October 11 marks the start of the 2022–2023 National Hockey League (NHL) regular season. While it may seem premature to start wondering who will walk away with the Hart Trophy this year, several players are already generating some buzz. As a result, experts have begun weighing in, assessing players’ past performances and overall potential to select Hart Trophy favorites. Here, we’re taking a look at five of those top candidates to see who has the best odds of walking away with the NHL’s most valuable player (MVP) honor.
What Is the Hart Trophy?
According to the NHL, the Hart Trophy — more formally known as the Hart Memorial Trophy — is awarded annually “to the player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team.” The winner is chosen based on the results of a poll that’s run by the Professional Hockey Writers Association, with the poll participants analyzing players’ performance during the season to make a final determination.
Essentially, the Hart Trophy functions as an MVP award. It’s designed to recognize exceptional individual accomplishments, regardless of team performance. However, the player’s team generally does have to at least make the playoffs to be in the running. Even if it isn’t an explicit requirement, most pundits would consider a player on a team that doesn’t make it to the post-season out of contention for nabbing the Hart Trophy.
Who Has Won the Hart Trophy?
The Hart Trophy has been awarded to players since 1924, so it’s been given out nearly 100 times over the seasons. As a result, there are a slew of winners — though a few undoubtedly stand out, even from their fellow MVPs.
When it comes to notable winners, one of the most well-known is Wayne Gretzky. Dubbed “The Great One”, Gretzky became a household name in the ‘80s, offering up truly legendary performances that garnered him fans among hockey enthusiasts and casual viewers alike. He played a whopping 20 seasons in the NHL, with his career spanning from 1979 to 1999 and across four teams.
In total, Gretsky received the Hart Trophy a record-setting nine times, including eight straight wins between 1980 and 1987. He won the Hart Trophy for the final time in his last season of play.
Mark Messier, a long-time teammate of Gretzky’s, also received the award multiple times. While Mark Messier only won twice, the pair are the only players that have received the Hart Trophy for their contributions on more than one team.
When it comes to the sheer number of Hart Trophy wins, Gordie Howe, a powerhouse who secured the award six times during the 1950s and 1960s, comes in second to Gretsky. Behind Howe is Eddie Shore, who was selected four times during the 1930s.
5 Hart Trophy Favorites for the NHL 2022-2023 Season
5. Connor McDavid
In 2017 and 2021, Connor McDavid was honored with the Hart Trophy. For the 2022–2023 NHL season, he’s also a favorite to snag the trophy. He’s been the leading scorer in the NHL for the past two seasons, making him a top vote earner — and easily placing in the top five — for the past six seasons. Most experts assume that he’ll have a strong performance for the Edmonton Oilers this season, too.
Plus, Connor McDavid’s astonishing playoff performance during the 2021–2022 season gives him a bit of an edge; coming off a strong postseason always draws more eyes. Not to mention, he doesn’t have the same challenge as defending Hart Trophy recipient Auston Matthews when it comes to scoring goals that stack up to the numbers he posted last season, and that could increase McDavid’s odds of a third MVP honor.
4. Auston Matthews
Auston Matthews, the 2022 Hart Trophy winner, is a favorite for this season, too. During the 2021–2022 season, he scored an astonishing 60 goals for the Toronto Maple Leafs, a feat that hadn’t been achieved since Steven Stamkos pulled it off while playing for the Tampa Bay Lightning a decade or so ago.
Overall, experts are expecting a similar performance from Matthews during the coming season. If he secures the award for the second year in a row, it’ll be a big moment; a back-to-back win hasn’t happened since Alex Ovechkin snagged the honor for the 2007–2008 and 2008–2009 seasons.
But scoring 60 goals isn’t an easy feat. Odds are Matthews will score below that number — and, in comparing his current performance to last season’s, that could hurt his chances. Still, he’s a strong contender, even if the defending Hart Trophy winner isn’t leading the back.
3. Nathan MacKinnon
Out of players that have yet to win the Hart Trophy, Nathan MacKinnon is the standout. A member of the Colorado Avalanche — the team that won the Stanley Cup during the 2021–2022 NHL season — MacKinnon took some time to get his footing on the ice. Although he was drafted to the NHL in 2013, he’s something of a late-bloomer. But, after last season, MacKinnon has more than proven that he has the makings of an MVP.
The biggest challenge for MacKinnon? Honestly, staying healthy. While his points-per-game has been high in recent years, he’s fallen short of 70 games on the ice during two of the last three seasons. However, if he’s able to play consistently, you just can’t overlook his potential.
2. Kirill Kaprizov
A serious contender for the Hart Trophy for the 2021–2022 season, Kirill Kaprizov ultimately finished in seventh. However, his March 2022 performance while playing for the Minnesota Wild was undeniably impressive. He secured 14 goals during that time and led the league when it came to scoring that month.
In total, Kirill Kaprizov scored 47 goals and made 61 assists during the 2021–2022 regular season, and that’s enough to keep him sitting in the top five Hart Trophy favorites heading into this season. Plus, Kaprizov’s playoff performance was solid, too — he had seven goals and one assist — so he’s got a lot of potential and a lot of eyes on him now.
1. Leon Draisaitl
The Hart Trophy winner in 2020, Leon Draisaitl is known for being a stalwart member of the Edmonton Oilers. Along with leading the league in points in 2020, Draisaitl had a standout 2021–2022 season — he scored 55 goals and made 55 assists. Not to mention, Draisaitl’s performance in the playoffs was also stellar, easily putting him on voters’ radars.
However, Draisaitl does face a somewhat uphill battle. The primary reason? He’s on the same team as Connor McDavid, another top five Hart Trophy favorite. Outperforming McDavid, all while gelling as a team, is a tall order. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should count Draisaitl out just yet.