NHL News and Rumors: Hart Trophy Watch for the Leading MVP Candidates

Erik PaulCorrespondent IMarch 7, 2011

NHL News and Rumors: Hart Trophy Watch for the Leading MVP Candidates

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    CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 04: Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks tries to pass the puck after falling to the ice under pressure from Jussi Jokinen #36 of the Carolina Hurricanes at the United Center on March 4, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jon
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    We're getting close to the end of the regular season and we have one of the most wide-open Hart Trophy races in recent memory.

    Since Sidney Crosby's injury on January 1, a number of legitimate candidates have emerged as Hart Trophy threats, including a surprising number of goalies.

    Here are the top-10 players who are chasing the Hart.

    Follow Erik on Twitter: @ekpaul87

Honorable Mention: Ilya Kovalchuk, New Jersey Devils

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    NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 04:  Ilya Kovalchuk #17 of the New Jersey Devils skates against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Prudential Center on March 4, 2011 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Penguins 2-1 in overtime.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Im
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Please have a laugh about this one, but read the reasoning for it.

    Ilya Kovalchuk and the New Jersey Devils' rebirths are indisputably linked.

    In the first 41 games, the Devils were 10-29-2 and sat last in the league. Kovalchuk had 21 points and he was a minus-30.

    In the last 24 games, the Devils are 20-2-2 and within eight points of a playoff spot. Kovalchuk has 27 points and he is a plus-13.

    If the Devils can somehow make the playoffs, Kovalchuk will merit some Hart Trophy consideration.

10. Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings

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    DETROIT, MI - FEBRUARY 24:  Nicklas Lidstrom #5 of the Detroit Red Wings skates with the puck while playing against the Dallas Stars on February 24, 2011 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Nicklas Lidstrom, the ageless wonder, is at it again this season.

    He leads all defensemen in points and he held the Red Wings together through an onslaught of injuries to Pavel Datsyuk, Danny Cleary, Brian Rafalski, Valterri Filppula, Tomas Holmstrom and others.

    Lidstrom's steadying presence has been crucial in the Wings remaining near the top of the Western Conference.

9. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens

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    SUNRISE, FL - MARCH 3: A detailed view of the helmet of goaltender Carey Price #31 of the Montreal Canadiens as he looks up ice during play against the Florida Panthers on March 3, 2011 at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida. The Canadiens defeate
    Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

    Carey Price is in the top 10 in the NHL in every major statistical category for goaltenders, including leading the league in wins.

    Price has the Montreal Canadiens reasonably safely locked into a playoff spot despite season-ending injuries to key defensemen Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges.

    If the Canadiens had traded Price during the offseason, as many insisted they should have, they probably wouldn't be in a playoff spot.

8. Keith Yandle, Phoenix Coyotes

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    GLENDALE, AZ - MARCH 01:  Keith Yandle #3 of the Phoenix Coyotes skates with the puck during the NHL game against the Dallas Stars at Jobing.com Arena on March 1, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Stars defeated the Coyotes 3-2.  (Photo by Christian Peterse
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Yandle is a huge part of why the Coyotes currently sit sixth in the Western Conference.

    The 24-year-old defenseman is tied with Nick Lidstrom for the scoring lead among defensemen. He sits fifth in the league in assists and he also leads the Phoenix Coyotes in scoring.

7. Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    TORONTO, CANADA - FEBRUARY 26: Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins makes a save during the game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre February 26, 2011 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)
    Abelimages/Getty Images

    The Pittsburgh Penguins' highest-scoring player who has played in the last two months is defenseman Kris Letang with 46 points.

    The Pens have averaged less than 2.2 goals per game since superstar Sidney Crosby was injured, but the Pens are still in fourth place in the league.

    This is mainly due to the incredible play of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who is having the best season of his career.

    Fleury has carried the Penguins and he will have to keep doing so if the Penguins are going to go far in the playoffs.

6. Jarome Iginla, Calgary Flames

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    ST. LOUIS, MO - MARCH 1: Jarome Iginla #12 of the Calgary Flames backs into Ben Bishop #30 of the St. Louis Blues at the Scottrade Center on March 1, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    Calgary captain Jarome Iginla has been remarkable throughout the Flames' recent rise to playoff contention.

    Iginla has 36 points in 34 games since Christmas and he has led the Flames up from 14th place to fifth in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.

    After struggling to start the season, Iggy is once again in the top 10 in the league in both goals and points and just scored his 30th goal for the 10th-straight season.

5. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators

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    VANCOUVER, CANADA - MARCH 3: Alexandre Burrows #14 of the Vancouver Canucks is stopped in close by goalie Pekka Rinne #35 of the Nashville Predators while Jerred Smithson #25 looks on during the second period in NHL action on March 03, 2011 at Rogers Aren
    Rich Lam/Getty Images

    Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators isn't being talked about as a Hart Trophy candidate but he should be.

    Rinne's spectacular play has the Predators only one point out of a playoff spot despite not having a single player with 20 goals or 40 points.

    Rinne is second in the league in both goals-against average and save percentage.

4. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 02:  Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning leaps to try to tip in a shot as he crashes into goalie Martin Brodeur #30 of the New Jersey Devils and receives a goaltender interference penalty during the second period of an NHL hoc
    Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

    The league's leading goal scorer by a margin of seven is definitely a Hart Trophy candidate.

    Stamkos had his Tampa Bay Lightning leading the Southeast Division for most of the season and he's been battling Daniel Sedin for the overall-scoring lead.

    What could hurt Stamkos' chance for the Hart is that his linemate, Martin St. Louis, has been arguably as valuable as Stamkos.

3. Daniel Sedin, Vancouver Canucks

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 05:  Daniel Sedin #22 of the Vancouver Canucks celebrates his goal to take a 2-1 lead over the Los Angeles Kings during the third period at the Staples Center on March 5, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty
    Harry How/Getty Images

    The league's leading point-getter is almost a surefire Hart Trophy finalist.

    After watching brother Henrik Sedin win the Hart Trophy last season, Daniel Sedin has stepped up and currently sits second in goals and first in points.

    Daniel is second in the league in points per game, behind only Sidney Crosby, and he is arguably the best player on the best team in the league.

    What could hurt Daniel Sedin is the almost equally-impressive performances of teammates Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler and Roberto Luongo, as it's hard to say one of them is definitively the most valuable to this team.

2. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks

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    TORONTO, CANADA - MARCH 5: Joey Crabb #46 of the Toronto Maple Leafs battles for the puck against Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks during game action at the Air Canada Centre March 5, 2011 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages/Gett
    Abelimages/Getty Images

    Jonathan "Captain Serious" Toews has been a dominant force since the All-Star break and he might be the best all-around player in the whole league right now.

    Toews has carried over his Conn Smythe-winning performance from last season and he has been phenomenal this season.

    Toews does everything well from scoring to penalty-killing, defense to faceoffs and passing to takeaways.

    Toews is in the top 10 in league scoring for the first time in his career and he is making a very strong case for the Hart Trophy.

1. Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins

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    CALGARY,CANADA - FEBRUARY 22:  Tim Thomas #30 of the Boston Bruins celebrates a win against the Calgary Flames looks on during their NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome, February 22,2011 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.(Photo By Dave Sandford/Getty Images)
    Dave Sandford/Getty Images

    Tim Thomas leads all goalies by a wide margin in both goals-against average and save percentage and he has unquestionably been the best goalie in the league this year.

    Thomas is a crucial part of the Bruins being second in the league in goal differential at plus-47 and his strong play has made the Bruins a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

    Here's what really makes Thomas the best Hart Trophy candidate so far:

    Bruins record when Thomas doesn't play: 9-11-1.

    Bruins record when Thomas plays: 29-8-7.

    Follow Erik on Twitter: @ekpaul87