NHL Awards 2012: Breaking Down the Odds for the Players Up for the Hart Trophy
Out of all the hardware handed out by the National Hockey League, the Hart Trophy, given to the most valuable player in the league, is without question the crown jewel of the bunch.
It is the most prestigious individual award in the game, and the players lucky enough to have their names etched on the nameplates that line its base are remembered for being the best of their respective eras.
This year, three players who each had remarkable seasons in vastly different circumstances have been nominated for the Hart.
None of the three has won the award before (though one has been a nominee in the past), and the 2011-12 NHL season served as a sort of coming-out party for each of the three finalists.
So, with the NHL awards ceremony set to take place on Wednesday night, here's a breakdown of each finalist's chances at taking home hockey's greatest individual prize.
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Though Henrik Lundqvist has long been considered to be one of the best netminders in the world, the 2011-12 season was easily the most dominant performance of his career, as the 30-year-old Swedish heartthrob led a hard-nosed New York Rangers squad to the top seed in the Eastern Conference during the regular season.
Affectionately known as "King Henrik" in New York, Lundqvist put up such jaw-dropping numbers that he effectively wrapped up his first Vezina Trophy, so he won't be leaving Las Vegas empty handed.
Among all goaltenders who played in at least 60 games, the former Olympic gold medalist finished in the top three in wins, goals-against average and save percentage, and posted career-bests in each category.
As the unquestioned star of one of the NHL's top teams, Lundqvist will have another shot at winning the Hart, but due to the fact that the group of players around him were so talented, it's unlikely he'll succeed in becoming the first Ranger since Mark Messier to take home the coveted trophy.
Odds: 5 to 1
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As the top pick of the 2008 NHL entry draft, Steven Stamkos entered the league with lofty expectations, and four years into his professional career, the Markham, Ontario native has been everything and more that the Tampa Bay Lightning could've hoped for.
This season, Stamkos terrorized goaltenders around the league, becoming only the second person since Mario Lemieux to tally 60 goals in a season, taking home his second Rocket Richard Trophy for his efforts.
What's even more impressive is the fact that Stamkos not only filled the net at such a mind-numbing clip, but also that he did so on a regular basis in clutch situations. In fact, 12 (or 20 percent) of his goals were game-winners, including five in sudden-death overtime.
His 97 points were second to only fellow Hart nominee Evgeni Malkin, and he led the league in goals by 10, which is simply astounding especially when considering he played on a team that missed the postseason.
While Stamkos' superb play wasn't enough to help the Bolts reach the playoffs, it will be enough to earn him the distinction of being second in voting for the Hart Trophy, and he'll go home knowing it won't be the last time he's nominated.
Odds: 3 to 1
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Heading into the 2011-12 NHL season, many wondered whether the Pittsburgh Penguins would be able to cope with the continued absence of franchise player and former Hart Trophy recipient Sidney Crosby.
Evgeni Malkin provided the hockey world with the answer to that question, as the 25-year-old superstar took the league by storm and put on one of the most dominant performances in recent NHL history.
Previously, Malkin was considered to be a player with all the tools to be the best players in the world, as he'd posted two 100-point seasons in his first five years in the league, but was obviously Pittsburgh's "other" superstar.
However, that all changed in 2012, as Malkin became the focal point of the Pens' offense.
The man affectionately referred to as "Geno" notched 109 points, headlined by the first 50-goal outing of his career.
Sublimely talented in all aspects of the game, Malkin cemented his status as the unquestioned best player in the world, and did so without the help of arguably the second-best player in the game for the majority of the season.
In recent years, the Hart hasn't always gone to the best player in the league, but it will this season, as Malkin should be the runaway winner of this MVP race.
Odds: 6 to 5
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For the last two seasons, the Hart Trophy races have been extremely close, as the winner of the award was at least somewhat unclear heading into the awards ceremony.
However, this year, it appears to be all but a foregone conclusion that Evgeni Malkin will be the 2011-12 NHL Hart Trophy recipient, as he was without question the most valuable player in the league.
Stamkos and Lundqvist each put together seasons to remember, but Malkin's numbers and overall contributions to the Pittsburgh Penguins are unrivaled, and that's why the odds of him winning are heavily stacked in his favor.