Oilers GM Ken Holland on Hart Trophy race: ‘I’m glad I don’t have a vote’

BOCA RATON, Fla. — Ken Holland doesn’t have a vote.

And if he did, the general manager of the Edmonton Oilers wouldn’t be able to pick between Leon Draisaitl or Connor McDavid in the Hart Trophy race.

“Co-winners,” Holland joked to reporters Tuesday at the NHL GM meetings. “They’re both great players and they’re both having great seasons.”

Even that’s an understatement for the Oilers’ stars.

Draisaitl leads the NHL with 107 points, while McDavid was second with 94 heading into Tuesday’s action despite missing six games last month with a quad injury.

The duo torched the Nashville Predators for 10 points in Monday’s 8-3 victory — Draisaitl had four goals, including a hat trick in the third period, and an assist, while McDavid scored once and set up four others.

“They’re just really starting to come into their prime,” said Holland, in his first season with Edmonton after a long tenure in Detroit. “On an every-night basis, they’re obviously the two guys that are going to impact our team.”

They also present an interesting dilemma when it comes to the Hart Trophy, which is voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association and awarded annually to “the player judged most valuable to his team.”

But with Draisaitl and McDavid at the top of the scoring race and the Oilers looking primed for a return to the playoffs, how can you pick one over the other? And if one wins, where should the other slot in on a ballot?

It’s a conundrum writers will have to wrestle with from now until the end of the schedule, but what’s clear is Draisaitl has taken his game up another notch in 2019-20.

“He made a leap last year,” Holland said. ”He was the first player in six years to score 50 goals and 100 points in the same season (in 2018-19). Whenever you do something that nobody in the league has done in the previous five seasons, you’ve made a leap.

“He’s backed up last year’s season and taken another step.”

That included the six-game stretch without McDavid where Draisaitl had four goals and 12 points to lead Edmonton to a 3-2-1 record minus its captain.

“He stepped up, we needed him,” Holland said. “We were counting on him to take a step up and he certainly did that.”

The Oilers often played McDavid, who’s coming off a serious knee injury suffered last April, and Draisaitl on the same line under the previous regime due to a lack of offensive punch and skill further down the lineup.

It was a potent top unit, but also made matchups easier for opponents.

Head coach Dave Tippett, who was hired by Holland after he took over in May, started with the 23-year-old McDavid and the 24-year-old Draisaitl on the same line in October, but has been able to keep the dynamic duo mostly apart since late December after Kailer Yamamoto was recalled from the American Hockey League.

Draisaitl has found great chemistry down the middle with the rookie and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, while McDavid continues to do his thing regardless of who lines up on his wings.

Holland gave credit to Tippett for convincing McDavid and Draisaitl that splitting them up and spreading their talent across two lines was the right move. He also gave a nod to the players.

“We’re trying to have them have similar success not playing together,” Holland said. “They had to be on board.

“Everybody’s got their little piece of the pie, their contribution to us being successful. Everybody feels good about themselves. But certainly those two guys are the two guys that stir the drink.”

After taking the job last spring, Holland had a short-term goal of being in the playoff race on March 1.

He also knew not to underestimate his two stars and core that included Nugent-Hopkins, as well as defencemen Darnell Nurse, Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson.

“I came to a team that had Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl,” he said. ”We had the nucleus of a good hockey team. We just had to figure out how to make it a little bit different, make it a little bit better.”

Winning the Hart Trophy would be the first NHL award for Draisaitl.

McDavid, meanwhile, already has one, and he has twice grabbed the Art Ross Trophy as the league leader in points. He also owns a Ted Lindsay Award for league MVP as voted on by fellow players.

But it’s not like McDavid is Draisaitl’s only competition. David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins and Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche, among others, also have a strong case.

The definition of the Hart and Ted Lindsay are also slightly different, which makes picking the former tricky when two players from the same team are in the running.

And Holland is happy to stay out of the debate.

“I’m glad I don’t have to vote.”

GENERAL MANAGERS VOTE TO TWEAK OFFSIDE RULE

GMs voted Tuesday to amend the interpretation of the offside rule so that a player’s skate off the ice, but above the blue-line, will be considered legal — much like the goal line in football. The league has looked at the issue before, but it was pushed through this time and will now go to the NHL/NHLPA competition committee. Final approval has to come from the board of governors. The league said through 1,015 games this season, 14 goals that were overturned on coaches challenges would have stood under the proposed amendment.

TRACKING REMAINS ON COURSE

The NHL said puck and player tracking remains on course to be implemented in the playoffs, and across the league beginning next season. The league said 26 of 31 buildings already have the camera and wiring installed, adding that the technology has been tested over the last few weeks. That will continue this month, including Monday in Calgary, March 12 in Edmonton, March 19 in Toronto and March 28 in Vancouver.

WADDELL ON EBUG, MRAZEK

Carolina Hurricanes GM Don Waddell was “nervous” when emergency backup goalie David Ayres let in the first two shots he faced against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Feb. 22 after both James Reimer (lower-body) and Petr Mrazek (concussion) were lost to injury. But the 42-year-old Zamboni driver settled down to make the next eight saves in a stunning 6-3 victory. “It all worked out for the best,” said Waddell, who added Mrazek is between a week and 10 days from returning to the lineup. Carolina, which made last season’s Eastern Conference final, currently sits outside the playoff picture.

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