A few months, the MVP race had no clear-cut favorite. Now with less than two weeks remaining in the season, it is still quite undecided, as only three players remain in contention for the league MVP award: Auston Matthews, Igor Shesterkin and Connor McDavid.
The trickiest player to evaluate is Shesterkin. The New York Rangers superstar goalie is currently running away with the Vezina Trophy which is awarded to the best goaltender, but his case for MVP is a little more complicated. Amongst the starting goalies, he leads the NHL with a .935 save percentage and 2.05 goals against average. While these stats are impressive, they are hard to compare to the stats of an elite forward.
To properly judge Shersterkin, you have to compare him to other goalies throughout history. Only six times in the history of the league has the MVP award been given to a goalie. The second to last time was in 2002 when Montreal Canadiens goalie José Théodore won it. Shesterkin’s case is weakened when comparing him to other goalies who have put up similar stat lines in recent memory and have fallen short of the MVP award.
Tim Thomas in 2010-11 put up a slightly better save percentage and goals against average than Shesterkin. Ben Bishop had a similar save percentage to Shesterkin and a better goal against average in 2018-19. Carey Price in 2014-15 had arguably the best season in recent memory and is the most recent goalie to win the MVP award. That year, Price had a goals against average under two and totaled a whopping 44 wins, which is tied for eighth-most in a single season. Shesterkin while having an amazing season, is not on the level of an MVP deserving year, and it is hard to see Shesterkin getting it.
Connor McDavid was last year’s MVP, and to no one’s surprise, he’s back in the conversation again. He leads the league with 110 points, has a career-high 42 goals and has the Edmonton Oilers firmly in second place in the Pacific Division. While McDavid’s numbers speak for themselves, one critique of his has been the lack of winning games and not being able to make the playoffs. That has changed this year as he is set to compete in the playoffs for just the third time in his career.
Another knock to McDavid’s case is the existence of Leon Draisaitl. The fellow Oilers forward currently sits fourth in the league in points, only five behind McDavid. Draisaitl also has scored 54 goals on the year, which sits at second best in the league and 12 ahead of McDavid. In a sport where scoring goals is the hardest thing to do, it hurts McDavid’s case to have a teammate whose importance to the Oilers’ success is on a similar level.
The last contender for MVP is the current favorite to win the award, Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs. His 0.83 goals per game is on pace to be the best rate in a single season since Mario Lemieux’s 0.99 mark in 1996. He also sits fifth in points at 102, trailing McDavid by eight.
Like McDavid, Matthews also has a teammate who is performing at a high level. Mitch Marner currently is seventh in the league in points with 93. Unlike McDavid, it is pretty clear that Matthews is statistically ahead of Marner due to goals being the most important stat. Marner has 33 goals on the year, while Matthews has a league-high 58.
While the race is a tight one, the nod for MVP should go to Matthews. His mark of 58 will most likely eclipse 60 in the final seven games of the season and will make him only the third player to hit that total since 1996. In a league where goals matter the most, the obvious choice for MVP this season is Auston Matthews.