Odds for Pittsburgh Penguins' 2013-14 MVP
In any sport, the term "MVP" gives off an air of prestige. Teams and leagues give this honor to one player who has separated himself or herself from the pack, going above and beyond to help their team on the stat sheet and in the locker room.
On a roster with as much talent as the Pittsburgh Penguins, this organization is no exception to the rule.
The Penguins are lucky to have several talented players suiting up for them, including two of the NHL's greatest stars of this generation. They also have a franchise goalie who helped them win a Stanley Cup and role players who are in their mid-30s, but produce like they are just coming into the league.
Although the 2013-14 season just started last week, five of these players could be making their case to take home the MVP trophy this year.
Kris Letang, Defenseman
Letang has yet to play this season due to an injury, but has been a solid offensive defenseman since he first made the Penguins lineup in the 2007-08 season. He has at least 30 points in each of the last three seasons, but struggled with injuries in the last two years.
Despite that, he had 38 points in 35 games in 2013 to lead all Pens defensemen and rank third on the team. He also was first overall with 25:38 of ice time per game and 4:37 of ice time on the power play. His 59 blocked shots were third, and he was a finalist for the Norris Trophy.
Prior to the season, he signed an eight-year extension, which makes him a core part of the Pens blueline for years to come. If he is able to come back soon, he will get a fresh chance to put points on the board and give the Pens a physical edge on defense.
Paul Martin, Defenseman
Martin is in his fourth season in Pittsburgh and was named the Penguins' Defensive Player of the Year last year after posting 23 points in 37 games with a plus-14 rating. He was also second with an ice-time average of 25:19 per game and 3:08 on the penalty kill, and he ranked behind Letang in scoring among Penguins blueliners.
Last season, Martin demonstrated his hard slapshot at opportune times, including in Game 6 against the New York Islanders to tie the game 3-3 and help the Pens clinch the series. On St. Patrick's Day, he used it again to score his first goal since opening day of the 2013 season.
James Neal, Left Wing
Since coming to Pittsburgh in a trade with the Dallas Stars in 2011, Neal has proved his worth and earned a six-year extension in February of 2012. He had 81 points that year, but last season, the lockout limited him to 36 points in 40 games. Even though his overall production was down, he still led the Pens with nine power-play goals.
Neal played in the Penguins' home opener against the New Jersey Devils, but is currently out of the lineup with an injury. In the preview of Tuesday's game with the Carolina Hurricanes, head coach Dan Bylsma said Neal is "week-to-week."
Like Letang, Neal will have less time to show he should earn an MVP, but the 26-year-old has years ahead of him even if he does not find his footing this season.
5. Rob Scuderi, Defenseman
Scuderi returned to the Penguins this year after spending the last four seasons with the Los Angeles Kings, where he earned his second career Stanley Cup in 2012.
Last season, he had 12 points in 48 games in Los Angeles, and it marked the third straight season he played every regular-season game. He was third on the team with 21:47 of ice time and first with an average of 3:13 played on the Kings' 10th-ranked penalty kill (83.2 percent success rate). He also led in blocked shots with 66.
Scuderi continued to show off the defensive prowess that got him the nickname "The Piece" during the 2009 Cup Final. In a 2012 game against the Ottawa Senators, he swept a puck away from the scoring line at the very last second before Colin Greening's shot went in.
Then, against the Penguins in 2011, he stopped a Jordan Staal shot with his stick to force overtime. It was a great move, even though the Pens eventually won in the extra period.
So far in his second stint in Pittsburgh, he is fifth with 19:48 of ice time, 1:15 on the penalty kill and four blocked shots.
Scuderi is a solid, reliable defenseman, but he is ranked the lowest because MVP awards tend to go to flashier, high-scoring players.
4. Evgeni Malkin, Center
Malkin has had three 100-point seasons in his career, with the last one coming in 2011-12 after he tore his ACL in 2011. He had 109 points in 75 games that year, averaging about 1.4 points per game, and also posted 12 power-play goals.
Last season, he had 33 points in 31 games; however, he had four power-play goals to rank second on the team in that category. He registered 18 points overall on the man advantage, a huge contribution to the Penguins power play that ranked second in the NHL with a 24.7 percent success rate.
He is already off to a strong start this season. In Pittsburgh's opening game, he made a nice pass from the boards to unlikely goal scorer Craig Adams, and on Tuesday night, he added another assist on Jussi Jokinen's third-period goal that broke a tie against the Hurricanes.
Malkin is also a three-time winner of the Penguins' MVP award. He previously earned the honor in 2008, 2009 and 2012.
He is determined to have a strong outing in 2013-14 after feeling like he let the Penguins down in last season's playoffs, as he told Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
I need (to) focus my head better. (Physically), I (can) feel good, but I need (to) focus my head to (the) positives of my game.
Maybe that (will) helps me (the) next time...
Last year if we score more we win. I did not score. This year I just (need to) do my job.
3. Chris Kunitz, Left Wing
Kunitz signed a three-year extension in the offseason after playing in every regular-season game for the last two years and posting 52 points in 2013. He also led the Penguins with 22 goals and nine on the power play while tying for second with five game-winning goals.
Kunitz also added an assist on Jussi Jokinen's power-play goal that opened the scoring on Tuesday night against Carolina.
The 34-year-old can win the MVP with another outstanding season, even if he is one of the team's most underrated players.
2. Sidney Crosby, Center
Crosby is looking to play a full season for the first time since he played 81 games in 2009-10 and took home the Rocket Richard Trophy with 51 goals.
Although he suffered a broken jaw last season, he still posted 56 points in 36 games and came back in the playoffs to have 15 points in 14 games.
So far in 2013-14, he scored in the Pens' first two games against the Devils and Sabres. He picked up a pass from linemate Pascal Dupuis in the New Jersey game, while he took a quick shot in front of the net on Saturday and fought past Buffalo defenseman Tyler Myers to get close to goalie Jhonas Enroth.
On Tuesday night, he had two assists as the Penguins beat the Hurricanes 5-2 and already has four points in three games to start the year. If he plays a full season and produces at such a torrid pace, he will be a near-lock for the MVP award.
Crosby has won Penguins MVP four other times in his career, taking it in back-to-back seasons in 2006 and 2007, then earning it back in 2010 and 2013.
1. Marc-Andre Fleury, Goaltender
Fleury may have his share of struggles in the playoffs, but the 28-year-old is gold during the Penguins' regular season. He has won 30 games in four of the last five seasons and is chasing Tom Barrasso's record of 42 wins set in 1993.
Last season, he was 23-8 in 33 games to rank fourth in the NHL in wins and also had a .916 save percentage and 2.39 goals-against average.
He got off to a strong start so far in 2013-14, as he had 27 saves in last Thursday's home opener against New Jersey to earn his 250th career win. His shutout was highlighted by a save on Travis Zajac, as he reached behind his back to stop the puck from going in. Then, on Saturday, he stopped 20 of 21 shots against the Sabres.
His efforts earned him the NHL's Third Star of the Week, as he stopped 47 of 48 shots in all to post a .979 save percentage.
If Fleury can keep this up while Tomas Vokoun is sidelined, he will have a strong case for MVP, which would be the second of his career. (He first won the award in 2011 after winning 36 games.)
Is there another Penguins player you think should be considered for team MVP? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.
Alison Myers is a Quality Editor for Bleacher Report and is currently on a trial as a Pittsburgh Penguins Featured Columnist. Follow her on Twitter at AlisonM_110.