New York Rangers: Artemi Panarin is the obvious Hart Trophy winner

With the NHL regular season “deemed to be completed,” the record books have been closed, and award winners can be selected. Since the season is over, New York Rangers forward Artemi Panarin has the MVP Hart Trophy locked away, and here is why.

It’s tough to imagine where the New York Rangers would be if Artemi Panarin hadn’t inked that seven-year, $81.5M deal with them last July. As we await the resumption of NHL hockey from the elongated break, it is now official that the Blueshirts will be a playoff competitor. They are in for the first time in three long years.

Their playoff spot is thanks to the exhilarating push the team made from the All-Star break through the pause of play in mid-March. During that stretch, they went 14-7-1 while delivering some of the most exciting Rangers games I have ever seen. It wouldn’t have happened without the roster-stimulant of Panarin.

Although this 24-team playoff format is an exception as opposed to a typical NHL season, the New York Rangers still overachieved to be in this position. And they are three wins away (against a Carolina Hurricanes team they went 4-0 against in the regular season) from a 16-team playoff birth.

In his debut season on Broadway, Panarin accounted for 41 percent of the Rangers offensive output over the 70 regular-season games played. Given that every team ended with different amounts of games played and statistical circumstances, it all comes down to context when determining who wins the MVP award in this situation. When talking “Most Valuable,” without question, the New York Rangers would be one of the seven teams out of action right now if not for Panarin.

My aforementioned other Hart candidates are David Pastrnak, Nathan MacKinnon, Leon Draisaitl, and Connor McDavid. I think it’s the right call to assume each of those player’s respective teams would still be resuming play in July without each of their contributions. Which is why Panarin makes his case as the most valuable player to his team.

Look at Panarin’s place among the league’s top point scorers. Except for Patrick Kane, who is no stranger to this list, every player there is on a legitimate Stanley Cup contending team.

It’s a very similar case to Taylor Hall with the New Jersey Devils two seasons ago. His play was the most significant factor when the Devils earned themselves a trip back into the playoffs for the first time in six years, and therefore that’s why he won the Hart Memorial Trophy. Context is everything over plain numbers without substance.

The last New York Rangers player to win the Hart was Mark Messier in 1991-92, which was also his first season as a Blueshirt. He tallied 107 points in 79 games, a mark that seemed within grasp for Panarin with the 12 abandoned games still on the table. Only three others in franchise history had the honor in the 66 seasons before that.

The unfortunate side of the early end to the season is that Rangers fans won’t be able to see how “The Bread Man” would have finished amongst franchise’s best single-season performances. A few feats were already within spitting distance for him when the season shut down, so we can only project what could’ve been.

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This is Panarin’s fifth career year and the first of seven with the Rangers. Records are sure to be broken, given the trajectory he is on. If he is rightfully awarded the Hart this season, it will mean more to the New York Rangers franchise than most know. The hardware would represent a monumental step forward in the team’s ongoing rebuild.