Carey Price has been, since the beginning of the season, the single most important player on the Montreal Canadiens. It's no secret.
Whether or not he's the league's most valuable player, however, is another story.
Two things generally have to happen for a goaltender to take home the league's most prestigious individual award.
Firstly, the goaltender in question has to be, far and away, the front runner for the Vezina. With Henrik Lundqvist and Tim Thomas having stellar years in their own rights, it may be difficult for Price to separate himself from his counterparts.
Secondly, a Hart Trophy-winning netminder usually must be playing behind a putrid team. Think of Jose Theodore's 2001-2002 team, when Oleg Petrov, Richard Zednik and Karl Dykhuis were among the team's best players.
Even though Price doesn't have these two factors behind him, there is still a case to be made for him to take home the award.
Here are the top reasons that Price is, in fact, the league's most valuable player.
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At this point in the season, the candidates for the Hart Trophy start getting a little clearer. Certain players have separated themselves from the pack in terms of overall level of play and importance to their teams.
The following are the men that will likely challenge Price for the award at season's end.
Tim Thomas: 52GP, 32W, .939SV%, 2.0GAA, 8SO
Daniel Sedin: 76GP, 40G, 56A, 96PTS, +/- 27
Corey Perry: 76GP, 44G, 42A, 86PTS, +/- 8
Jarome Iginla: 77GP, 36G, 39A, 75PTS, +/- 5
Pekka Rinne: 58GP, 30W, 2.10GAA, .929SA%, 6SO
Now on to why Price should be given the award over these other deserving players.
Carey Price's defensive corps has been completely decimated this season.
Since the beginning of the year, Price has played behind Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges, Jaroslav Spacek, James Wisniewski, P.K. Subban, Yannick Weber, Brendon Nash, Paul Mara, Brent Sopel, Hal Gill, Ryan O'Byrne, Roman Hamrlik and Alex Picard.
Amidst all the changes in personnel, Price's level of play has remained consistent.
Despite having to learn the tendencies of 13 different defensemen, Price hasn't missed a step. Despite having to communicate with different players on a seemingly nightly basis, and despite having played behind four different rookies, one of the slowest defensive corps in the league and a few borderline AHLers, Price has continued to shine.
Imagine how much better his stats would be if he had Josh Gorges blocking shots on the penalty kill or if he had Andrei Markov carrying the play and avoiding giveaways. Price would likely have faced fewer shots and likely would have seen his save percentage rise even higher than it currently is.
His consistency in the face of constant change and adversity should be considered when the writers make their choice for the league's MVP.
Carey Price does not have the league's best save percentage. Among fellow Vezina candidates, Pekka Rinne, Tim Thomas and Henrik Lundqvist all have a better save percentage than the Habs goaltender.
Price, however, has had to maintain a level of excellence while facing significantly more work than his counterparts.
Price is second in the league in total saves made. He's also tied for first in games played.
Not only has Price had to play more games and had to stop more rubber than his competition, but he has also had to work harder during his starts than most other goalies around the league.
The Habs are currently fourth in the league in blocked shots and second to last in minor penalties taken. This translates into more moving around, more preparing for shots, more challenging shooters, more fighting off crease crashers and generally more work while in net.
Over time, this extra workload should have affected the Habs' No. 1 netminder. Having the puck constantly in the defensive zone forces a goalie to be constantly more vigilant and constantly on his toes. The extra workload should have taken its toll and should have led to a decrease in his overall level of play.
Through it all, however, Price's play has remained one of the few constants for the Canadiens this season.
The Montreal Canadiens are among the lowest-scoring teams in the league. In fact, of all the teams behind them, only one is currently in a playoff position.
The Habs take the most penalties, aren't the most physical team and have an average power play.
Despite the underperforming Scott Gomez and a subpar year from Mike Cammalleri, the team continues to win. Despite playing with a No. 1 defenseman missing in action, a depleted blue line and two rookie centermen, Price has led the Habs to 35 wins.
Tim Thomas, meanwhile, has a team that is the fourth-highest-scoring club in the league. They have Zdeno Chara on the back end and a roster that has the capability to strike fear into teams around the NHL.
Daniel Sedin is surrounded by a roster filled with All-Stars and Olympic-caliber players like Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler and Roberto Luongo.
While Corey Perry wasn't lighting it up earlier in the year, the Ducks were able to rely on the likes of Teemu Selanne and the stellar play of Jonas Hiller to keep them in the playoff mix.
Of all the potential Hart Trophy winners, Carey Price is flanked by the weakest team, and it's not even close. On a nightly basis, Price receives the least amount of support from his teammates but has managed to amass the most wins in the NHL.
There's a common misconception among hockey fans. Lots of people have the idea that the Hart Trophy should go to the league's best player. These are the same fans that were clamoring for Jarome Iginla to win the award back in 2002.
That's not what the award is meant to recognize, however.
The Hart Trophy is meant to be awarded to the player deemed most valuable to his team. It's meant for a player whose team's success hinges almost entirely upon his performance.
If Jarome Iginla hadn't scored 50 goals that season, the Flames still would have missed the playoffs. Without Jose Theodore, the Habs would have been a lottery team.
Where would the Habs be without Price this season? Where would the Habs, who have won 60 percent of their one-goal games this season, be if they had a goalie who didn't have a GAA of 2.4? The Habs' winning percentage drops to 52 percent in two-goal games and below 50 percent in three-goal games. If the Habs had a goalie who let in only a fraction more goals than Price, they would be well out of the playoff race.
If Tim Thomas goes down, the Bruins have Tuukka Rask. The Ducks have a plethora of offensive weapons to rely on if Perry suddenly finds himself in a slump. The Predators have a better winning percentage with Anders Lindback than they do with Pekka Rinne.
Despite once again carrying the offensive load for his team, Jarome Iginla hasn't been able to lift his team into a playoff position.
Where would the Canucks be if Daniel Sedin wasn't there this season? Oh yeah, we found out last year that they only need one Sedin to be successful.
The Canadiens don't have a backup plan.