Each year the Hart Memorial Trophy is awarded to the player deemed most valuable to his team, and each year we begin speculation on who that might be around the midseason mark. Now a few games past that mark, the talk of who might be this season’s MVP is in full swing. The names of Evgeni Malkin, Claude Giroux, Phil Kessel, Jonathan Toews, and Tim Thomas being the most prevalent ones mentioned in these conversations. While I’m not here to suggest that any of those that I’ve just mentioned are in some way undeserving of having their names brought up in such discussions, I am here to relay my opinion on 10 more players who are just as deserving of the award as any other.
10. Pavel Datsyuk – Detroit Red Wings
While it can be argued that Datsyuk has plenty of help from the likes of Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen when it comes to producing offense, this season that’s less the case. Zetterberg, while still having a respectable season thus far, has just 34 points. Franzen’s 38 put him 2nd on the team, but almost all of them are the result of Datsyuk’s wizardry. He’s turned Todd Bertuzzi into a viable top 6 forward again, and Bertuzzi (who once played alongside Markus Naslund) even had the gall to call him the best player he’s ever played with. Early in the season, Datsyuk struggled, putting up just 11 points in 17 games, and his team floundered similarly. Then the Magician came to life putting up 12 points as he sprung his team on a 7 game winning streak. Datsyuk has 49 points in 45 games, but the perennial takeaway master isn’t all about the score sheet. Perhaps his coach Mike Babcock said it best after Datsyuk hit the 700 point plateau on Monday, “He’s the best two-way player in hockey, bar none, that’s because of his commitment without the puck and his faceoffs and his strength and his battle level and all the intangible things he has beside his skill set and his vision.”
9. Ryan O’Reilly – Colorado Avalanche
In just his 3rd year pro O’Reilly has led his team through the season with an injury depleted roster. His 35 points in 48 games is more than any other Av, but it’s his defensive play that’s really turning heads. O’Reilly sits 3rd in the league in takeaways, and is only a -3 on an 8th place team with a -18 goal differential. O’Reilly is just 20 years old and already he’s become his team’s clear leader this season. His great play on both sides of the puck has the Denver Post calling him a 2nd round steal , and why not? He’s perhaps the only reason his team finds itself still clinging to an 8th place spot in the West.
There isn’t much good to say about the Lightning this season. Tied for last in their conference, the team has been a far cry from what it was during the postseason just a season ago. Nobody could have predicted the Lightning’s fall from grace. After bringing the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Bruins to a Game 7 on the heels of defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins in the same fashion, the Lightning are now bottom feeders? Absurd, I would have said. Reality is what it is now. But through all the Lightning’s struggles this season one man’s numbers continue to impress. Stamkos leads the league with 31 goals on the season, 5 ahead of the closest competitor, and with Tampa’s goal differential at a lowly -33, it’s frightening to imagine what it could be like without Stamkos’ contributions.
7. John Tavares – New York Islanders
Unlike the Lightning, we expect the Islanders to be near the bottom of the standings every year, and without fail they’re there again in a 3 way tie for last in the East with the aforementioned Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes. Surprisingly then, is the fact that Tavares is currently on a point per game pace. Even more surprising is that teammate Matt Moulson is just 2 points shy of him. While some might feel that’s a challenge to Tavares’ most valuable status, it’s actually a testament. Moulson has 2 straight 30 goal season’s since the Islander’s pulled him out of the AHL, and the revitalization of his career is in part the work of his centerman, Tavares. “He’s a great player and he’s going to be a great player for many years to come,” Molson told THW’s Rob McGowan last February, and boy was he right.
While everyone thought the Panthers would be better this season after their various acquisitions during the offseason, I don’t think anyone thought they’d be this good. In part because of improvement, and in part because of the struggles of the Washington Capitals, the Panthers have held the Southeast Division lead for much of the season (though now they find themselves tied with Washington at 52 points). On the success end of that, it’s been all Kris Versteeg. With 39 points in 44 outings and a +8 rating, Versteeg is easily on pace for the best season of his career. After bouncing from Chicago, to Toronto, to Philadelphia, and now Florida, it’s probably safe to say that Versteeg has found his home for at least a little while. Versteeg is very much responsible for making the Panthers a very scary team this season.
5. Jarome Iginla – Calgary Flames
Jarome should probably be up for this award every season. Without him, the Calgary Flames are a whole lot of nothing with a goaltender. It’s been that way for years, yet somehow Iginla has never won this award. While I’m not saying Jarome is having his best season on record, he is still the clear leader of the Flames in almost every way. 37 points in 47 games doesn’t put him at the top of the league, but it does put him at the top of his team, and team is what this award is all about. The Flames would be nothing without Jarome, which is why the rumors surrounding his trade are nothing but absurd.
When a defenseman leads your team in scoring, you’ve usually got some problems, but when that defenseman is Shea Weber you can put your worries aside. Weber is 4th in scoring amongst all defenders having played fewer games than all those in front him thanks to a brief stint out of the line up with a concussion. While the Predators won 3 of the 4 games Weber missed, they went 0-12 on the powerplay, where Weber makes his scoring impact most frequently. Defensive partner Ryan Suter and goaltender Pekka Rinne deserve their fair share of credit too, but it’s hard to imagine a Predator’s team without their current captain, and the fact that such a thing could become reality soon should terrify Nashville fans.
3. Jonathan Quick – Los Angeles Kings
The last time a goaltender won the Hart Memorial Trophy was in 2001-02 when Jose Theodore won while playing for the Montreal Canadiens. Post-lockout, only forwards have picked up the honor. This year could very well be the year that changes. The Kings, who were praised as being cup contenders after the acquisition of Mike Richards in the offseason, have done nothing but struggle to score this season. They’ve been shutout 5 times this season and have the lowest goals-per game in the league at just 2.15. How then, can they be in a playoff position? Jonathan Quick. Quick has 6 shutouts this season (leads the league), and GAA and Sv% numbers that place him in the top 5 in both stats. Forget about the Vezina, Quick has been his team’s only reason for success until recently when they’ve finally begun supporting him.
Like the Lightning, no one thought the Ducks would struggle so much this season. The reason for their struggles has been split between not enough scoring from their top line, and not enough consistent goaltending on the back-end. What has been consistent this season is 41-year-old Teemu Selanne. That’s right, a 41-year-old leads the Ducks in points because he’s on almost a point per game pace this season (44 points in 45 games). The Ducks have turned it around recently, but still it’s no thanks to the top line of Getzlaf, Perry, and Ryan. Perry, who won the MVP last season has been anything but an MVP this season, and instead Selanne has taken over as the Ducks go to man. If the Ducks didn’t have Selanne, they’d be considerably worse of than they are now, and they’re only 13th in the conference as it is.
1. Mikko Koivu – Minnesota Wild
Just give him the award now. Koivu has 33 points in 41 games playing for a team notorious for its lack of scoring. Heatley, and Setoguchi (the players brought in to help with scoring) have been busts from the get go and Koivu has had to do it all himself once again. He’s gifted both defensively and offensively, you have to be in order to play the Wild’s system, and as captain of the team is the sole reason Minnesota even knows what a playoff spot is right now. Unfortunately for the Wild, Koivu has been hurt twice this season and missed 5 games so far (currently out with an upper body injury). In those 5 games of absence the Wild are 0-5 and have been outscored 17-4. With Koivu out of the lineup the wheels fall off, the Wild are an average team at best, a team that wont make the playoffs. With Koivu in, they were able to surge up the standings and even find themselves in first place for a time. If that’s not an MVP, I don’t know what is.