Gregg Patton draws up a list of four contenders for the Hart Memorial Trophy this season.
NHL: Sidney Crosby injury opens door for Hart Memorial Trophy
Two weeks ago, the Hart Memorial Trophy, honouring the NHL's most valuable player, could have been mailed early to Sidney Crosby's home.
Instead, a deflected puck shattered the Pittsburgh Penguins star's mouth and jaw, putting the league's most prestigious piece of hardware back in play.
Not only was Crosby leading the league in scoring by 10 points over Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning, his brilliant play had helped boost the Penguins to a 15-game winning streak and a healthy lead in the Eastern Conference standings.
The fact that, in Crosby's absence, Pittsburgh lost their next two games by a cumulative 10-2, and struggled to win a shoot-out on Friday, may have bolstered the argument that the 25-year-old centre was, indeed, the NHL's most irreplaceable superstar.
"Sid's the best player in the game, obviously," his linemate, Pascal Dupuis, said in an offhand comment to NHL.com that could hardly be challenged.
The Penguins are cautiously hoping Crosby will return before the end of the regular season April 27. But if he does not make it back, Hart voters will have to decide if Crosby's participation in 36 of the team's 48 games will be good enough to warrant the award.
Surely, goal-scoring machine Stamkos, with 25 goals and 23 assists, will overtake Crosby for the scoring title. But the Lightning are wallowing out of play-off contention, and Stamkos is a one-trick pony who, for all of his scoring, has a minus-4 rating. Hardly MVP material.
But these players do have a shot now:
Patrick Kane, Chicago. The Blackhawks youngster has a team-leading 19 goals and 25 assists. He has blossomed into the flashy face of the franchise, who lead the Western Conference and have caught the fancy of the public by recording a point in their first 24 games.
Jonathan Toews, Chicago. If Kane is the glitz, Toews is the glue. The team captain has 18 goals and 22 assists. His plus-22 rating is almost silly, and he is a special defensive forward who leads the league in takeaways.
Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim. With 13 goals and 30 assists, and a plus-15 rating, team captain Getzlaf has the Ducks positioned to swoop past the Blackhawks for best record.
Then who is the MVP?
Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus. The 24-year-old Russian goaltender is a long shot. But if Columbus reach the postseason, with the worst scoring team in the league, how can its goalie, with a .930 save percentage and 2.09 goals against number, not be considered?
All, of course, have their own "ifs." With three weeks to go, the Hart still may be Crosby's to lose.