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NHL: Top 10 MVP Candidates at the Quarter Point of the Season

Brad LeClairCorrespondent INovember 23, 2010

NHL: Top 10 MVP Candidates at the Quarter Point of the Season

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    So it's that time again where we have reached the quarter point of the NHL season. Many teams are beginning the ascent up the standings, while others are taking a nosedive.

    With that said, there has been some absolute great individual performances this season.

    When we look at most valuable players (MVPs), we don't necessarily want to look at a player's statistics, but rather their worth to their respective club. In other words, if that player were not on the team, would they still be as successful as they were?

    There are so many candidates this season that it was hard to think of just 10, but that's what I attempted to do here.

    This list includes all players, including goaltenders, since they can win MVPs too, but it's not as likely.

10. Niklas Backstrom: Goaltender, Minnesota Wild

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    Dale MacMillan/Getty Images

    Prior to this season, Niklas Backstrom was arguably the most forgotten about great goaltender in the NHL.

    Backstrom, who I saw regularly go late in many fantasy drafts, has started this year off wonderfully and is really making those astute fantasy GM's out there who took him late look like geniuses.

    The Wild don't score many goals, but one thing they've always been able to do is defend a lead when they get one.

    Amazingly, despite their lack of talent, the Wild remain in the hunt for a playoff berth and a lot of that is a result of Backstrom's stellar play.

     

    GS W L OTL GAA SV%
    15 8 5 2 2.11 .932

9. Jonathan Quick: Goaltender, Los Angeles Kings

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Jonathan Quick is quietly putting up a wonderful season out in Los Angeles. Due to being on the West Coast, I don't feel like he's getting recognition he deserves.

    Quick is currently trying to hold off incumbent top-shelf rookie Jonathan Bernier from taking the No. 1 spot away from him, and the stats this season prove he's still the Kings No. 1 goalie.

     

    GS W L OTL GAA SV%
    14 11 3 0 1.90 .931

8. Eric Staal: Center, Carolina Hurricanes

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Although the Hurricanes are not in the playoffs, they are right on the cusp, only one point out. They wouldn't be nearly as close as they are if it was not for the likes of Cam Ward and the subject of this slide, Eric Staal.

    Staal's presence on the ice alone gives the Canes a chance to win every night. At 6'4", 205 pounds, Staal has the frame to withstand the nightly grind of the NHL season and can carry that franchise on his back.

    He may not be the sexy pick for MVP, but he's well deserving if he ever was a final candidate for the award.

     

    GP G A P +/- PIM
    20 9 14 23 -2 18

7. Brad Richards: Center, Dallas Stars

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    In a contract year, it looks like Richards is cementing himself as a fixture as the leader of the team, regardless of where he'll be next year, whether that's with the Stars or with another NHL team.

    Richards' vision and creativity, to go along with an innate ability to make his teammates better, really give him an added boost to his value.

    This season, in contrast to his career averages, has been a relatively good start to the season defensively. Richards has almost always been a minus player in the NHL, but this season, he's been a plus.

    Along with line-mates James Neal and Loui Eriksson, Richards has begun to make his mark at even strength rather than on the power play.

    Richards is averaging more than a point per game, and wherever he goes, one thing is for sure, he will be getting paid well next season.

     

    GP G A P +/- PIM
    20 10 15 25 9 18

6. Tim Thomas: Goaltender, Boston Bruins

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    The Bruins have played about two or three games less than almost every team in the NHL and are still in the playoffs. Many argue it's the strict system in "Beantown" that results in the team not giving up a lot of goals, but my argument is still, there has to be a goalie in the net to stop the puck.

    Whether it's Tuukka Rask or Tim Thomas in the net, both have a track record of success.

    Tim Thomas so far this season has stolen the No. 1 goaltender spot away from Rask. Although his numbers are wonderful this season and are MVP worthy, the Bruins have the best defenseman arguably in the league in front of him and a great team defensively, which could add to his stats.

    That coupled with another No. 1 goalie waiting in the wings, makes it hard to rank him any higher, just due to the fact that he's valuable, but not as valuable as the rest here. I personally think Rask could do the job nearly as well as Thomas would.

     

    GS W L OTL GAA SV%
    13 10 1 1 1.49 .954

5. Mike Richards: Center, Philadelphia Flyers

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    Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

    Mike Richards is your consummate professional and the unanimous captain and leader of the Philadelphia Flyers at the young age of 25 years old.

    Richards is arguably one of the best two-way forwards in the NHL and one of the league's best penalty killers.

    Although a little outspoken, cocky and controversial, Richards brings a swagger to the Flyers that they need—a certain confidence and toughness in other words.

    Without Richardsm it's really hard to see the Flyers doing as well as they are doing right now. He's their point man on the power play, their best penalty killer, their best even-strength forward and lastly, he's their captain. Without him, I really don't know how good the Flyers would remain.

     

    GP G A P +/- PIM
    22 9 15 24 6 27

4. Alex Ovechkin: Left Winger, Washington Capitals

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Ovechkin is off to a slow start to the year by his standards, but even with that said, his presence on the ice alone sends shivers down the opposition's spines.

    Blessed with amazing speed, great size, great hands, great creativity and a skill of always finding the back of the net,"Ovie" is arguably the best player in the entire league and is frequently taken first overall in many fantasy drafts.

    Despite his slow start, he's got the Capitals tied with the Flyers at the quarter-point of the NHL season for best record in the NHL and it looks to be a fight to the finish with the Flyers, Caps and Penguins for the Eastern Conference points title.

     

    GP G A P +/- PIM
    22 10 16 26 4 16

3. Sidney Crosby: Center, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Sidney Crosby has arguably been the best player thus far in the NHL this season. Despite who he plays with on most nights—mostly third liners to tell you the truth—he still puts points up and most of all, he makes his other teammates better, something that an MVP just does.

    He's probably one of the most deserving players for the award so far this season, but with Evgeni Malkin next to him to go along with a good goaltender and defense, I'm staying away from ranking him No. 1—at least right now.

    There have been arguably two better performers this season, and for that, I'm listing them ahead of Crosby.

     

    GP G A P +/- PIM
    22 15 20 35 3 13

2. Carey Price: Goaltender, Montreal Canadiens

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    Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

    Price's resurgence as the Habs No. 1 goalie has been nothing short of inspiring.

    Carey, who has had to battle through the tough critics of the Montreal media, Montreal fans and doubters everywhere, has really put up a start that's been rivaled only by some of the game's best.

    When the Habs traded 2010 playoff saviour Jaroslav Halak for Lars Eller and Ian Schwartz this offseason, the Price haters came out in full effect, and to Price's credit, he's shut his critics up soundly with his success so far this season.

    Only time will tell whether he can maintain his hot start, because right now he's the Vezina trophy winner in my mind and could arguably be the MVP of the entire NHL.

    His numbers are a little worse than Tim Thomas'; however, he has played 500 minutes more than Thomas. That is something I will leave you to chew on.

    Price also is tied with Thomas for the lead league in shutouts with four, which is not listed here.

     

    GS W L OTL GAA SV%
    20 12 7 1 2.05 .932

1. Steven Stamkos: Center, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Stamkos is easily the NHL's most prolific goal scorer and most dangerous power-play player in the entire league.

    Nearly averaging a goal per game, Stamkos is easily the sole reason why the Lightning are seeing a marked improvement in the standings.

    With Vincent LeCavalier injured, Stamkos will have a lot more responsibility on his shoulders to carry the brunt of pressure in Tampa Bay.

    Luckily for him, he's not in a more hockey crazy market like Toronto, Philadelphia, Montreal or Calgary, but fact remains, he's been the best player so far this year and easily the most valuable to his team.

     

    GP G A P +/- PIM
    21 20 15 35 8 18

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