Can a player be the most valuable in the league if his team doesn't make the playoffs?
The answer, at least in my eyes, is a loud "no." With so little difference between some of the biggest and best contributors in the game, it should be a defining factor if a player can't lift his team into the post-season. Heck, John Tavares' case last season had so much to do with the fact he led the Islanders to the post-season.
At this juncture in the season, there is still a lot of hockey to be played, so if your team is in, or close to being in the playoffs, you're still an MVP candidate in my books. But the Islanders are now 11 points out of a playoff spot (Maple Leafs get the crossover seed at 31 points), which is too far out - it also doesn't bode well for their future. This is enough to knock Tavares out of the top 10 of this week's list.
The last time we did a Hart Watch two weeks ago, Alex Steen was the surprise and, somewhat controversial, leader. He falls a little this week, but he's still very much in contention with some of the best players in the game. Let's take a look.
1. Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim
Time to give credit where credit is due. The big Ducks center is now more than halfway to his career high goal total of 25 and is only two goals away from equaling his total from last season. With 31 points in 26 games, Getzlaf is five behind league-leader Sidney Crosby. But Getzlaf plays an integral role on the Ducks' PK unit as well. Getzlaf was already a deadly, almost untouchable centre in the NHL - and now he's added goal scoring to his bag of tricks.
2. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh
I initially put Crosby No. 1 on this list, but had to defer to the Western Conference. Still, Crosby's league-leading point total for the Metropolitan-leading Penguins is nothing to sneeze at. He has only one more point than teammate Evgeni Malkin, but also averages roughly two-and-a-half more minutes of ice time per game than the Russian. Let the debate ring out, but it's pretty clear which of these players Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma leans on more. And that's the one getting the MVP nod here.
3. Alex Steen, St. Louis
The most unlikely top contender for the MVP so far looked like he might have been coming back to Earth during a three-game scoring drought from Nov. 17-21, but he has five points in four games since then, so, maybe this is for real? Steen is just keeping it going with 20 goals and 31 points in 25 games, including five game-winning goals. Whether or not you think he'll be ranked this high for the Hart at the end of the season is a moot point. He's doing it right now and until that stops, you better believe he's a contender.
4. Jonathan Toews, Chicago
One of the best, if not the best, two-way, all-round player in the game, Toews isn't as flashy or immediately noticeable as extrovert teammate Patrick Kane, but he's a stabilizing force. With 25 points in 28 games, Toews offense isn't going to lead the league, but his MVP bid relies on everything else he does to add to his package. He wins 56.5 percent of his draws; he averages the second-most PK minutes per game among forwards with the Hawks; and he gets nearly three more shifts per game than Kane (who is somehow a minus player). This nomination isn't to take anything away from Kane, a terrific player in his own right, but on the Hawks, Toews is MVP.
5. Alex Ovechkin, Washington
Well this one is easy: league leader in goals (21) who has more than twice as many markers as the next scorer on his team. Washington sits second in the Metropolitan Division with 82 goals scored, so Ovie has been responsible for more than a quarter of his team's goals. That's ridiculous.
6. Carey Price, Montreal
The Canadian Olympic goalie situation is becoming less of a question and more of a certainty with each game Carey Price plays. With a .937 SP and 2.00 GAA, Price is among the league leaders at his position with exceptional numbers, despite the fact Montreal's 30.7 shots-against per game ranks in the bottom third of the league. Now that the Canadiens are scoring (28 goals in their past 10 games) they're putting up some wins, which will strengthen Price's MVP bid.
7. Josh Harding, Minnesota
Right behind Price in save percentage and well ahead with a 1.52 GAA, Harding has been having a season for the ages so far. The difference is Minnesota is one of the best shut down teams in the league, holding other teams to 25 shots-against per game. Harding may get the nod over Price for the Vezina today, but not on my MVP list.
8. Ryan Suter, Minnesota
Still logging an average of nearly half a game per night, Suter is an extremely reliable defender on one of the best shutdown teams in the league. If he wins the Hart at the end of the season, a long shot to be sure, it wouldn't be for his points, but rather for the plethora of things he does that do not show up on the score sheet.
9. Joe Thornton, San Jose
The 34-year-old is still one of the most dominant big centers in the game - he's a guy who can lift a team by pulling the defense to one side, and passing it to the other. He's second to Malkin in the league in assists with 25 and has 29 points in 26 games. Honorable mentions to Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau in San Jose.
10. Patrick Kane, Chicago
I despise putting two forwards from the same team on lists like these, but it's hard to separate Kane and Toews. They do different things on the ice, and where Toews dominates the face-off dot and plays in all situations, Kane is Chicago's game-breaker. He leads the Hawks with 30 points and his five game-winning goals are tied for tops on the league. However, as useless a stat as plus-minus is, it can have value when you compare similar players on the same team. In this case, Kane is somehow a minus-3 on the Hawks. That hurts him in my books.