The Hart Memorial Trophy is handed out annually at the conclusion of each NHL season. The award, which is voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association, is given to the player who has been deemed to be the most valuable to his team during the regular season.
Since this honor is only bestowed upon one player at the NHL’s award ceremonies I wanted to take the time to recognize a few other skaters in the league who are having outstanding MVP-caliber seasons.
I have decided to break down my MVP accolades by division. I will award one Hart Trophy nomination to one player from each division in the NHL (as well as an honorable mention nod to the division's runner-up).
I have placed a self-imposed rule on these selections by only allowing myself to vote for forwards and defensemen.
The reason I am not recognizing goaltenders in this divisional MVP selection process is because in at least five of the six divisions a strong case could be made that a goaltender should be deemed to be the most irreplaceable player for a team within that division.
Everyone knows that the “true” MVP of the Northeast Division is Ryan Miller, but who else in that five-team grouping deserves some praise?
In Colorado, the upstart Avalanche are currently resting in a Western Conference playoff spot (barely) due in large part because of Craig Anderson's play in net, but that does not mean there haven't been other or more significant players this season for the teams in the Northwest.
In short, I believe in several cases it would simply be too easy to select a goaltender as a division's most valuable player and I wanted to delve a bit deeper and unearth some players who have had outstanding seasons, but may not receive the adulation they deserve.
I also would like to make it abundantly clear to the readers that the only team I have watched every game of this season (with the exception of maybe one or two) is the Pittsburgh Penguins.
In no way shape or form do I believe my MVP selections to be the end all be all. My assessment of many of these players comes from watching them play off and on throughout the season.
I am much more confident in my Eastern Conference divisional choices, given that I spend much of my hockey watching time on those 15 squads located within my time zone.
However, I do watch quite a bit of the West as well so I am not blindly guessing at their selections either.
What I would love from all of you readers out there is for the die-hard fans of all 30 NHL clubs to chime in and give me your selections for divisional MVPs. You guys know your teams and their division rivals better than I ever will so let me know if I’m wrong in my assessment or if I selected the right guy for my, ahem, esteemed award...enjoy!
Sidney Crosby has put up another sensational season for the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Whether you love him, hate him, or are sick of hearing about him it is impossible to argue against his overall greatness.
He comes to play every game, leads by example on the ice and is the face of the franchise (and the NHL) off of it.
He is one of the hardest working players in the game (which I do not believe he is given enough credit for) and has continued his steady ascension among the NHL’s elite.
The most amazing accomplishment “The Kid” has achieved this season is his growth in perceived areas of weakness.
Crosby has always been labeled as a tremendous playmaker, but not a goal scorer. He is all of a sudden a “sniper” who leads the entire league in goals (47) as of the writing of this article.
He found himself often struggling in the face-off circle for much of his career. This season Sid is in the top 10 in the NHL in face-off percentage (56 percent) and has won more face-offs than any other player.
Finally, he was never a virtual lock for the Pens when the shootout would decide which team skates away with an extra point in the standings. Now, he is all but automatic compiling an impressive eight for 10 mark this season in his shootout attempts.
Each year Crosby has taken his game to another level and this season was no different. He has added to his already deadly repertoire and is arguably the most complete player in the game today.
Honorable Mention: Marian Gaborik, New York Rangers
When Bob Gainey and the Montreal Canadiens decided to re-sign Tomas Plekanec to a one-year deal last summer, they were hoping he would prove he was worthy of a long term deal. Plekanec had enough faith in himself and his game to willingly accept that one year “tryout” and now his bet on his own ability is going to pay off in a handsome contract extension to either stay in Montreal or a sizable free agent deal from another NHL team come July 1.
The versatile center has been one of the few prominent Montreal forwards to remain healthy throughout the entire season. His strong play has been one of the major reasons that the Habs were able to stave off long-term injuries to the likes of Brian Gionta, Mike Cammalleri, and Andrei Markov to remain in playoff contention.
Tomas’s game has really matured this season and it is showing with the career year he is having. And at 27, Plekanec is just entering his prime.
Plekanec logs time on both special team units and averages over 20 minutes of ice time per game. He has proven himself to be a deft playmaker and a very responsible player in all three zones.
Scott Gomez was brought in, via trade, over the summer to be the Habs' main man in the middle, but it has been Plekanec and his relatively meager $2.75 million cap hit that has been the star for Montreal at the pivot position this year.
The Canadiens have had a major steal in Plekanec all season long, but if they want to keep him in the franchise fold moving forward they are going to have to put a strong deal on the table…he has certainly earned it over the course of his “tryout.”
Honorable Mention: Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins
Although the Washington Capitals are oozing offensive talent and they have still dominated in games that he has missed this season, due to both injury and suspension, it is undeniable that Alex Ovechkin is truly what makes the franchise flourish on and off the ice.
The dynamic left winger is having another sensational season that could very well culminate with another handful of league awards. He has already exceeded the 100-point barrier for the fourth time in his career and should crack the 50 goal mark, yet again.
He continues to be a physical presence for his team and is the catalyst for the league’s most dangerous power play with his lethal and potent shot.
Ovie has also stepped up to take over the captaincy after the trading of former Caps general Chris Clark and has officially become the unquestioned leader of the franchise.
“The Great Eight” has continued to slowly develop his defensive play and is even leading the league in the plus/minus category (+43) further proving his worthiness in the argument for the greatest player in the game today.
Even though Ovechkin’s true test will come this post season, with his Capitals being one of the favorites to take home Lord Stanley, there is no doubt that the exuberant superstar has conjured up another top-notch regular season.
Honorable Mention: Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning
Already seen as one of the best young defensemen in the NHL, Duncan Keith took it upon himself to make it known, in 2009-2010, that he is one of the NHL’s best defensemen, period.
Keith is part of a stacked lineup in Chicago, but on a team that shines with all of its star power it is their 26-year-old rear guard who has been the most consistent and dynamic performer.
Keith has set career highs in goals, assists and points while continuing to grow and excel in the defensive aspects of his game.
The Winnipeg native has also continued his ascent as a team leader and a core member of the Blackhawks remarkable resurgence in the city of Chicago.
A terrific skater, Keith is deployed on both the penalty kill and power play while eating up large chunks of ice time on the blueline by averaging over twenty six minutes a game.
The Hawks assistant captain will be looked upon to carry his excellent play into the post season and try to help lead this young upstart Chicago squad to their first Cup since 1961.
I don’t know if Lord Stanley will end up in Keith’s hands at the end of the season, but I am expecting him to skate off with the Norris.
Honorable Mention: Shea Weber, Nashville Predators
This was a no-brainer. What Henrik Sedin has accomplished this season is not only remarkable, but unexpected.
Always viewed as an exceptional player along with his twin brother Daniel, Henrik had to go it alone for eighteen games earlier this season when his sibling was lost to injury.
Most expected Henrik and the Canucks to struggle without one half of Vancouver's dynamic duo, but instead he excelled and proved that he was an all-star with or without his brother on his wing.
Sedin has set career highs in goals, assists, and points with a chance to edge out Alex Ovechkin for the Art Ross Trophy.
Henrik plays a very sound game in all three zones and is not given nearly enough credit for the excellent work he does in winning battles along the boards and in the corners.
It is a tribute to Sedin’s work ethic and passion for the game of hockey that even after signing a five-year extension ($6.1 million per season) this past summer that he has taken his game to a whole new level as opposed to getting comfortable and resting on his laurels with his new sense of financial security.
The fact that I do not hear Henrik’s name mentioned more often as a candidate for the Hart Trophy is astonishing and absurd, but I know whenever he steps on the ice for the Canucks everyone in Vancouver knows that No. 33 is their MVP.
Honorable Mention: Mikko Koivu
After being stripped of the team captaincy on the heels of another disappointing playoff ousting, it was speculated that Patrick Marleau’s career in San Jose was over.
GM Doug Wilson firmly denied any intention of dealing the 30-year-old left winger, and I’m sure all of the Sharks fans are grateful.
Instead of sulking about having the “C” removed from his sweater Marleau took the decision in stride and has performed at an elite level this season.
The 12-year NHL vet has rolled out a career year. He is leading the Sharks in goals and is in the top 10 in seven offensive categories.
He is still excelling in all ends of the rink and has been instrumental to his team's rise to the top of the Western Conference standings (again).
After years of playoff disappointment, no one in San Jose (or around the league for that matter) cares what goes on with the Sharks during the regular season, but it is great to see a tremendous player, like Patrick, rise above adversity with both class and a ratcheted up performance.
If Marleau and the Sharks struggle again in the spring tourney his outstanding season will be just a faint memory at best, but perhaps the perseverance and fortitude that he has shown in the face of adversity will be the right example for his club to follow in the playoffs.
Honorable Mention: Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings