To mark the midway point of the 2020-21 regular season, NHL.com is running its Trophy Tracker series. Today, we look at the race for the Hart Trophy, given annually to the player judged most valuable to his team in a vote by the Professional Hockey Writers Association.
Patrick Kane arguably is having the best season of his NHL career despite the Chicago Blackhawks missing their top three centers.
Kane was third in the NHL with 42 points (12 goals, 30 assists) in 31 games, and the Blackhawks (14-12-5) are fourth in the Discover Central Division in a season when they're supposed to be rebuilding.
The forward's production, coupled with the Blackhawks' surprising first half, has made the forward the leader for the Hart Trophy at the midpoint of the season according to a panel of 17 NHL.com writers.
Kane received 74 voting points, including 10 first-place votes. Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid was second with 65 points (six first-place votes). Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews was third with 28 points. Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy also received a first-place vote.
"He's playing off the charts," Blackhawks and NBC Sports analyst Eddie Olczyk said. "He's not only facilitating and finishing, but he's driving this team in a year that's a shortened season with lots of changeover and a different division alignment. He's carried this team."
Video: Best of Patrick Kane
He's been doing it with rookie Pius Suter as his center for the majority of the season and occasionally David Kampf, not Jonathan Toews, Kirby Dach or Dylan Strome.
Toews (illness) and Dach (wrist) have not played this season. Strome has been out since Feb. 19 because of a concussion.
Suter never played an NHL game before this season. Kampf mainly has been a bottom-six center during his four seasons.
"That's what really makes it in capital letters what he's done to this point," Olczyk said.
Kane is averaging an NHL career-best 1.35 points per game, which would put him on a 110-point pace for an 82-game season.
He averaged 1.36 points per game in 2018-19, when he scored an NHL career-high 110 points (44 goals, 66 assists) in 81 games. He averaged 1.29 points per game in 2015-16, when he scored 106 points (46 goals, 60 assists) to win the Art Ross Trophy as the League's top scorer and the Hart Trophy.
"You look at what the expectations were for our team and where everyone had us finishing and yet we're right there, we're in the battle, and obviously he's a big part of that," Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton said. "His production is better than ever. But to me it's all about the work ethic away from the puck and willingness to put pressure on the puck and create transition for himself and his linemates too. That type of team-first mentality, that's what we're trying to build here so we can have long-term success. Not only is he doing it, but he's encouraging other guys to do it. When you're unselfish, it comes around. When he's driving that, it sure is powerful."
Kane is not overanalyzing his season or his impact on the Blackhawks.
"I'm just trying to help the team as much as possible," he said. "The way I play, I feel I've had some pretty good seasons the last couple of years too. Just trying to get better each year, I guess. It's always a work in progress, but I don't know. Like I said, just trying to help my team as much as possible when I'm on the ice."
Olczyk said he likes to look at where teams would be without their top players when he considers the Hart Trophy, and it's clear to him the Blackhawks wouldn't be near playoff contention if they didn't have Kane, especially when they haven't had Toews and Dach.
"He gets a ton of attention every night," Blackhawks president of hockey operations and general manager Stan Bowman said. "Every time we line up, the other teams know he's the one guy they have to key on. Hopefully soon we can get Kirby and Strome back, but right now he's carrying the load for us and he's taking all the attention."
Voting totals (points awarded on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis): Patrick Kane, Blackhawks, 74 points (10 first-place votes); Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers, 65 points (6 first-place votes); Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs, 28 points; Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings, 26 points; Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning, 12 points; Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights, 11 points; Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets, 10 points; Andrei Vasilevskiy, Lightning, 9 points (1 first-place vote); Leon Draisaitl, Oilers, 8 points; Mitchell Marner, Maple Leafs, 3 points; Kirill Kaprizov, Minnesota Wild, 3 points; Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers, 2 points; Jonathan Huberdeau, Panthers, 2 points; Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals, 1 point; Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins, 1 point
NHL.com staff writer Tracey Myers contributed to this story.