Today we complete a five-part series, looking at top candidates for the different awards this season. Here are my top five Hart Trophy contenders…
1. Sidney Crosby I really thought if it weren’t for Henrik Sedin that Sidney Crosby should have been the Hart winner last year, even though he finished third in the final voting. Evgeni Malkin wasn’t the same player a year ago, battling through an injury. Marc-Andre Fleury was also shaky, going through rough stretches. That only made what Crosby did look better (51 goals, 109 points), especially without a go-to winger (yet again).
I have my doubts that Sid will repeat his 51-goal performance. I mean going into last year his previous high was 39; somewhere between 40 and 45 is more likely. That said, he should still record well over 100 points, and the Pens will be right there in the thick of things come April. As we sit right now, Crosby is my favorite to take the Hart.
2. Alex Ovechkin The one who finished right in between Sedin and Crosby in the Hart voting last year was this guy. Ovechkin is possibly the most prolific player in the league with the puck on his stick, and has scored 171 goals in the last three seasons. Even though his goal totals have gone down each year, ‘Ovie’ has been sharing the puck a lot more (took 160 less shots in 2009/10).
If Ovechkin can score 55-plus goals again and stay away from injury or suspension from his rambonxious play at times, he has a solid shot at the Hart. The only reason why I think Crosby is a better for the most valuable player is that Ovechkin has an abundance of offensive weapons surrounding him.
3. Pavel Datsyuk I know what you’re thinking. ‘Datsyuk is 32 and past his prime… Datsyuk only had 70 points last year… blah blah blah.’ Let’s not forget what Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk can do when at top of his game as he is arguably the best two-way forward in the game today. It’s no fluke that he has won three consecutive Selke trophies.
Up until last season, Datsyuk recorded back-to-back 97-point campaigns. He also had put together four straight years of 59 assists or more. Last year, he had 43 assists and 70 points – both lows since the lockout. However, the Red Wings had an off-year altogether and Datsyuk is included in that mix. Look for Datsyuk to rebound in 2010/11 and be a candidate for the Hart in the end.
4. Henrik Sedin Whenever I watch Vancouver play – whether live in person or on television – I marvel at the abilities of the Sedin twins. They cycle the puck like they have eyes in the back of their heads, and set up goals that not many others can. Henrik had his coming out party in 2009/10, tallying 112 points and a plus-35 rating for the Canucks.
However, it may be difficult for Henrik to mirror his point outburst from a year ago, especially since he and brother Daniel will have an even larger target on their backs from opposing defenses. Also, the biggest thing going for Henrik was that Daniel and goalie Roberto Luongo suffered injuries early in the year. He’s a great player, but winning the Hart in back-to-back seasons may be a stretch for Henrik.
5. Anze Kopitar Let’s rewind back to the first half of last season. Remember how good Anze Kopitar was? I don’t know if there was a player hotter than Kopitar in October and November, as the Slovenian had 33 points in 27 games in those two months. Better yet, he had 30 points in the first 19 games. Despite a slight drop-off the rest of the year, Kopitar had a career-high in points (81).
The 23-year-old top pivot for Los Angeles is more than capable of stretching out the consistency and success that he displayed early last year. With the Kings getting ready for liftoff and Kopitar being the most important player offensively, don’t be surprised to see him sneak into this picture when it’s all said and done.
Honorable Mention: Evgeni Malkin, Steven Stamkos, Ryan Miller
Our podcast 'RLD Hockey Talk' is LIVE every Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 ET/Noon CT. Some of our notable guests in past episodes have been Dustin Brown, Doc Emrick, John Buccigross, Dave Strader, E.J. Hradek, Elliotte Friedman and Jay Grossman.