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The MVP race looks surprisingly open for 2018-19

Ryan Lambert
Yahoo Sports
The Oilers being bad robbed McDavid of the MVP a year ago, that could happen again. (AP)

Okay so let’s just get it out of the way right now and say that yeah, Connor McDavid probably will be the MVP in 2018-19.

He’s the best player in the world and the Oilers almost can’t be as bad as they were last season. So the idea espoused by a lot of media types who didn’t give him the award last season, that they might have given McDavid the nod if the Oilers had been just a little closer to playoff contention, could be rendered invalid and the entire rest of this column moot.

However, you never know in hockey and quite frankly there are a lot of teams that could be looking at big underdog stories and bonce-backs this coming season. With that in mind and with Bovada recently releasing its list of MVP odds, there were more than a few tantalizing options on the list.

Maybe the most intriguing are both Auston Matthews and John Tavares at 10 to 1 each. Toronto is gonna be real good this year and that market in particular is probably home to an outsized number of voters who will see them beat the crap out of the competition in person 60-plus games this year. That’s a lot of gravity for other players to overcome, but maybe you argue that they split the Toronto voters for one another.

The one “dark horse” guy that has certainly drawn a lot of attention since the list came out is Jack Eichel at 33 to 1. Buffalo has improved a lot this summer, and Eichel is one of just 20 players in the entire league to have scored at least 0.94 points per game over the last two seasons. His ability to stay in the lineup has been an issue, sure; he’s played just 128 games out of a possible 164, but with a little better health and linemates who are likely to be a bit better than he’s accustomed to, he might be able to make an assault on 90-plus points with relative ease.

What you’d really be betting on at 33 to 1, then, is that Eichel being a 90-point guy and all the other changes Buffalo made in the offseason is enough to get them even remotely close to the playoff conversation. Don’t forget, while this team improved a lot and gave up little to do it (though Ryan O’Reilly is a big loss) it also finished dead last in the Eastern Conference last year, 35 — THIRTY-FIVE! — points out of a playoff spot. And with three of the five best teams in the league occupying the top of their division, they’re going to play about a quarter of their full schedule against three teams that should clobber them.

So while I’d throw a couple bucks at Eichel given those odds and his ceiling, to me he’s not even close to the most intriguing MVP bet whose team missed the playoffs in the Atlantic last year. Because you know who finished the last two seasons with more points and games played, and only .016 points per game behind Eichel over that stretch? Aleksander Barkov.

And Florida is a team that just baaaaaarely missed the playoffs last season — they’re one of only two teams in NHL history to finish with 96 points in the regular season and not make it — and they’ve improved this summer. Sure, they haven’t taken as big a step forward as Buffalo, but they were also 30-plus points ahead of them in the standings, so that’s worth keeping in mind.

Sure, the odds that 52-year-old Roberto Luongo and James Reimer — both of whom I like quite a bit — are as good as they were last season (a combined .920) and can play close to the full 82 together are a bit dubious. But if they’re even in that neighborhood, this is probably a playoff team with Barkov at its head.

Oh yeah, and Sasha Barkov’s odds of winning the MVP this season, according to Bovada? They’re 100 to 1. That seems like a slam-dunk “drop $10 on it” bet, because this is gonna be a good team (admittedly in an intensely tough division) and Barkov’s a tap-in point-a-game guy for me. Plus, you know if he’s even remotely in contention, a bunch of old media guys would love to give Dale Tallon’s guy a high voting position.

Speaking of teams that could bounce back due to big improvements in their roster this summer, though, I also really like Vladimir Tarasenko at 25-to-1 MVP odds. The Blues are, like the Sabres and Panthers, in a top-heavy division, and things are complicated by Chicago probably being better if Corey Crawford can play. But, man, the Blues got better throughout the lineup, and if Jake Allen is any good (big if!), one can easily seen Tarasenko pushing a point a game, having a ton of goals, and getting this team back into the playoffs.

Some other guys to look out for beyond 20-to-1 odds who are coming from already-good teams include Steven Stamkos (25 to 1) and Blake Wheeler (50 to 1). I’d even be intrigued by Filip Forsberg at 50 to 1. The reasons here are fairly self-explanatory. I think the odds that any of those guys have 85-point seasons for elite teams are pretty good and while awards voters don’t always reward that kind of thing, any one of those teams could really run away with the Presidents’ Trophy if things go right. Certainly, the odds of those things happening are better than the odds given by Bovada for them to be MVPs, so I like the move to drop some cash on any of them.

Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Alex Radulov are either 40-, 50-, or 100-to-1 odds, too, and while that’s maybe plausible I’m not as enamored of the Stars’ chances to bounce back in a division like that. As much as I like Jim Montgomery, I think there are just too many fatal flaws with that roster to make them credible MVP threats.

So I dunno, if you told me there are like six or seven “sleeper” picks with credible chances to win the Hart, I’d believe you. But they’re sleepers for a reason, right?

And that reason is Connor McDavid. So even with him at 10 to 3, that honestly might be the best bet you can make.

What We Learned: August roundup edition

Eric Lindros is of course 10000000 percent correct in saying that hockey would be safer if checking were banned, but I’ll go ya one better: It would also be more fun to watch. I’ll talk about that more later this week but getting hitting out of the game makes it faster and puts a greater emphasis on skill. That’s it! Sorry old guys who like seeing head injuries!!!!

We’re really trying to trade Seguin already huh? It’s wild to me. I mean, if I’m Seguin I probably wouldn’t be too inclined to stick around if the team stinks this year because they’re closer to being in rebuild mode than being Cup-competitive, so y’know.

It’s PTO season, and if the Oilers think Scottie Upshall is a potential upgrade on the wings, well, that tells you an awful lot about the state of the Oilers’ wings.

On the other hand, Mark Letestu to the Panthers on a PTO? I think that’s nice for all involved.

Gold Star Award

Now that it’s PTO season that means it’s almost training camp season and that means it’s almost hockey season and it was a high of 72 in Boston today and I’m getting excited.

Minus of the Weekend

Barry Trotz says the Islanders can still score a lot of goals without John Tavares. Buddy, they didn’t score a lot of goals WITH John Tavares. Fifth in the East, ninth in the league, c’mon now.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “ollihas it all figured out.

Karlsson resigned at 8 X 11 + Dzingel resigned at 4 X 3.9 for Severson + Quenneville + M. Mcleod + 2019 1st + 2020 2nd +2021 2nd + 2022

Signoff

Must have sprung up overnight.

Ryan Lambert is a Yahoo! Sports hockey columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

(All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)

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