The National Hockey League continued to announce 2021 NHL Award finalists on Thursday with the three candidates for the Hart Memorial Trophy. The Hart Trophy honor's "the player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team," as selected by members of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association.
The finalists for the 2021 Hart Trophy are Colorado Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon, Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews and Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid.
MacKinnon is a finalist for the Hart Trophy for a second-consecutive season and the third time in his NHL career.
The 25-year-old finished his 2020-21 season with 65 points (20+45) in just 48 games played in Colorado. His 1.35 points per-game rate for the season placed him fourth overall in the NHL, while he also ranked third in the league with 206 shots on goal and eighth in league scoring.
If MacKinnon happens claim the Hart Trophy this season, he would become the third player in Avalanche franchise history to be named the NHL's Most Valuable Player, joining Hall of Famers Joe Sakic in 2001 and Peter Forsberg in 2003.
MacKinnon was a huge part of the team in Colorado that finished the shortened 2020-21 season with a 39-13-4 record, claiming the Presidents' Trophy as the regular season's top team in the NHL.
The Avalanche rolled through their first round matchup in the Pacific Division with a four-game sweep of the 2019 Stanley Cup champion, St. Louis Blues. However, Colorado is currently on the brink of elimination, as they face a 3-2 series deficit to the Golden Knights after an overtime loss at home on Tuesday.
Last season during the Return To Play format in Edmonton, the Avalanche suffered a second round series loss to the Dallas Stars in seven games. Colorado is looking to avoid a second-straight exit in Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs this time around.
Game 6 of the series is set to take place Thursday night at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas at 9 p.m. ET.
This season is the first time Matthews has been named a finalist for the Hart Trophy in his NHL career. He is also up for the Ted Lindsay Award this season which recognizes the "most outstanding player of the regular season, as judged by the members of the NHL Players' Association."
The 23-year-old led the entire NHL with 41 goals in 52 games played this past season, which earned him the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy in 2021 as the league's top goal scorer. Matthews finished the season with the most shots on goal (222), while also accounting for 22% of Toronto’s 186 total goals this year. If the 2020-21 season was played to its entirety with an 82-game schedule, Matthews was on pace for 61 goals in 78 games.
Matthews was able to lead the goal scoring race for a majority of the season, as he finished eight goals ahead of the second-leading goal scorer in the league, which happened to be McDavid. His 66 points on the season also landed him in a tie in the top-five of overall scoring in the league with Colorado Avalanche forward Mikko Rantanen and Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane.
He only trailed forward Mitchell Marner for the team lead in scoring, as Marner went on to put up 67 points (20+47) in 55 games for Toronto this season.
The Maple Leafs have not had a player of Matthews' caliber on their team in quite some time. He became the first Maple Leafs player since Gaye Stewart, 75 years ago, to lead the league in goals. Matthews is the first Maple Leafs finalist for the Hart Trophy since Doug Gilmour finished second in league voting in 1993. He is also looking to become the third player in franchise history to capture the Hart Trophy, and the first since Ted Kennedy in 1955.
Matthews also became the second American-born player to ever win the league's goal-scoring race. The native of Scottsdale, Arizona was the first player since Keith Tkachuk led the league with 52 goals in the 1996-97 season while playing for the Phoenix Coyotes.
As for the Maple Leafs, they cruised this regular season to a first place finish in the North Division with a 35-14-7 record and 77 points. However, their run in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs came to an end after blowing a 3-1 series lead to the Montreal Canadiens, losing the series in seven games.
Toronto has now lost eight-consecutive games with a chance to advance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Maple Leafs have also not moved on past the second round of the NHL postseason since 2004.