The finalists for this season’s Hart Trophy winner as the NHL’s most valuable player are Leon Draisaital, Nathan MacKinnon and David Pastrnak. Normally, I could care less about an individual award, but it’s hard to ignore an egregious mistake like this one. Not only is Artemi Panarin not going to go down as this season’s MVP, he’s not even being considered for it.
It’s hard to find any free agent in any sport not named Max Scherzer who lives up to his monetary value. As a first-year Ranger surrounded by the youngest roster in the NHL, Panarin was more than worth his $14 million salary this season in what was the first year of a a seven-year, $81.5 million contract. Panarin has spent nearly all of his 5-on-5 ice time playing with Ryan Strome, the former 5th overall pick who was given up on by both the Islanders and Oilers, and Jesper Fast, a nice complementary piece and role player but not someone who should be playing on the opposite wing of the Bread Man. Meanwhile, Draisaitl has had the luxury of playing alongside Connor McDavid, and when the two are broken up, they still play together on the power play, which is where 40 percent of Draisaitl’s league-leading points total came from. MacKinnon has Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen and David Pastrnak is only ever on the ice with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. The simple fact that Panarin finished third in points (95), behind Draisaitl (110), tied with Pastrnak and ahead of MacKinnon (93) with Strome and Fast as his linemates should have been enough to make him or anyone in that situation not just an MVP finalist, but the MVP.
Maybe if Panarin played mostly with Mika Zibanejad my previous point would be full of holes, but Panarin rarely ever sees Zibanejad on the ice with him. David Quinn strongly believes in line balance. He only turns to the dynamic duo in the event of an emergency, like the Rangers trailing by a goal with a few minutes left in the game. Usually by then, it’s too late and had the two been together all game, the Rangers likely wouldn’t be trailing by a goal with a few mintues left. Quinn treats pairing the two as if there is a limit on how often and for how long he can do it, and as of now there are only three situations Quinn purposely has the two on the ice at the same: the Rangers are trailing in the third period, the Rangers are on the power play or it’s overtime. Otherwise, Panarin is stuck with Strome and Fast.
Panarin finished first in 5-on-5 points with 71, which means 75 pecent of his points came mostly with Strome and Fast, mostly without Zibanejad on the ice and without a man advantage. Draisaitl recorded 66 even-strength points, which was only 60 percent of his total, MacKinnon 62 (67 percent) and Pastrnak 57 (60 percent). Draisaitl, Pastrnak and MacKinnon finished first, third and fourth in power-play points, which is easy to figure when you think about the talent and skill on the first power-play units of their teams. Panarin was the best even-strength player in the league, which is the way the majority of the game is played. And he was the best even-strength player in the league with RYAN STROME and JESPER FAST as his linemates. I need to keep reiterating that point because of how unbelievable it really is.
If that’s not enough for you, according to Evolving Hockey, Panarin was first in the league in both Goals Above Replacement (GAR) and Wins Above Replacement (WAR). He bested Draistail in GAR (24.9 to 15.4) and in WAR (4.4 to 2.7) and also played a more complete game, topping Draisaitl in goals against per 60 minutes. There’s no stat other than overall points in which Draisaitl, the MVP front-runner, performed better than Panarin, and 40 percent of those points came on the power play when Draisaitl and the best player in the world don’t leave the ice until the Oilers score or the power play expires.
Whenever the NHL Awards are held for this season, if they are ever held, it won’t be Panarin who officially receives the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player. But Rangers fans and any hockey fans who can think on their own or who have read this will know Panarin is the real MVP.