Welcome back to 2013-14 NHL Preseason Previews and Predictions, where Sport Statricity gives you an in-depth look at the upcoming NHL season. We’ve already finished up the division previews (which you can find here), so let’s take a look at the NHL awards. Here’s the last one: The Hart Memorial Trophy.
Okay, maybe not technically a “preseason” preview any more, but I promised my Hart predictions, and I intend to deliver.
The Hart, one of the most prestigious trophies in the NHL, is awarded to the player adjudged to be most valuable to his team. Despite that phrasing, the Hart is the de facto trophy for the league MVP.
As such, it’s no surprise that many of the greatest players to lace up a pair of skates have taken home the award multiple times, including Eddie Shore four times, Gordie Howe six times and Wayne Gretzky nine times.
Last year’s winner, Alex Ovechkin, already has three Harts on his resume, and another win would put him ahead of such luminaries as Bobby Orr, Mario Lemieux and Bobby Clarke while vaulting him into all-time elite status. However, he has some tough competition this season. Let’s take a look at the contenders.
Alex Ovechkin – Washington Capitals: The reigning champion went on an absolute tear last season after a rough start. He finished with a league leading 32 goals (earning his third Rocket Richard Trophy) to go along with 56 points. What further cemented his win however, was the turnaround the Capitals had which just so happened to correspond with Ovechkin’s hot streak. After a loss to the Penguins on March 19th, Washington went 15-2-2 the rest of the way to clinch their 7th (and final) Southeast Division title, thanks largely to Ovechkin’s amazing play. As one of the most dynamic goal scorers in the world, there’s every chance he could do the same again.
Sidney Crosby – Pittsburgh Penguins: The ying to Ovechkin’s yang, Crosby has long been compared to the Russian phenom. They both entered the league in the same season, and though Crosby has a better career points per game average, he has been able to capture the Hart only once thanks to a series of injuries. Still, when Crosby is healthy, there is no greater hockey player in the world, and that includes Ovechkin. Crosby has elite vision and strength to go along with his shooting and playmaking abilities. The question really isn’t if Crosby can win the Hart or not this season, it’s if he can play enough games. Even last year he nearly had the Hart and a scoring title, despite missing a quarter of the season with a broken jaw. Considering his clean bill of health, and the fact that he already looks fired up, this season bodes well for his chances.
Evgeni Malkin – Pittsburgh Penguins: As much as Crosby means to the Penguins, Malkin is right there beside him. When Sid went down for the majority of the 2011-12 season with a concussion, Malkin took the opportunity to prove his worth. Not only did he lead the league in scoring with 50 goals and 109 points, he also picked up his first Hart Trophy. At only 27 years old, Malkin has already won the Calder, the Hart, the Lindsay, the Conn Smythe, two Art Ross trophies, and the Stanley Cup. Though Malkin has also struggled with injuries, he too appears healthy and ready for a monster season. If Crosby and Malkin can light it up, it bodes well for the Penguin’s chances this year. However, it may also split the Hart voters and neither may end up with the award.
John Tavares – New York Islanders: Tavares was hyped as “the next Crosby” before he entered the league, and he hasn’t disappointed. Though his impact wasn’t so immediate, the 2009 first overall pick has become one of the most elite forwards in the world. Tavares was brilliant in 2012-13, scoring 28 goals and 47 points in 48 games, a pace that he could easily surpass this season. He was also the key piece on an Islanders squad that made the playoffs for the first time since 2006-07. The newly minted Islanders captain is only 23 years old, and ready for a break-out season. With the young Islanders core emerging around him, Tavares might very well snag his first Hart Trophy.
Patrick Kane – Chicago Blackhawks: After winning his first major individual award last year, the Conn Smythe, many are wondering what Kane will do for an encore this season. He was simply brilliant last year, with 74 points in in a combined 70 regular season and playoff games, and his stock appears to be heading even higher. Kane’s smallish stature hasn’t done anything to hinder him from becoming one of the purest offensive threats in the entire world. Jonathan Toews may be the heart of the Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks, but there is no doubt that Kane is the mind, with his brilliant playmaking and a cerebral offensive game that makes him a threat every time he’s on the ice.
Honorable Mention: Steven Stamkos (Tampa Bay Lightning), Eric Staal (Carolina Hurricanes), Jonathan Toews (Chicago Blackhawks) Pavel Datsyuk (Detroit Red Wings), Erik Karlsson (Ottawa Senators), Phil Kessel (Toronto Maple Leafs).
My Pick: I went back and forth on my pick, because any of these great players is capable of stepping above his peers. However, I just can’t ignore the force that is Sidney Crosby. I’ve got a gut feeling that he’s going to play nearly a full season, at which point the decision is a no-brainer.
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