being the lone vet to round out the top five. Palmieri tied the team’s rookie defenseman Will Butcher with 44 points, while Jesper Bratt contributed 35 points.
While Nashville’s Pekka Rinne had a fantastic season as a goalie, and was a key part of the Predators’ regular season success, he faces an uphill climb as a goalie. While his save percentage of .927, goals against average of 2.31, and 42 wins place him near the top of the leaderboards, he does not have Carey Price’s Hart numbers from the 2014-15, and has much more production from the team in front of him. Carey Price had a .933 save percentage, 1.96 goals against average, and 44 wins in his MVP season.
The Montreal Canadiens as a team accounted for 214 goals for (ranked 20th) as opposed to 184 goals against (ranked best); with the ninth best penalty kill percentage in the league in that year. Comparatively, the Nashville Predators produced 261 goals for (ranked tied for 7th) as opposed to 204 goals against (ranked 2nd best), to go with the sixth best penalty kill percentage, and higher power play ranking (14th) when compared to other teams this season. Before Price’s better season, no goalie had won the Hart trophy since José Théodore in the 2001-02 season.
While many players have strong cases this season, even among those who aren’t mentioned above, Hall ultimately meets every standard to be judged as the most valuable to his team’s performance. He put up one of the best seasons in the history of the New Jersey Devils, and without it, they surely would have missed the playoffs as many had predicted before the season began. The Devils improved upon last season’s point totals by 27 points, largely due to Hall’s productivity. Comparatively, if they had 70 points again this season, they’d be tied with the Arizona Coyotes. Only the Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres posted lower point totals this season.
Instead of a playoff series with the Tampa Bay Lightning, achieved by finishing one point ahead of the Florida Panthers, the Devils would have been dealing with high odds in the draft lottery. Taylor Hall is as vital to the Devils’ continued success as any of their high-performing rookies and has had an incredible season, regardless of the ultimate Hart Trophy outcome.