Over the course of the last ten seasons, there have been nine different Hart Trophy winners, which is indicative of the parity amongst the superstars in the NHL.
Candidates for the league's Most Valuable Player award are just as unpredictable as Stanley Cup Winners, but there are a pool of players who stand above the rest.
Among them are former Hart Trophy nominees, winners and candidates, as well as stars who have yet to reach the peaks of their respective careers.
Without a player like Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux, who stands head-and-shoulders above the rest of the league, the race for the Hart has been wide open in the post-lockout era, and next season should be no different.
Interestingly, the Hart Trophy, which is the MVP according to the hockey writers, and the Ted Lindsay Award, which is the Most Outstanding Player as judged by the players of the National Hockey League, haven't been won by the same player since Alexander Ovechkin captured both in 2008-09.
With that in mind, here is the pool of 15 players that contain the NHL's Most Valuable Player for the 2010-11 Season.
If the New Jersey Devils are going to return to the postseason after missing the Playoffs for the first time in 14 seasons, Zach Parise will have to be the team's best player.
Gone are the days of Martin Brodeur's utter dominance, as the future Hall of Fame netminder has finally started to show signs of slowing down at age 39. Ilya Kovalchuk won't be the player to lead them to the Postseason either, because he isn't the two-way force that Parise is.
Instead, Parise will need to have a career year if the Devils are to prove that last season's performance was an aberration, and he's perfectly capable of doing so.
An All-Star at the 2010 Olympics, Parise has demonstrated he has all the tools to be among the most dominant players in the game. And with his contract set to expire next July, there's no better time than the present for the 27-year-old to show that he's on par with the most dangerous offensive threats in the NHL.
The 2010-11 Season was a banner year for the Nashville Predators, as they advanced to the Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
Though captain Shea Weber received a great deal of praise for this accomplishment, there's little doubt that Vezina nominee Pekka Rinne was the driving force behind the Predators' unprecedented success.
Simply put, Rinne was the reason that Nashville had a chance to win on any given night, even though the team struggled to put pucks in the net on a regular basis. His 2.12 GAA and .930 Save Percentage ranked among the best in the league, and he stole a number of games for his team down the stretch.
Seeing as Nashville looks even weaker offensively than they were a year ago, Rinne will have to be the Predators' most valuable player if the team hopes to duplicate last season's performance.
Lucky for fans in Music City, the 6'5" Finn is perfectly capable of doing just that.
The Los Angeles Kings have been among the most promising young teams in the NHL for the last two seasons, but if they hope to make the jump from up-and-comers to contenders, they'll need a big year out of newly-acquired franchise center Mike Richards.
Richards, the ex-captain of the Philadelphia Flyers, is a proven winner and leader, who can also produce big offensive numbers, which are both welcome additions to the Kings' lineup.
Though Anze Kopitar is widely regarded as the Kings' top pivot, Richards brings another dimension to his game that will make the Kings that much more difficult to play against.
A two-time 30 goal scorer who is capable of putting up 75-80 points, Richards is the type of player who could make a difference immediately for Los Angeles, which is why they gave up so much in order to acquire him.
If the Kings do make a run towards the Western Conference Finals, it'll be in large part due to Mike Richards' leadership and on-ice performance. He's a good bet to be at his best this year, especially because of his ugly departure from the city of brotherly love.
The 2011-12 Philadelphia Flyers will be a much different looking team than the previous year's edition of the squad, primarily because they'll be without the services of franchise cornerstones Mike Richards and Jeff Carter.
Instead, for the first time in two decades, Philadelphia will lay claim to one of the best goaltenders in the game in Ilya Bryzgalov, which is what General Manager Paul Holmgren believes will push his team over the top.
Bryzgalov has been stellar for the last couple of seasons in Phoenix, helping an overachieving team earn two surprising trips to the postseason, though his play was spotty once they got there.
If Philadelphia can remain as one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, it will be because Bryzgalov's play between the pipes has compensated for the loss of firepower up front. He has proven he can be a savior for a bad team, but can he be the clutch performer on a great team that the Flyers hope he can be? We'll see in 2012.
With Brian Rafalski gone, the Detroit Red Wings will have to rely even more heavily than usual on 41-year-old Nicklas Lidstrom, who decided to return to Motown for another season.
That's just fine with Lidstrom, who has been the Red Wings' rock for the last two decades, helping them capture four Stanley Cups, including one as the team's captain.
While it seems unlikely that the future Hall of Famer will become a finalist for the Hart for the first time in his 19-year career, there's nothing ordinary about the Swedish superstar's career to date.
Coming off his seventh Norris Trophy, Lidstrom is still the best overall defenseman in the game, and if Detroit can continue to be among the best teams in the league, there's no reason that Lidstrom shouldn't be in the discussion for the Hart by season's end.
Rafalski's retirement may help Lidstrom's case, because the team's elder statesman will likely be forced to take on a larger role this season, which is an opportunity Lidstrom won't shy away form.
With a Conn Smythe and a shelf full of Norris Trophies, a Hart (or even just being named as a finalist) would be the perfect way to cap off a truly legendary career for the Wings' captain.
This may be the most surprising name on the list, particularly because his regular season performances over the past five seasons have been wildly inconsistent, but Brad Richards has the opportunity to make a big difference in one of the most highly-watched hockey markets on the planet.
Considering that the Hart Trophy is voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association, playing in New York City will benefit Richards, as he'll be just as visible as any other star player in the league.
Aside from playing in New York, Richards is one of the most talented playmakers in the game, and he'll have the chance to play alongside one of the most gifted snipers in hockey in Marian Gaborik.
If the two form a deadly partnership, the Rangers will have the most dangerous offense the franchise has had since 1996-97, when Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier took the Blueshirts to the Eastern Conference Finals.
With a world class goaltender in Henrik Lundvquist, and a very solid young defense corps in place, Richards could be the difference maker the Rangers have so desperately needed since Jaromir Jagr left town, therefore putting himself in the running for the Hart.
As we saw in 2004, when Richards won the Conn Smythe with Tampa Bay, he has the ability to be among the most dominant forwards in the league. He just has to play with the consistency he demonstrated last season in Dallas.
After linemate Corey Perry won the Hart Trophy in 2011, it may be the Ducks' franchise centerman Ryan Getzlaf's turn to grab the spotlight and take home the league's top individual prize.
In fact, if Getzlaf hadn't missed 15 games due to injury, Perry may not have won the Hart at all. That's because Perry's case for the award was strengthened by the absence of his usual set-up man, as he was forced to take on a larger role in the Ducks offense while the captain was nursing facial injuries sustained when he took a puck to the face in early January.
When healthy, Getzlaf is the engine that drives the Ducks' offense, and he's clearly capable of putting up over 90 points, especially with Perry and Bobby Ryan healthy and scoring.
He's won everything a hockey player could dream of from a team standpoint, and with a 100-point season and a Playoff berth for the Ducks, he could add a Hart Trophy to his mantelpiece.
For years, hockey fans in Columbus have watched as Rick Nash piled goals and points up for a mediocre Blue Jackets team, without a bona fide number one centerman.
All that's changed now that Jeff Carter has come over from Philadelphia, so Nash could be on the cusp of posting a career year, which is a scary thought for goaltenders in the Western Conference.
Nash is a unique blend of size, speed and skill, which is what makes him so dangerous offensively. While his calling card is his ability to score goals like few others in the NHL, he's also a very solid defensive forward, as he demonstrated while keeping Alexander Ovechkin in check at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver.
With Carter at his side, Nash has the opportunity to show what he can do with a world-class talent on his line, and Columbus appears primed for its first postseason berth since 2009. Though his career high is 40 goals, Nash is capable of scoring 50, which should be a nice target for him in 2012.
If he can deliver the goods offensively, while helping out on the defensive side of things, he could be in line for his first Hart Trophy nomination at season's end.
During the 2010-11 NHL Season, hockey analysts across North America were debating amongst themselves which forward on the Vancouver Canucks had the best chance of capturing the Hart Trophy as the league's MVP.
Ultimately, Daniel Sedin emerged as a nominee, but not before Ryan Kesler emerged as a star and one of the best two-way forwards in the game by capturing the Selke Trophy as the league's Best Defensive Forward.
Kesler's speed and tenacity have helped him become a force at both ends of the ice, which is why many believe he's Vancouver's most valuable player up front, though the team has two scoring champions in the Sedin twins.
During the 2011 Playoffs, Kesler was among the favorites to win the Conn Smythe as Playoff MVP until he was slowed by injuries that kept him from being a difference maker during the Finals.
If he can stay healthy during the regular season, look for him to pick up right where he left off, which could mean that the Vancouver Canucks will have a Hart Trophy finalist for the fourth time in six seasons.
After the Montreal Canadiens settled the debate as to who would be the team's starting goaltender for the 2010-11 Season by trading Jaroslav Halak to St. Louis, Carey Price emerged as the team's best and most valuable player by giving the Habs a chance to win on a nightly basis, even when they were outplayed thoroughly.
Price was one of the only reasons the Canadiens managed to qualify for the postseason, and silenced his critics by posting a league-high 38 wins in 2010-11.
Montreal's pint-sized forwards don't always supply Price with a lot of help offensively, so in order to win games, he often has to keep the opposition to two goals or less, which he did on a regular basis.
If he continues to perform as such a high level in 2011-12, there's no reason that Price shouldn't be considered a favorite for at least the Vezina Trophy, especially when considering the fact that the team's defense corps won't be as deep as they were last season.
Now that the fans are behind him, the sky's the limit for Montreal's 23-year-old franchise goaltender.
For the first time since 2004, the Tampa Bay Lightning have reason to believe that the upcoming NHL Season could end with them on top of the league.
That's because they came so close in 2011, losing in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals by just one goal to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins.
At the heart of the team's success were aging stars Martin St. Louis, Dwayne Roloson and captain Vincent Lecavalier, but the team's future lies with 21-year-old phenom Steven Stamkos.
Stamkos, the 2010 Rocket Richard Trophy winner, has the ability to change the outcome of a game like few others, and after a long postseason run, he appears poised to take the next step in his development.
What exactly that entails is up to interpretations, but after back-to-back seasons with over 90 points, he may be on the cusp of capturing his first scoring title and Hart Trophy nomination.
With St. Louis riding shotgun, Stamkos has the potential to score 50-60 goals each year, which will always keep him in the running for the crown of league MVP.
One need not look farther than the final goal of the Chicago Blackhawks' 2010-11 season to understand how much Jonathan Toews means to his team.
With the Blackhawks down by a goal with just under two minutes to play in Game 7 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals, Toews virtually willed the tying goal through Roberto Luongo to send the game to overtime. Though they ended up losing, the play was indicative of the type of determination, leadership and sheer skill that Toews brings to the table night-in and night-out.
An Olympic Gold Medalist (and the winner of the tournament's Best Forward award), Conn Smythe winner and Stanley Cup-winning captain at just 23, all Toews is missing from his trophy collection is a major regular season award.
While he could capture a Selke Trophy at some point during his career, Toews is certainly capable of winning a Hart as well, because he is without a doubt one of the most valuable players to his team in the league.
Offensively, Toews will probably never be a 90-point scorer, but he brings so many other things to the Blackhawks lineup. When the team was suffering through a rough patch last year, Toews reportedly held court in Chicago's locker room, which many of the Blackhawks pointed to as the turning point in their season.
While it may prove to be difficult for him to win the Hart or Lindsay due to the number of star players on his team, Toews could be a dark horse for the Hart in 2012, especially if he has a breakthrough year offensively.
As the only two-time Hart Trophy winner of the new millennium, Alexander Ovechkin should always be considered a candidate to come home with the award.
However, since winning the award for the last time in 2009, Ovechkin hasn't been the same dominant force that he once was. His offensive numbers have declined and his teams have struggled to perform to the best of their abilities when the chips are down.
That being said, with the Washington Capitals primed for another run at the Cup, Ovechkin will be the center of attention, and he'll have more help than ever before in the nation's capital.
After a down year that saw Ovechkin tally a career-low 85 points, expect the Russian superstar to rebound, and make a push to regain his throne as hockey's undisputed most valuable player.
If Nicklas Backstrom can bounce back from a disappointing season, Ovechkin's goal and point totals will almost undoubtedly be back around the 50-goal, 100-point plateaus, which will put him in the running for the Art Ross, Rocket Richard, and yes, the Hart Trophy.
Voters will be hard on Ovechkin because of the Capitals' lack of success during the Playoffs, but if he puts on another virtuoso performance during the 2011-12 regular season, writers will have no choice but to once again nominate the Capitals' captain for hockey's top individual award.
Before a collision with then-Washington Capitals forward David Steckel at the Winter Classic sidelined Sidney Crosby for the remainder of the 2010-11 Season, the Penguins captain was well on his way to the most dominant regular season performance of the last decade.
In just 41 games, Crosby tallied a mind-boggling 32 goals and 66 points, which projects to an incredible 64 goals and 132 points over a full season. While it's no guarantee that Crosby would have hit those totals, when considering how consistent the 24-year-old superstar has been, there's no questioning that he would have lead the league in both categories by season's end.
Unfortunately, Crosby sustained a serious concussion, one that has left him still unable to participate in contact drills on the ice. Though the Penguins seem to believe he'll be ready around the time the 2011-12 season kicks off, the lack of update from the organization has planted a seed of doubt regarding the likelihood of Crosby returning to action in the near future.
If Crosby is able to resume play during the first couple of months of the season, he should be considered the front-runner to win the 2012 Hart Trophy, simply because he's the most dominant player in the game, hands down. He can beat defenses by shooting, passing or quite frankly out-thinking the opposition.
The Penguins will sorely miss Crosby if he's unable to play by the time the season starts, which may end up strengthening his case for the Hart by the end of the 2011-12 campaign.
If the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals taught us anything, it's that Tim Thomas is capable of being the player whose performance has the greatest impact on the outcome of an entire season.
From start-to-finish, Thomas was spectacular for the Bruins, posting a sparkling 2.00 GAA, along with a modern-era record .938 Save Percentage. But those stats don't even tell the whole story of his year.
The most important thing to take away from Thomas' season is that this goaltender will do anything to win, as winning means as much to him as any player in the game. He stops pucks, barks out orders at defenseman and will even level an incoming forward, sending a message of intimidation to the opposition.
Thomas embodies the Bruins' (and the city of Boston in general) attitude perfectly. While he may not be the most physically gifted or talented goaltender in the world, he wants to win more than any other, and he'll stop at nothing to get another "W" on his record.
This tireless pursuit of success is what makes him so valuable to the Bruins, and if his 2011-12 performance is anything like that of last season, he will be a leading candidate for the Hart Trophy.
Though the Bruins have a strong team from top to bottom, they live and die by the play of Thomas, which is why Boston is in good hands entering the 2011-12 NHL Season.
He's the heart and soul of Boston's lineup, and if Thomas and the Bruins can continue their fantastic team play into this season, Thomas will likely be rewarded with another Vezina Trophy, and potentially his first Hart Trophy nomination.