Early 2013 NHL Season Hart Trophy Watch
After one week of the 2013 NHL season, it's time to unveil the first list of Hart Trophy candidates.
With only 48 regular-season games, there will be less time for players to separate from the pack and establish themselves as clear front-runners for the award. With that said, there might be 10 worthy candidates for just three finalist spots by year's end.
Let's look at the top five Hart Trophy candidates after one week.
Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks
Patrick Marleau leads the NHL with nine goals, but linemate Joe Thornton is the best candidate for the Hart Trophy from the undefeated San Jose Sharks.
Thornton and Marleau share the league lead with 13 points, and the Sharks captain has three goals and a league-leading 10 assists. Six of Marleau's nine goals have been assisted by Thornton, who also ranks first in power-play assists and points.
Coming into this season, a lot of people thought Thornton would no longer be an elite player, and that his stats would start to decline, but he has looked extremely motivated this year.
He's playing as well as he did during the 2005-06 season, when he won the Hart Trophy after the lockout in his first season with the Sharks.
As a top playmaker, a goal scorer and a penalty killer, Thornton has played a major role in the Sharks' early-season success at both ends of the ice, and he's well on his way to his eighth point-per-game season.
Marleau will likely get some Hart Trophy consideration this year too, but Thornton is the star that drives the Sharks.
Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils
Winning the Hart Trophy is one of the few accomplishments that New Jersey Devils goaltender hasn't been able to put on his Hall of Fame-worthy resume. In fact, no Devils player has ever won the Hart Trophy.
The last goaltender to win the Hart Trophy was Jose Theodore of the Montreal Canadiens in 2001-02, and the most recent goaltender to be named as a finalist for the award was New York Rangers star Henrik Lundqvist last season (he finished third in voting).
Brodeur has been absolutely fantastic this season with a 1.69 GAA and a .932 save percentage. He also hasn't been beaten in regulation yet with a record of 3-0-1. His play in net is also the main reason why the Devils rank second in GAA and fifth in penalty killing.
The 40-year-old goaltender gives the Devils a great chance to win every night, and even after the team lost some key pieces from its Stanley Cup team in the offseason, New Jersey is still a contender in the Eastern Conference because of Brodeur's impressive play.
Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues
It's not often that rookies are Hart Trophy candidates, but Vladimir Tarasenko's great start to the season has proven that he will be an important player for one of the NHL's best teams.
Tarasenko has four goals and four assists through six games, and he's the only rookie in the top 15 in scoring. His 21 shots on goal are the 10th most in the league.
Not only has the 21-year-old winger played well offensively, he's also been strong defensively with his physical play (nine hits), back-checking and impressive plus/minus rating of five.
The Blues finished 21st in goals scored and 19th in power-play percentage last season, and after adding Tarasenko to the lineup, St. Louis ranks third and second in both of those categories, respectively.
No player has ever won the Calder and Hart trophies in the same season, and Tarasenko may have the best chance of anyone in a long time to accomplish this feat. He doesn't have the best chance to win the award, but it would be foolish to not consider Tarasenko as a potential candidate.
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks have a lot of offensive talent, but Patrick Kane's great start to the season is the major reason why Chicago is 6-0 for the first time in franchise history.
Kane has nine points (two goals, seven assists) in six games, and has four points on the power play. He has at least one point in five of the team's six games this season, including four multi-point games.
When Kane is playing at an elite level, the Blackhawks are almost unstoppable because he is not only a great goal scorer, he's top playmaker and one of the fastest players in the league.
When Kane doesn't perform at a high level, which was the case for most of last season, Chicago really struggles because the team's most talented player isn't making the kind of impact he's capable of.
Kane has come into the 2013 season with a chip on his shoulder after failing to play a point-per-game level over the last two seasons, and he's playing his best hockey since the Blackhawks' championship season in 2009-10.
There are a lot of reasons why Chicago is the only 6-0 team in the league, but Kane's exceptional performance is at the top of the list. A focused and determined Kane is bad news for the NHL because he is capable of dominating every night with his extraordinary offensive talent.
Zach Parise, Minnesota Wild
It's not easy for players to excel for a new team right after signing a monstrous free-agent contract, but Zach Parise has immediately made a strong impact at both ends of the ice for the Minnesota Wild this year.
Parise is T-2nd in goals scored (five), T-6th in points (nine), T-3rd in power-play goals (three), first in shots on goal (26) and is also playing well defensively. The work ethic he displays at both ends of the ice, especially on the forecheck, sets a great example for his teammates.
Minnesota was 30th in goals scored and 27th in power-play percentage last year, and with Parise in the lineup, it is currently ranked 18th and 15th in those categories, respectively.
Parise has made the Wild offense so much better this season because of his ability to score goals consistently, create chances for teammates and dominate on the power play. The 28-year-old winger also gives Wild head coach Mike Yeo another top penalty killer.
As expected, Parise has helped the Wild in so many ways, and if his impressive performances lead to a playoff berth for Minnesota, he will likely be a finalist for the Hart Trophy. Very few players make a stronger impact at both ends of the ice than Parise.
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