As we settle in to the shortened season, award races take shape and contenders jump to the fore, while pretenders fade. Jaromir Jagr and Teemu Selanne of the old guard jump out of the gate with four-point games. But in time, more realistic candidates rise to the top for the honor of top player in the NHL.
This week’s Top 10 counts down the leading MVP candidates as they stand today. Be sure to vote for your Hart favorite (and Calder favorite).
10. John Tavares
The Islanders are four points out of a playoff spot, but if they find a way to break through, Tavares’ claim will grow. With 11 goals, Tavares sits one off Thomas Vanek’s pace, while his 22 minutes of ice time is second to Ilya Kovalchuk among NHL forwards. His minus-7 is ugly, but the Isles are minus-11 as a team.
9. Henrik Zetterberg
The Wings sit on the edge of the playoff picture, a diminished team without Nicklas Lidstrom. But the reason they’re still in the picture is because of the two stars they still have. Zetterberg deserves kudos for lifting Damien Brunner in his first NHL season and leading all Wings forwards in ice time.
8. Corey Crawford
Unbeaten. As loath as I am to put two players from the same team on this list, Crawford stacks up well with the other two netminders here. Chicago allows 28.1 shots against per game – 13th in the league – and Crawford sits among the elite with a 1.65 GAA and .935 SP. He has allowed more than two goals only once, but is now sidelined with an injury.
7. Eric Staal
His slow start to last season is a distant memory, as Staal leads the Canes with 17 points in 14 games. Carolina sits third in the East, benefitting from the divisional seeding and is actually on the cusp of falling out, but Staal has been a beast with a league-leading four game-winning goals.
6. Thomas Vanek
Vanek is having a terrific season, but since his Sabres sit 13th in the East through 17 games (two more games than the only two teams behind them) it’s hard to consider him the MVP. Still, you can’t ignore his league-leading 12 goals and 25 points in 16 games. If Buffalo turns it on, Vanek’s case will be strengthened.
5. Steven Stamkos
Now in the second-tier of Hart candidates, Stamkos gets the nod over teammate Martin St-Louis because he’s the finisher of the two. With four power play goals, Stamkos is helping lift his team to the fourth-best man-advantage conversion rate and his 21:51 of average ice time is third among forwards, behind Kovalchuk and Tavares.
4. Pekka Rinne
The Predators average a paltry 2.18 goals per game, which ranks 29th, between Columbus and Minnesota. Yet there they sit, fourth in the Western Conference with a plus-1 goal differential. Even though the Preds lost Ryan Suter to free agency and Shea Weber struggled early, Nashville has stayed in the hunt because of their Finnish netminder, who ranks tied for second in SP (.935) fourth in GAA (1.67) and tied for first in shutouts (three) among starting goalies.
3. Craig Anderson
If the Senators get to the playoffs without Erik Karlsson or Jason Spezza, Anderson’s case for the MVP will become more clear-cut. For now, he’s among the handful of players who are part of the equation a little more than a quarter of the way through the season. Anderson has faced the second-most shots and leads all starting goalies in GAA (1.57) and SP (.950) – astounding numbers.
2. Patrick Kane
The Blackhawks are on the verge of making history with their outstanding regulation run out of the gate and Kane has been a huge part of that success. He has been held without a point only twice and is averaging a solid 20 minutes a night.
1. Sidney Crosby
Let the haters hate. Crosby, involved in only 63 NHL games over the previous two seasons, is back to his dominating self. He makes linemates Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis better than they otherwise would be and sits second among NHLers with 24 points in 16 games. It doesn’t hurt his plus-11 is tied for the league lead among forwards.