You can probably mail Sidney Crosby his Hart Trophy this week. Sure, he could still get hurt (in recent years, that’s been his M.O.), but all things being equal, the captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins has clearly been the best player in this lockout-shortened season.
In fact, he’s actually been the best by quite a margin.
He leads the NHL in scoring with 13 goals and a league-high 37 assists. He’s a plus-22. He’s a forward who plays an average of 21 minutes and 41 seconds per game and he wins 54.8 per cent of his faceoffs and he takes most of his team’s faceoffs.
Crosby is, night-in and night-out, the best player in the game. He goes hard on every shift, he’s a nasty defensive player and he plays with a passion that fans don’t see in a lot of players. Every game appears to be important to Crosby and it shows in the consistency of the effort.
He’s also the leader on a team that is playing better than any other in the NHL. Through this past Thursday night, Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins had won 10 straight games and were 23-8-0, solidly in first place in the Eastern Conference.
However, Crosby is the story. With 50 points in just 31 games, he is averaging 1.613 points per game. If he can keep up his current pace, he’ll finish with one of the greatest seasons of his career.
No matter how he finishes – as long as he finishes and the Pens keep winning – Crosby will win the Hart Trophy.
However, just for fun, let’s nominate seven other players who have had tremendous lockout-shortened seasons, just to pretend there is an actual race for the NHL’s MVP award.
Eight (OK, 10) Players Who Could Win the Hart Trophy (Not Really):
1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins: If the health and the pace continues, it’s a lock.
2. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks: “I haven’t see every team yet, but the best player I’ve seen this year is Jonathan Toews,” said Toronto Maple Leafs scout, Mike Penny. I couldn’t agree more. If there is a second choice for MVP this year, it’s the Blackhawks captain. The Hawks started the season by playing 23 games without a loss and Toews was clearly the best player on the club on a pretty consistent basis. Patrick Kane is the flashiest player, but Toews is the guy who does all the right things almost all the time. He also has 15 goals and 15 assists, is 13th in scoring and is a plus-17. That ain’t too shabby.
3. Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks are 22-3-4 and Getzlaf has been their best player (D-man Francois Beauchemin has had a good year, too). He has 11 goals and 24 assists in all 29 games and with a plus-14 plus-minus rating; he’s been pretty impressive. He still uses his size to his advantage (6-foot-4, 221 pounds) and he’s added a little goal scoring to his playmaking skills. In fact, he has as many goals after 29 games this year as he had in 82 games last year. Now in his seventh year, he has developed into a terrific all-around player and is playing 20:47 per game.
4. Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks: Toews is the all-around star in Chicago, but Kane has been the scoring sensation. His shootout goals have become highlight-reel staples. Kane is fifth in NHL scoring with 16 goals and 22 assists in 30 games while the Hawks whip along at a 24-3-3 pace. Toews won’t beat Crosby for the MVP, because a little help from Kane.
5. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings: As the defending Stanley Cup champions play better and better this season, Kopitar’s presence is a big reason for the improvement. In 29 of his team’s 30 games, Kopitar has nine goals and 19 assists and is a plus-nine. He’s also averaging 20:37 a game. If the Kings repeat, Kopitar will be the straw that stirs the proverbial drink.
6. Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild: He is the second leading scorer among defensemen in the NHL with two goals and 22 assists so that counts for something. He’s playing on a team that has won four in a row, six of its last seven and has moved into first place in the Northwest Division with a record of 17-10-2. Bit what makes Suter’s presence on a team starting to win so incredible is that he’s on the ice more than any player in the NHL: 27 minutes and 12 seconds on average per game. He’s a power-play monster (both his goals are on the power play) and he’s also on the ice for the penalty kill. Without Suter, the Wild are not a playoff threat.
7. Andrew Ladd, Winnipeg Jets/Nazem Kadri, Toronto Maple Leafs: All things being equal and the Leafs and Jets hang in the playoff hunt, Ladd and/or Kadri might get a third-place vote. Kadri is eighth in scoring in the NHL with 13 goals and 20 assists and is also an eye-popping plus-19. Randy Carlyle has made this guy one of the most dangerous snipers in the NHL, but also a guy who cares about his own end. At 16-12-3, the Leafs are sixth in the East and that’s a big surprise. Ladd, meanwhile, has been the leader on a Jets team that is first in the Southeast Division and third overall in the East. He has 14 goals and 16 assists and is plus-eight on a team that has given up 10 more goals than it’s scored. Ladd has won the Cup in Carolina and Chicago. He appears to be passing on his knowledge this season.
8. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins/Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens: The Bruins and Canadiens have good teams but neither club would be battling for first in the East without their goalies. Price is 16-4-4 with a 2.34 goals against average and a .912 save percentage. Rask is 14-4-3 with a 1.92 goals against average and a .928 save percentage. Both of these guys have saved games for their clubs and in both cases, the Bruins and Habs would be quite shaky without them (the Bruins because of injuries and the Habs because they really aren’t that good, are they?).