During last night’s NBCSN broadcast of the Blues win over the Avalanche, someone - I don’t remember who - name dropped Ryan O’Reilly as a potential Hart Trophy candidate. It was the first time all season that I’ve seen or heard someone from the national media suggest it. Obviously, I don’t have my finger on the pulse of every national media outlet, so I may’ve missed mentions, but it’s still notable that a major outlet like NBCSN noticed what we’ve been saying for months: Ryan O’Reilly is a key reason that the Blues have been able to reach the position that they’ve been able to reach.
Everyone knows the team’s story by now. At this time in January, they were dead last in the league, by the All Star break started playing significantly more cohesively, and then came back to go on an 11 game win streak. Players picked their play up significantly - David Perron had a 17 game point streak. Jordan Binnington just tied Jake Allen’s wins by a rookie goalie record, and will probably break it before the end of the season. Vladimir Tarasenko shook off the remnants of a shoulder injury to return to form and to reach the 30 goal plateau for the fifth time in his career. Jay Bouwmeester looks like Jay Bouwmeester again, instead of a hapless shell of his former self.
All of these contributions, and those of so many others have pulled the Blues up to where they are now, which is currently tied for second place in the Central. But if you look at the team’s MVP, the player who has performed at a top level from game one, it’s O’Reilly.
Unfortunately, sometimes members of the PHWA confuse “number of points” or “most impressive performance” as qualifiers for the Hart, but the impact made to a team by that player needs to be front and center. Can this player be demonstrably proven to be a key reason that team has been successful? Have they carried their team through both rough waters and not?
O’Reilly has 27 goals and 74 points on the season. This isn’t Kucherov’s 125 points (and counting). Or McDavid’s 115. Or Kane’s 105. Or even Nathan MacKinnon’s 96. But if you look at the league’s top ten in scoring, it’s difficult to find one player who has been as key to their team’s success as O’Reilly. MacKinnon comes closest, as he’s pulled the Avalanche kicking and screaming (probably) into the playoffs. Kucherov’s such a part of a dynamic team that it’s tough to give him the lion’s share of the credit. McDavid, Kane, Draisaitl, and Barkov’s teams are spending the summer at home. Most of the teams that the top scorers are on who are in playoff position have been there nearly constantly all year.
The Blues obviously won the O’Reilly deal, and neither they nor the player need the Hart Trophy to recognize that. But what would be nice is for O’Reilly to be recognized for being the backbone of the team all year, and for being one of the major reasons that a team that once sat 31st overall in the league is, at the time of this writing, a team with home ice advantage in the playoffs.