Looking ahead at the NHL Awards the Hart Trophy is most valuable trophy a single player can get. The Hart Trophy is awarded to the player who is judged to be the most valuable to his team.
This year's nominees consist of two familiar nominations and a surprising favorite in Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, and Henrik Sedin. Taking this into consideration, we're going to look back at the top 20 players who could have been favorites for the award had these three not been nominated.
Let us begin.
Tuukka Rask had a great rookie season, going 22-15-5 while posting a 1.97 GAA, .931 Sv%, and five shutouts leading the league in both GAA and Sv%.
Although Rask had a great season and it was only because of him that the Bruins made the second round of the playoffs, I feel that he didn't play enough of the season to be considered as a possible Hart Trophy Candidate.
Rask only started in 39 games this season. Unbelievable as he may have been, he did not play a significant amount of time to really earn too much consideration for the award.
To start off the list we have Zach Parise.
Although Parise did not repeat the spectacular season he had during the 08-09 season, he had a very good season that put him among the top 20 scorers in the league.
Parise managed to score 38 goals and 82 points while playing 81 games this past season. He also led the New Jersey Devils with a plus-24 rating. Although Parise had a very good season and helped the Devils secure their fourth division title in the last five seasons, his game tailed off a little bit near the end of the season.
With the arrival of Ilya Kovalchuk in early February, Parise was not able to explode like most people expected with Kovalchuk in the lineup.
Anze Kopitar is one of the most valuable players on the young, up and coming Los Angeles Kings team. While he may not have had a season worthy of winning the Hart Trophy, he was still one of the most dynamic players in the league setting career highs in goals (34), assists (47), and points (82). He was also a career best plus-6 this season.
Since entering the league back in 06-07, Kopitar has only missed 10 games, all 10 of them during his rookie season. Since then, Kopitar has played every single game for the Kings and, along with Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick, was a big reason for the Kings first playoff appearance since the 2001-2002 season.
Jonathan Toews may have won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs MVP, but Patrick Kane scored that all important Stanley Cup winning goal.
Both Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have been dubbed the future of the Chicago Blackhawks franchise, but this regular season Kane proved to be the better of the two.
This season Kane scored a career high 30 goals and 88 points and was instrumental in helping the Blackhawks secure the second seed in the Western Conference.
No matter how well Patrick Kane was during the regular season, the highlight of this year for him was the Stanley Cup winning goal that only he saw.
After being stripped of his captaincy last offseason, Patrick Marleau had something to prove to the hockey world this season.
Marleau had his captaincy taken away after the Sharks once again had a disappointing playoff run losing to the eighth seeded Anaheim Ducks in the 2009 playoffs. Rob Blake was later named captain with Joe Thornton and Dan Boyle as the alternates. Pretty big demotion for Marleau if you ask me.
This past season was a statement season for Marleau. He scored a career-high 44 goals while also collecting 83 points. He was fourth in goals this season and had a career best plus 22 rating.
Even though Marleau was not wearing the C this season, he proved why he was given the C in the past and now that Rob Blake has retired, we may see him don it again next year.
When Glen Sather signed Marian Gaborik to a five-year, $37.5 million contract last offseason, people were wondering whether this was a good move or not.
Gaborik is known to be one of the most dangerous offensive players in the league, but only when he's healthy. And health has always been a concern for Gaborik in the past.
Well luckily for Sather this risk paid off big time and gave the New York Rangers that star player they have missed since the departure of Jaromir Jagr.
Gaborik had a great season, tying his career high in goals with 42 and setting a career high in points with 86. He also fifth in the league in goals.
While Gaborik may have had a great season, he was not always consistent. He would have a span of four or five games where he would be the most dynamic player on the ice, but then he would face a similar span where he would be close to ineffective.
Gaborik also managed to lace up for 76 games this season which is a massive improvement upon his 17 games played last season. He will need to stay healthy and work on consistency in order for this signing to work out for him and the Rangers in the next four years.
Like him or hate him, nobody can deny that Chris Pronger is one of the best defensemen in the league today.
Once again Pronger proved his worth and once again helped lead his team into the postseason for the 14th consecutive season.
Ever since Pronger entered the league, he has always been pitted against the opposition's top offensive threats. More often than not he has been successful.
Pronger had a very stellar season once again scoring 10 goals and 55 points while also being third on the Flyers in scoring. He also led the team in ice-time with 25:55 as well as plus-minus with a plus-22 rating.
Pronger consistently puts up offensive and defensive stats to place him among the leagues best defensemen. He may not be the best player in the league year-to-year, but he always proves to be one of, if not the, most valuable player to his team which is what the Hart Trophy asks for.
Joe Thornton is known for playing very well during the regular season but then disappearing during the playoffs. Once again Thornton was phenomenal during the regular season.
While Thornton's performance this season was nowhere near as good as the campaign that saw him win the Hart back in 2006, he still scored 20 goals and 89 points and was second only to Henrik Sedin this season in assists with 69.
Thornton was also dynamic in the faceoff circle this year winning 53.9 percent of the draws he took as well as putting up a very modest plus-17 tying him for third on the team.
Every year Thornton always proves to be valuable to his team. Only when it comes to the playoffs do people start questioning his play.
This past season Brad Richards showed that he's still a dominant force in the NHL, even after his lackluster 2008-09 season.
Brad Richards had a remarkable season scoring 24 goals and adding 67 assists, tying his career high 91 points which he set back in 2005-06 with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Ever since Richards entered the league back during 2000-01 season, he has showed that he had the makings of an all-star caliber player. He solidified that claim during the 2003-04 season scoring 26 goals and 79 points and then putting on a show during the playoffs winning the Stanley Cup as well as the Conn Smythe Trophy.
When Richards was traded to Dallas his career took a wrong turn and he was not able to find his game that once made him a force in the league. This past season Richards proved his critics wrong, found his game, and was one of the most dominant offensive players in the league.
Even though Jimmy Howard was only a rookie this season, he was without a doubt the force behind the Detroit Red Wings this season.
Hard to believe that a rookie goaltender with only nine NHL games under his belt prior to the start of the season would be the best player for the storied Detroit Red Wings. Believe it or not it is true.
This past season Jimmy Howard was one of the best goalies in the league, putting up Martin-Brodeur-like numbers. In 63 games played, Howard went 37-15-10 while posting a 2.26 GAA, .924 Sv%, and three shutouts. Not a bad feat for a rookie goaltender.
In the last 20 games he played, no goalie was hotter. Howard went 16-2-2 while posting a 2.20 GAA, .916 Sv%, and two shutouts.
During the last few years people have been wondering whether it was possible for the Red Wings to continue being so dominant with their starting goalies getting so old. With the emergence of Jimmy Howard this past season, I think it's safe to say that question has been answered.
On a team that was highlighted by Steven Stamkos this past season, Martin St. Louis took a back seat to the budding superstar but was still an impressive force this past season.
St. Louis was sixth in the league in scoring this past season with 94 points and showed the hockey world that even though he's 35, he still got game.
Over the years, St. Louis has been known as Vinny Lecavalier's wingman ever since their Stanley Cup winning season in 2003-04. For five years the two were always dominant together but this past season saw that all change when the two faltered together. While Lecavalier began to falter, St. Louis began to prosper.
The move happened during the second half of last season ever since the duo just couldn't get it done together. Even now while Lecavalier is not playing like his old self, St. Louis has never missed a step.
When people look at Tampa Bay now they think of Steven Stamkos, but you can't forget his new wingman in Martin St. Louis who, no matter where or who he plays with, just always seems to get it done.
While this past season was all about Henrik in Vancouver this year, what people fail to realize is that Daniel was just as good this past season.
Before Daniel went down with an injury, he was keeping up with Henrik and even after he came back he still managed to keep up with his brother. The only difference is that Henrik was able to play the full season and Daniel wasn't.
Daniel played 63 games this past season and managed to score 29 goals and 85 points which, believe it or not, is a career high for the Sweedish star. He averaged 1.35 points per game while Henrik averaged 1.37.
Ever since Brian Burke brought the twins to Vancouver, they have been posting pretty much identical numbers. Before the start of this season, Daniel had 462 points in 642 career games and Henrik had 460 points in 646 career games. They really must have some sort of weird twin connection and up until this year their numbers each season were pretty much identical. Don't know how and don't know why, it just is.
While Henrik may be the one nominated for the Hart, people should not forget that, had he not gone down with injury, Daniel would be right there with him.
When most players are nominated for the Hart Trophy, it is because they have either contributed greatly to the team offensively or defensively. Ryan Kesler is a player who did both.
At 25 years old, Kesler has already proved to be one of the games best two-way forwards. In 82 games this past season, Kesler managed to score 25 goals and a career-high 75 points. He is Vancouver's go to shutdown man and one of the most feared centers to play against. Not only can he burn you offensively, but he can burn you defensively as well.
Kesler's plus-minus reflects his role for playing against the opposition's top players with only a plus-one rating. However the defensive part of his game has been the area he's excelled at mostly over the years and only in the last two seasons has he really added to offensive flare.
While the Vancouver Canucks may have Henrik and Daniel Sedin who can always get it done offensively, they now have the best two-way force in the league who can get it done at both ends of the ice.
When Drew Doughty entered the league last year, few questioned his potential to be one of the elite defensemen in the league.
After a modest rookie campaign that saw Doughty score six goals and 27 points in 81 games while posting a minus-17 rating, Doughty exploded in his sophomore season.
This past season Drew Doughty has already placed himself in company of Nicklas Lidstrom, Mike Green and Duncan Keith. In 82 games this season, Doughty scored 16 goals (tied for second among defensemen) and 59 points (third among defensemen).
In addition to his spectacular offensive stats, Doughty also improved defensively going from a minus-17 rating a year ago to plus 20 this past season. He was second to Wayne Simmonds on the team for plus-minus and first among defensemen while also leading the team in ice-time with 24:58.
His performance this past season was recognized by both the NHL and the IIHF. He was named to Canada's gold medal-winning Olympic team, outplaying the likes of Niedermayer, Pronger, Keith, Seabrook, Weber and Dan Boyle being the best defenseman on the team. He was also named one of the nominees for the Norris Trophy as the league's top defensemen along with Mike Green and Duncan Keith.
I think it's safe to say that we can expect a lot from Drew Doughty in the years to come.
There is no way you can make a list of potential Hart Trophy candidates and NOT include Martin Brodeur. For the past 14 years he has been one of the top goalies in the league and even now, at the age of 38, he still looks as young as ever.
Like usual, Brodeur played the most out of any other goalie in the league starting 76 games and appearing in 77. It's shocking that at the age of 38 he can still take on such a monstrous load. In those 77 games Brodeur went 45-26-6 while posting a 2.24 GAA, .916 Sv%, and nine shutouts. On top of becoming the only goalie in NHL history to record more than 600 wins, Brodeur also recorded the most shutouts in NHL history finishing the season with 110 on his Hall of Fame career.
This past season, Brodeur completed his eigth 40+ win season leading the league in that category as well as being third in GAA, tied for 13th in Sv%, and leading the league in shutouts.
Brodeur is probably the greatest goalie in NHL history and the day he retires will be a sad day for the hockey world.
Back during the 2003-04 season, the Washington Capitals traded their then-best player Robert Lang to the Detroit Red Wings for Tomas Fleischmann, a first round pick in 2004, and a fourth round pick in 2006. Lang would play for the Red Wings for the next two seasons and helped them capture their fourth Stanley Cup in 11 years.
While Fleischmann has proved to be a valuable player for the Capitals in the past few seasons, that first round pick from Detroit was used to draft Mike Green. I wonder if Detroit could go back and do that trade over again would they? Probably not but funny how things work out.
Over the last three seasons Green has proved to be one of the most productive offensive defensemen in the league. While Green was not able to improve upon his unbelievable 31 goal performance in 2008-09 in only 68 games, he managed to score 19 goals while adding 57 assists for a career high 76 points on the blue line.
Green is known for the offensive side of his game and not the defensive side but managed to greatly improve in that end this last season. Green has already shown the hockey world that he is a world class offensive talent but his defensive side still needs a little work. If Green can become better and more responsible defensively, he will be without a doubt the best defenseman in the league.
Ever since joining the Chicago Blackhawks back in 2005, Ducan Keith has been showing more and more each season why he is their best defenseman leading the team in ice-time every single season.
It didn't take long for him to become a force on the Blackhawks blue line, being a plus-30 back in 2008 and then increasing that to a plus 33 last season. While being a stud on the blue line, Keith was also improving his offensive capabilities and increasing his point total each season.
This season however Keith exploded at both ends of the rink. He had a career year offensively scoring 14 goals and 55 assists for 69 points—all of which were career highs.
He also took on more ice-time this season averaging 26:35 playing against the oppositions top offensive talents. His plus-minus wasn't as spectacular this season but he was still fourth on the Blackhawks with a plus-21 rating.
Keith has solidified himself as one of the best defensemen in the league. His play was recognized when he was nominated for the Norris Trophy as the leagues best defenseman and he was an instrumental piece on the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup-winning team.
Hard to believe that this was only Backstrom's third season in the NHL. He's already playing like a seasoned veteran.
When Nicklas Backstrom was drafted fourth overall back in 2006 he was brought in for this very reason: to be Alex Ovechkin's playmaker, a role that he's filled to perfection. Even though the Capitals are still Ovechkin's team, I wonder how he would fare without a centerman like Nicklas Backstrom feeding him the puck.
In only his third season, Backstrom had a career season scoring 33 goals, 68 assists, and 101 points, putting him in elite company for playmaking centers with the likes of Sidney Crosby, Joe Thornton, Henrik Sedin and Evgeni Malkin.
Even though Backstrom is primarily a playmaker, he showed this season that he can also go and score himself with his career high 33 goals. He is also an excellent defensive player and is very responsible in his own end, but Bruce Boudreau—and you can't blame him—refrains from using him on the penalty as much as possible.
People may think that Backstrom's stats are overinflated because he has Ovechkin on his wing, but I think differently. I think that Ovechkin's stats are overinflated because he has Backstrom as a center. Without Backstrom, Ovie would not have that center presence that he needs to get him the puck so he can take off.
Regardless though these two are a dynamic force and prove impossible to shut down at times.
When thinking of all the qualities that envelop the Hart Trophy, awarded to a player deemed most valuable to his team, Ryan Miller is a player who instantly exemplifies these qualities.
Drafted 138th overall in 1999, I think it's safe to say that Miller was a gem for the Buffalo Sabres. Ever since the lockout he has fought for and won the starting position for the Sabres. For four years Miller had been putting up some impressive numbers until finally he exploded this past season.
This season Miller was unbelievable going 41-18-8 while posting a 2.22 GAA, .929 Sv%, and five shutouts. He was second only to Tuukka Rask in both GAA and Sv% this season.
His play this season was more than enough to get himself a spot on the silver medal U.S. Olympic team, where he was named the tournaments top goalie. On top of that Miller was also named one of the finalists for the Vezina Trophy this season.
Miller was the force behind the Buffalo Sabres this year and it was because of him that they were able to win their division.
It's hard to believe that it was just over year ago that people were calling Stamkos a first overall bust. Funny how things work out, isn't it?
When Stamkos was drafted first overall back in 2008, people were expecting him to put on a Sidney Crosby like rookie season. With expectations that high it's kind of hard to live up to them all. Instead Stamkos faltered out of the gate.
It wasn't until the second half of his rookie season that he really started to produced and Stamkos brought that momentum into his sophomore season.
After a 46-point rookie campaign, Stamkos exploded for 95 points in his sophomore year. On top of that he also eclipsed the 50-goal plateau with 51 goals, enough to tie him with Sidney Crosby for the Rocket Richad Trophy.
Stamkos becomes the second youngest player to win the Rocket Richard Trophy as well as the fastest, winning in just his second season since the trophy was introduced back in 1999.
Hard to believe that someone who some people once considered a bust could have that big of a season so fast and at the age of 20, he can only keep getting better.
Ilya Bryzgalov...enough said.
What would the Phoenix Coyotes be without Ilya Bryzgalov? Probably nothing.
When Bryzgalov first showed signs of potentially being a No. 1 goalie in Anaheim the team was faced with two options: trade proven number one in J.S Giguere, or trade potential number one in Ilya Bryzgalov. They chose neither instead placing the Russian netminder on waivers where he was picked up by the Phoenix Coyotes. This would prove to be one of the dumbest moves in recent hockey memory.
During his first two seasons in Phoenix, Bryzgalov was pretty much given the starting role and fared pretty well. It wasn't until this season he really hit his stride and he hit it hard.
In 69 games this season Bryzgalov went 42-20-6, posting a 2.29 GAA, .920 Sv% and eight shutouts. He was sixth in the league in GAA and tied for ninth in Sv%. He was second to only Martin Brodeur with shutouts as well.
Bryzgalov was without a doubt the best player on the Phoenix Coyotes this past season and it was solely because of him that they were able to see their first post season action since 2002. His numbers were so good that he was even nominated for the Vezina along with Ryan Miller and Martin Brodeur.
It's amazing that after so much controversy surrounding the Coyotes franchise in the last few years, Bryzgalov was just what the doctor ordered. He is my pick to win the Vezina and had there been four Hart Trophy nominees, he would get my vote as the fourth.