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Could Lightning’s dominance cost Nikita Kucherov the Hart Trophy?

The key question: How good would the Lightning be without its leading scorer?
Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov skates before a game against the Flames last week at Amalie Arena. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov skates before a game against the Flames last week at Amalie Arena. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published Feb. 18, 2019|Updated Feb. 18, 2019

How valuable can a player be to his team when that team is running away from the competition?

That seems to be the question at the heart of Nikita Kucherov’s Hart Trophy candidacy, The Hockey News’ Matt Larkin writes.

“Whereas a team too crummy killed (Connor) McDavid’s Hart hopes last season,” Larkin writes, “a team too fantastic might do the same to Kucherov this time.”

Without question, Kucherov’s credentials for the NHL’s MVP award are unassailable.

He leads the league in scoring with 94 points through 59 games. Chicago’s Patrick is a distant second with 87. Kucherov’s 67 assists also top his contemporaries, 11 more than Winnipeg’s Blake Wheeler. (Kucherov’s 27 goals tie for 19th.)

But the Hart goes to the player “judged most valuable to his team” in the opinion of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association. The question before the writers, then: how much of the Lightning’s 92 points — 15 more than its next-closest pursuers (Calgary and San Jose) — can be attributed to Kucherov’s individual prowess?

Keep in mind that Kucherov is surrounded by stars at virtually every position, including Norris Trophy winner Victor Hedman, Vezina Trophy finalist Andrei Vasilevskiy, All-Star Steven Stamkos and former All-Star Brayden Point, one of the top two-way players in hockey.

“Ask yourself: how good would this exact team be without Kucherov?” Larkin writes. “Not nearly as good, of course ... but probably still quite good, right? Now ask the same question about where the Blackhawks would be without Kane. You shuddered, didn’t you?”

Kucherov’s best bet might be to distance himself in the scoring race, Larkin writes.

“Kucherov has arguably been the league’s best hockey player in 2018-19,” Larkin writes. “To earn the distinction of most valuable to his team, though, he’ll have to remain superhuman for two more months.”

Because of the judging criteria and who does the voting, Kucherov might have a better shot at the Lindsay Award, according to Larkin. The Lindsay goes to the league’s “most outstanding” player in the opinion of the players.

“McDavid was a shoo-in choice last season, winning it a second straight time,” Larkin writes. “With each passing day in 2018-19 ... Kucherov strengthens his case to earn most-outstanding-player honors.”

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