Only weeks remain in the regular NHL hockey season and the race for the Hart Memorial Trophy is coming into focus. There has been great play by many up to this point that deserves recognition, but three jump out as front runners for the award as the writers prepare to cast their ballots:
Ranking Lundqvist as low at third seems like a bit of an injustice. After all, he does own eight shutouts this season as well as leading his team to the best record in the Eastern Conference with a save percentage well north of .900. He is the reason, in large part, why the Rangers currently hold the No. 1 seed after barely making the playoffs last year as the 8th. In spite of their being quickly dismissed by the Capitals in the first round of the playoffs last season, do not be surprised to see the Rangers go much further this year, especially with Lundqvist between the pipes. You would be hard-pressed to find a guy more valuable to a team than Henrik Lundqvist.
2. Evgeni Malkin
Malkin has probably had the toughest job of anybody this year, in trying to help a team and its fans deal with losing Sidney Crosby for the majority of another season. Some players fold when asked to carry a team; Malkin seized his opportunity. Leading the league in points with 100, he has carried the Penguins to 47 wins so far, with five games still left to play. In one of his best statistical seasons to date, Malkin has been able to keep Pittsburgh in prime position within the conference as the season heads into the playoffs. For a team and community that is used to winning, Evgeni Malkin has done an outstanding job of stepping into leadership and keeping this team afloat. If it were not for him, the Penguins would not be an elite team in the East this season.
1. Brian Elliott
Elliott has been amazing this season. He leads the league in goals against average (1.48), save percentage (.943), and shutouts (9). After playing in 36 games so far this season, he has held a quarter of the opposing teams scoreless! Besides that, he has led the Blues to the best record in the Western Conference during his first season with the team, a huge accomplishment considering the Blues have failed to qualify for the playoffs the past two seasons. The Blues are a fine hockey club, but had Elliott not been in the net this season, the Blues would be looking at a 7th or 6thseed going into the playoffs as opposed to being a President’s Trophy favorite.
Although many players are deserving of a spot on the short list for the Hart Trophy, these three guys have set themselves apart. Even though you could make a strong argument for each of them, my favorite for the trophy is Brian Elliott.