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Why Auston Matthews was snubbed for the Hart Trophy

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Photo credit:Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Arun Srinivasan
1 month ago
It was a resounding surprise waking up to the news Tuesday morning that Auston Matthews was not named as one of the three Hart Trophy finalists. OK sure, now isn’t the best time to be advocating for individual accolades on behalf of the Toronto Maple Leafs, to put it gently, but Matthews’ omission is jarring, especially when you consider he authored the best goal-scoring season of the past 31 years.
Perhaps no one wants to hear it. As a second-year member of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association, I wasn’t given an official awards ballot (maybe next year, guys!) but it seemed that Matthews was a lock for one of the three spots, even amid what’s expected to be the closest Hart Trophy race in recent memory. Nikita Kucherov, Nathan MacKinnon and Connor McDavid are the 2023-24 finalists and we may need to establish the criteria for what constitutes the most valuable player.
Is it the most valuable player at 5-on-5? That would be MacKinnon, who led the NHL with 79 points, 255 shots, while finishing tied for second with 36 goals at 5-on-5. MacKinnon’s elite acceleration and aggressive style of play has rendered him a one-man shot-creation machine for the NHL’s most dynamic team in open space. For what it’s worth, MacKinnon, McDavid, Kucherov and Matthews finished 1-4 in 5-on-5 points. Matthews finished first in 5-on-5 goals, second in shots, first in shot attempts and scoring chances, while easily boasting the best defensive resume of any of the four candidates. Kucherov, MacKinnon and McDavid finished 1-2-3 in league scoring, Matthews finished sixth at 107 points, trailing McDavid by 25 points. Perhaps the total points gap is what led to Matthews’ snub but if that’s the case, it’s largely devoid of context.
Is it the most valuable player to your team? Toronto’s top-heavy roster already calculates for the enormous impact Matthews has on the game as the 2022 Hart Trophy winner, along with William Nylander, has an inordinate share of the team’s two-way responsibilities. There is simply no way the Maple Leafs lead the NHL in 5-on-5 goals without Matthews’ torrential season. If you want to argue that Matthews’ campaign was augmented by Nylander’s best-ever season, then you have to use the same reasoning for McDavid, who plays on the same team as Leon Draisaitl, who finished seventh in league scoring with 106 points. MacKinnon plays on a juggernaut Avalanche team, Kucherov plays on the most successful team of his generation, although Tampa Bay’s dazzling winger is probably the best player relative to his teammates this season — if you discount his negligible defensive efforts.
How much should total impact matter? Matthews was nominated for the Selke Trophy and while him and Jordan Staal will almost certainly have to watch with gritted teeth as Aleksander Barkov strides to the podium, he is far and away the best defensive forward among the league’s genuine superstars — if you want to argue that Barkov is a superstar at this point, have at it, I guess, but he’s not in the same offensive tier. There’s no one close to Matthews’ defensive impact among the four nominees — McDavid’s defensive numbers are better than his reputation suggests for what it’s worth. Matthews had the highest percentage of shifts starting in his defensive zone among the four nominees and his 85 takeaways in all situations ranked second only to Evgeny Malkin.
It should be noted that high-end offensive players will be among the league’s leaders in giveaways, it’s an occupational hazard that is afforded to the league’s best players — I’m sure the Lightning, for example, are fine with Kucherov making high-risk plays knowing that he’s a transcendent playmaker. And with this caveat out of the way, it’s still worth noting that Kucherov, McDavid and MacKinnon finished second, fifth and eight in giveaways in all situations, respectively. Matthews ranks 54th and easily has the best takeaway-giveaway ratio.
This isn’t the right time to campaign for individual accolades as the Maple Leafs enter another dreary offseason but the point remains that Matthews was easily one of the NHL’s best three players this season. In any event, the players may know better than us media members as Matthews was nominated for the Ted Lindsay Award. The best-goal scoring season of the past 31 years combined with a Selke-level defensive effort simply cannot be ignored.
All stats via NHL.com and Natural Stat Trick unless otherwise indicated. 

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