One of the cool things about an 82-game schedule is how vastly things can change over the course of the season.
For instance, early in the 2015-16 campaign I would have bet the farm Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens would be right in the thick of the race for the Hart Trophy. Price became the first goaltender to be named the NHL’s most valuable player last season since Jose Theodore in 2002 and he got off to an amazing start with a 10-2-0 record, 2.06 goals-against average, .934 save percentage with two shutouts this season. It looked very much like he’d be the first goalie since Dominik Hasek in 1997 and 1998 to win the Hart Trophy in back-to-back seasons.
Price suffered a season-ending lower body injury and hasn’t played since Nov. 25. So much for another Hart Trophy…and so much for the Canadiens' season.
There doesn’t seem to be a runaway leader for the Hart Trophy this season, but goalie Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals, Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks, Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars and perhaps Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings will likely receive strong consideration for the award.
There’s no such thing as a second wave of Hart candidates, but there is certainly a group of players who are enjoying terrific seasons nevertheless. Not exactly off the radar, but worthy of acknowledgement. The group includes:
Roberto Luongo, G, Florida Panthers: After a string of pressure-packed seasons with the Vancouver Canucks, it almost seemed like Luongo was heading to Florida with the rest of the Canadian snowbirds to ride out his career in a place where hockey existed, but didn’t necessarily matter. Thanks to some aggressive rebuilding by Panthers GM Dale Tallon, the Panthers find themselves in the thick of things and could be in for a long playoff run. Luongo has certainly done his part. His 32 wins are the most he has recorded in a season since he won 38 in 2010-11. At 36 Luongo has proven there is still plenty left in the tank.
Joe Thornton, C, San Jose Sharks: Jumbo Joe used to be a regular among the NHL’s top 10 scorers. Even won the Art Ross Trophy in 2005-06. Thornton has not been in the top 10 since 2009-10, but there he is this season sitting at No. 5 with 18 goals and 76 points in 78 games. Maybe this is the season Thornton and Co. finally enjoy some playoff success, too.
Brad Marchand, LW, Boston Bruins: If you are not a fan of the Boston Bruins, you probably view Marchand as a pain in the butt. His abrasive style gets under the skin of opponents and their fans, yet there is no denying Marchand has become an impact player for the Bruins. His 35 goals have eclipsed his previous single-season high by seven.
Brent Burns, D, San Jose Sharks: The competition for the Norris Trophy seemingly is a two-horse race featuring Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators and Doughty of the Kings. And then there is Burns who leads all D-men with 27 goals and ranks 10th overall in scoring with 73 points in 78 games. He has to be in the Norris conversation.
Vladimir Tarasenko, RW, St. Louis Blues: For years the Blues were David Backes’s team, but in the past two years there has been a shift. Tarasenko, 24, is driving the bus now. The speedy right winger does things at top speed that others can only dream of. Tarasenko has 10 goals in his past 12 playoff games.
Roman Josi, D, Nashville Predators: Very quietly Josi has eclipsed captain Shea Weber as the Predators go-to defenseman. Josi leads Nashville defenders in scoring with 13 goals and 57 points in 78 games and also leads the team in ice time per game at 25:28. Wouldn’t it be something if Josi wins the Norris before Weber? Weber was the runner-up in 2010 and 2011.
Boone Jenner, C, Columbus Blue Jackets: It has been a disastrous season for the Blue Jackets, but that has not slowed down third year pro Jenner. The 22-year-old has 29 goals (four more than he combined for in his first two seasons) and has established himself as a player who could play successfully in any era.
Connor McDavid, C, Edmonton Oilers: The No. 1 pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft is easily the league’s best rookie, but the fact he missed 37 games with a shoulder injury may hurt him in voting for the Calder Trophy. Voters might like to keep in mind that with 15 goals and 45 points in 42 games, McDavid ranks third in points-per-game in the NHL. He’d get my vote as top freshman.