Amid the utter chaos known as the NHL trade deadline, the biggest move of all is still the subtraction of Patrick Kane from Chicago’s lineup last week. A perennial Stanley Cup contender loses arguably its best player to injury with 60 games already in the books? Yeah, that’s a big deal. The Blackhawks are still loaded, so they might be able to recover and make another deep run anyway. But you don’t just get everyone on the roster to try harder and suddenly replace the sort of production Kane provides.
Kane has been a dangerous player ever since he came into the league, but he was really putting it all together this season. When he went down, he had 27 goals and 37 assists to his name, putting him on pace for a career-high 37 goals and 50 assists. Those weren’t just the best numbers on Chicago’s roster, they were among the very best in the league. In fact, the true indicator of Kane’s value just might be the simple fact that his absence instantly changes the landscape of the Hart Trophy race. With that in mind, here are the top remaining candidates for league MVP honors…
1. Alex Ovechkin, WAS (41 goals, 24 assists, 65 points)
It’s getting harder and harder to argue with the case Ovie is making. His 41 goals lead the league by a decent margin. His nine game-winning goals top the charts too. And now his 65 points are also tied for the league lead. Not a big fan of stats? Fair enough. How about the simple fact that the Capitals look more dangerous than ever – despite adapting to a new coach at the start of the season – and that all starts with Ovechkin. His numbers haven’t dipped under the tutelage of the more defensive-minded Barry Trotz. If anything, they’ve gotten better.
2. Carey Price, MON (36 wins, 1.88 goals against average, .936 save percentage, six shutouts)
Yes, I get it – goalies have their own award. Why hand Price the Hart when he’s probably got the Vezina on lockdown already? It’s a fair argument, and one I won’t argue here. What isn’t debatable is the fact that, if you were so inclined to bestow league MVP honors on a goalie, it clearly has to be Price. Since Jan. 14, he’s 14-1-1 with four shutouts. In that time, he’s allowed more than two goals in a game just once (to Buffalo, of all teams. That was the loss too. Don’t try to figure it out – just move on). The Canadiens are a decent team without Price. With him, they’re one of the favorites to come out of the East.
3. John Tavares, NYI (30-35-65)
Tavares was a finalist for the Hart two years ago, but was edged out by Ovechkin. Following an injury-plagued 2013-14 campaign, he’s right back in the conversation again. It’s becoming clear that his name is going to repeatedly surface in this conversation for many years to come so, even if he doesn’t take home the hardware this time, he’ll have plenty more opportunities. But don’t count him out for this season either. His 65 points are tied for the league lead, he’s more than capable of going on a scoring tear at any time and he has the Islanders in contention as one of the league’s top teams. How many players have been able to say that with a straight face over the last 25 years?
4. Sidney Crosby, PIT (20-44-64)
Don’t write Crosby off just yet. His “sub-par” numbers are only sub-par by his own ridiculous standards. In fact, his 64 points are just one off the league lead – and he’s played five less games than just about everyone else on this list. His 44 assists are good for No. 3 in the NHL, his 26 power play points have him tied for No. 4 and he still hasn’t even really gone off the way he’s capable of going off. Another Hart Trophy would give him three, tied with Ovechkin.
5. Rick Nash, NYR (37-21-58)
A year after seemingly nothing would go in for Nash (especially during the playoffs), he suddenly can’t miss now. His 37 goals – many coming in electrifying fashion – have him behind only Ovechkin in the race for the Rocket Richard Trophy. And his return to form as a dominant offensive presence has the Rangers poised to possibly make a second consecutive run through the Eastern Conference.
6. Vladimir Tarasenko, STL (31-30-61)
Tarasenko probably won’t win it this season, but he’s definitely making a name for himself around the league. Not only has he netted 31 goals, he’s becoming a human highlight reel. And his rapid development into one of the league’s most prolific forwards is a major reason why some believe this could (finally) be the Blues’ year to go far.
Other Names to Keep an Eye On…
–Ryan Getzlaf, ANA (20-41-61). The top point producer on one of the NHL’s best teams. He does this every season, but that doesn’t make him any less valuable.
–Evgeni Malkin, PIT (26-38-64). When Malkin is on, he’s one of the top two or three players in the world. Over his last five games, he has five goals and six assists. I’m going to go ahead and say that qualifies as “on”.
–Jakub Voracek, PHI (19-46-65). Voracek is the first player on this list that is actually in danger of missing the playoffs. He’s trailed off a little in the second half, but his ridiculous first half means he at least deserves a mention.
–Nicklas Backstrom, WAS (18-47-65). Ovechkin gets all the attention, while Backstrom has somehow never even been to an All-Star Game. Meanwhile, he leads the NHL with 47 assists, and continues to be the most productive offensive weapon (558 career points) from a talented 2006 draft class that also included Phil Kessel (509), Jonathan Toews (490) and Claude Giroux (436).
–Steven Stamkos, TB (35-23-58). He’s really just here because he’s Steven Stamkos, so a scoring title is never out of reach.
–Pekka Rinne (35 wins, 2.08 GAA, .928 save percentage). Slightly overshadowed by the insane run Price is on in Montreal, Rinne is the key catalyst for the Predators’ remarkable turnaround this year.
–Dustin Byfuglien, WPG (15-26-41). Some may take issue with giving the Hart to a D-man. Fortunately for them, Byfuglien plays forward too. He’s not winning this award but, much like Giordano, Big Buff is the main reason his team is still in the playoff hunt. That has to be worth something.