Hart Trophy Watch: Getzlaf gets Ducks in a row

Looking at all the MVP candidates a little more than halfway through the season makes you wonder how we picked an MVP after just 48 games a season ago. There are a lot of strong cases being made, so we rank the top 10 Hart Trophy candidates to date.

How did we ever pick an MVP last season? We’re at the 44-48-game mark on the schedule, which would have been the end of the season last year – and there are so many worthy MVP candidates that it’s hard to pick just one. So, I won’t!

Here are our top 10 Hart Trophy candidates as they rank today, but there isn’t much of a difference between any of them. It would be easy to make a case for most of these players to hold the No. 1 ranking. Still, my choice remains consistent at the top:

1. Ryan Getzlaf
With 34 games left in Anaheim’s season, Getzlaf needs only three goals to eclipse his career high. of 25. It’s this sudden surge in goal scoring that has helped him to No. 4 in league scoring and made him an even more all-around threat. Getzlaf also has seven game-winning goals – second in the league to teammate Corey Perry – and is a major contributor to Anaheim’s PK. He’s the main piece of a team that hasn’t lost at home in regulation yet this season.

2. Sidney Crosby
The grown-up Kid has an 11-point lead in the league’s scoring race and is the No. 1 reason why Chris Kunitz has a spot on Team Canada’s Olympic entry. Want more? He averages the most ice time of any forward in the league.

3. Patrick Kane
Though he is in the middle of a cool streak during which he has managed only three points in seven games, Kane is still second in league scoring. His six game-winning goals rank only behind the two Ducks league-wide and it’s worth noting that, during his current cold stretch, the NHL’s second-best team is an average 3-1-3 and won the two games Kane scored a point in.

4. John Tavares
Tied with Kane for second in league scoring, Tavares is doing it more with assist than goals this season. What hurts his rank is a) his lack of PK time for a team leader and b) the fact his Isles are out of the playoffs. At the end of the season, I won’t ever vote a non-playoff player as league MVP. Still, there’s no denying Tavares is the beating heart on Long Island. Matt Moulson’s production has taken a bit of a dip in Buffalo – and you can ask Kyle Okposo (45 points in 46 games) what Johnny T has done for his production this year.

5. Alex Ovechkin
If you add the goal totals of Sidney Crosby and Joe Thornton together (two players who appear in our MVP rankings) you wouldn’t have a higher total than Ovechkin’s league-leading mark. OK, that may be taking advantage of Thornton’s incredibly low mark, but Ovechkin has a seven-goal lead on the next best scorer in the league – in fewer games too. However, his minus-15 is by far the worst on his team and comes despite the fact he starts and finishes most of his shifts in the offensive zone.

6. Josh Harding
Of all the NHL goalies who qualify, Harding ranks second in SP to Ben Bishop and leads the league in GAA with an astonishingly low 1.65 mark. In 29 games, he’s 18-7-3 with three shutouts. Sure, the Wild allow the fifth-fewest shots against per game in the league, but I’m not making a Vezina case here, I’m making an MVP case. To strengthen that even further, the Wild stand 7-11-2 in games without Harding. However, he is on the IR now, so he’ll start fading from this list.

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7. Carey Price
His Canadiens rank in the bottom-half of the league in shots-against per game, averaging nearly 30 a night. Price has faced 1,085 shots this season – fourth-most in the league – and has made 1,007 saves, which ranks third. His .928 SP and 2.19 GAA are also among the best at his position. When you consider the Habs are only three points out of first in the Atlantic despite having a defensemen lead them in scoring (with 33 points in 46 games) and with an offence that ranks 21st in the league, you need to look no further than Price to figure out why they’re still in the race.

8. Ben Bishop
Ten NHL goalies have save percentages better than .930 this season, but only two of them have played at least 30 games: Boston’s Tuukka Rask and Tampa Bay’s Bishop. Nine NHL goalies have a GAA below 2.00 so far this season and only one of them has played more than 30 games. No matter how you cut it, Bishop has been stellar for the Stamkos-less Lightning and a leader in their attempt at an Atlantic Division title. Bishop’s four shutouts are also second in the league, one behind Rask. Why didn’t the Americans want him in Sochi?

9. Jonathan Toews
With 47 points in 48 games, Toews is a top 10 scorer in the NHL, but that stat only buttresses his sturdy MVP case. He’s among the most successful faceoff men in the league, is a key cog on Chicago’s penalty kill and power play and is one of just 34 NHLers with multiple shorthanded points so far. The point is, Toews is a major contributor in every facet for the NHL’s second-best team in the standings.

10. Joe Thornton
The big Sharks center has 45 assists this season which, on their own, would tie him for 13th in NHL scoring. He only has five goals, so he’s actually fifth in league scoring, but this point actually hurts his case in my rankings. Thornton is one of, maybe even the best, passer in the NHL today, but he doesn’t shoot enough. His 59 shots (in 46 games) is absurdly low for a top NHL point-getter. He’s terrific at creating scoring chances for others and makes his linemates infinitely better, but he needs to create more for himself to be a No. 1-ranked MVP player in today’s NHL.

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