The Colorado Avalanche are fresh off a 5-4 overtime win over the New York Islanders on Tuesday. Who scored the game-winner on the power play? Of course it was Nathan MacKinnon, who is putting together his best NHL season. Entering his 11th NHL season, MacKinnon is one of the best players currently playing who hasn’t won the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP. Might that change by the time we get to the summer? It’s looking like it as we approach the mid-way point of the 2023-24 NHL season. Let’s examine MacKinnon’s odds and why he’s a good bet to win MVP right now.
NHL picks: Hart Trophy predictions
Nathan MacKinnon odds: +380
Last night, MacKinnon’s odds were +400, right behind Tampa Bay Lightning RW Nikita Kucherov and Edmonton Oilers C Connor McDavid. After the game-winner last night, MacKinnon moved up slightly, something we should see more of over the next few weeks until he’s close to even with McDavid. It appears the Hart Trophy race could be between those three unless someone else gets involved. Don’t sleep on David Pastrnak or Jack Hughes but right now both those players don’t feel like great bets. MacKinnon certainly does, especially at this number. Let’s look at why.
First, we’ll debunk McDavid and Kucherov’s cases a bit. At McDavid’s current point pace, he’d still finish with over 120 points, but well under his career best in goals (64 set last season). McDavid has kind of screwed up his own case because of what he did last season. When McDavid won MVP in 2022-23, he scored an insane 153 points with 64 goals. We hadn’t seen anyone do that since the early ‘90s. At this point, it feels like McDavid would have to go on a tear while also carrying the Oilers closer to the top of the Western Conference standings. That all feels like a tall order.
Edmonton will likely be fighting with a handful of teams for the two Wild Card spots in the West. God forbid the Oilers miss the playoffs, that would eliminate McDavid from MVP contention altogether. Edmonton is getting hot on a six-game winning streak. McDavid started the New Year off right with five points in a win over the Flyers. McDavid currently sits at 53 points (14 goals), still trailing Kucherov and MacKinnon by a decent margin. Can McDavid catch up while carrying the Oilers into a playoff spot? Sure. Will that narrative overtake one that MacKinnon is building? We’re not as sure.
Let’s move onto Kucherov. He has the NHL points lead going into Wednesday with 63 (27 goals) in 38 games. The problem with Kucherov is the Lightning aren’t the same team. Is that his fault? No. All good things must come to an end and while Tampa Bay’s title window might have closed after a run that included two championships and three trips to the Stanley Cup Final, that doesn’t mean the team can’t remain relevant and competitive. The Bolts enter Wednesday at 41 points, just outside the WC in the East. Same with the Oilers and McDavid; Kucherov will have to carry the Lightning to a playoff spot and be among the League leaders in points. And even that might not be enough to stump MacKinnon’s case.
Let’s talk about that case. It almost feels like a “it’s his turn” type of season. Both McDavid and Kucherov have won the Hart before. MacKinnon has been a finalist three times, losing out to Taylor Hall, McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Last season, the Avs finished with 109 points (same as the Oilers) and MacKinnon had 111 points, which ranked fifth in the NHL. He finished fifth in Hart Trophy voting. This season, MacKinnon should blow past that point total while helping the Avs finish among the top teams in the League. He’s on pace for over 130 points, which would be a career high.
Most of the time, the player with the best narrative can take over a Hart Trophy race. I think MacKinnon starts to get that narrative from the media. Everyone is making up this 2023 points stat for MacKinnon, who over the course of the past two seasons (in just the year 2023), scored 53 goals (second behind Pastrnak). And really MacKinnon had just started to heat up scoring the puck in December (11 goals in 15 games). MacKinnon has work to do to get into the Rocket Richard race. He’ll certainly have a shot at the Art Ross, something he’s never done in his career. The Avs should be toward the top of the standings. At the end of the day, it just feels like MacKinnon will get his due finally. So I’m jumping on his odds to win MVP now on DraftKings Sportsbook.