While the Stanley Cup is the ultimate goal, those following teams without a shot at the title can at least hope to have a player with enough talent and box-busting stats that they can celebrate the winner of the Hart Memorial Trophy.
Each year, the Hart Memorial Trophy goes to the most valuable player in the NHL during the regular season. Having been given out nearly 100 times, only six nationalities have won this MVP prize, and not once has a Finnish player won the trophy.
This year, a certain familiar Finn might just be able to take the Hart to a brand new home.
Canadians are becoming a bit less of a shoo-in
In 2022, Auston Matthews rightfully took home the Hart Memorial Trophy. Having netted 60 goals to create new Toronto Maple Leafs and US-born records, it was the most scored by a player since 2011-12, and his points tally (106 points) landed him level with that previous 60-goal scorer, Steven Stamkos.
Matthews’ triumph landed the US its third Hart Trophy, joining Patrick Kane and Brett Hull. In 1991, Hull became the first non-Canadian to be named the regular season MVP. A few years later, Sergei Fedorov landed the first European win, taking the trophy back for Russia.
Fedorov has been joined by three of his compatriots to total six Russian Hart Trophy winners, with Nikita Kucherov following up on three for Alexander Ovechkin and one for Evgeni Malkin with his 2019 nod. After Russia, it’s the Czechs.
From 1997 to 1999, the Hart Memorial Trophy didn’t leave the Czech Republic. Dominik Hašek kicked off the trend, playing in net for the Buffalo Sabres. In the 1998-99 season, right wing Jaromir Jágr recaptured the award for the Pittsburgh Penguins, which had seen its star Mario Lemieux hoist it for the third time in 1996.
Along with these, Leon Draisaitl won the only Hart Trophy for Germany, while Henrik Sedin and Peter Forsberg brought it back to Sweden. Despite the likes of Teemu Selänne, Jari Kurri, Saku Koivu, Olli Jokinen, and Pekka Rinne having superb NHL careers and stand-out seasons, none were able to get the MVP prize for Finland.
Can Rantanen make history for Finland?
As it stands, the NHL MVP odds see six clear frontrunners for the Hart Memorial Trophy in 2023, with Mikko Rantanen the joint-fifth favorite at +1200. This puts the Colorado Avalanche star on par with who could be considered the breakout star of last season, Kirill Kaprizov.
In the case of Rantanen, last season was his fourth 70-plus game campaign, and he posted a career-best 36 goals and 92 points with a +35 rating. He was instrumental throughout the regular season and put up another 25 points in 20 playoff games.
Of course, it’s not just about Rantanen’s showing. If he doesn’t stand out as the best Avalanche player or someone else on another team proves to be even more critical, the Finn would miss out. For Colorado, Makar’s trajectory might end up netting him the Hart Trophy, even though Chris Pronger (2000) was the last blueliner to do so.
Elsewhere, there’s the reigning champ, Connor McDavid, and his teammate, Leon Draisaitl, vying for yet another regular season MVP award. Nathan MacKinnon is also highly-rated in the odds at +1000, but two-time winner McDavid is the clear frontrunner at +250.
He’s certainly a dark horse, but if Mikko Rantanen improves again this season, he’ll be right in the mix to become the first-ever Finnish winner of the Hart Memorial Trophy.