With the 2007-08 NHL regular season winding down, all talk is directed at the potential playoff match-ups as well as who will win which individual awards, in particular, the Hart trophy for the player deemed most valuable to his team.
This year, it seems that it is not as cut and dry as in previous years, in particular, last year when phenom Sydney Crosby was a runaway favourite for the honour. No, this year, in the new NHL, there is arguably a race to the last game of the Stanley Cup final before all voters really can decide on who will be the 2008 recipient. Here are some of my arguments for some candidates that, according to me, should be considered:
My pick is Martin Brodeur- New Jersey Devils. Brodeur has never won the award although he backstopped the Devils to 3 Stanley Cups since he's been with the team. OK, so he's won 3 Vezinas (for best goaltender) during that time and many will say that the reason he was "so good" during this same span was that he had the help of all-star defensemen like Scott Stevens, Brian Rafalski, and Scott Niedermayer to name a few.
Well, Brodeur has seen defensemen as well as coaches come and go in Jersey during his tenure with the team and he is presently en route to his 12th consecutive season with at least 34 wins. He is two wins away from his 3rd consecutive with at least 40. At 37 years old and with less support on the blue line than in previous years, it seems this goalie is improving with age. Playing on a team that produces only 2.51 goals per game (26th in the league) the team is presently in a dead heat for first overall in the east. The Devils are the last team any opponent wants to meet in the first round (or any round) of the playoffs for the simple reason that if the Devils get a go ahead goal, a hot Brodeur could stonewall them out of the series.
If this doesn't say MVP, I don't know what does.
Alexander Ovechkin-Washington Capitals. He will win the Maurice Richard trophy (50 goals or more in a season) and is there any other player more electrifying in the league to watch? Unfortunately for him, his team will probably not make the playoffs and this will hurt his chances (although it shouldn't) with the voters.
Sydney Crosby/Evegeni Malkin-Pittsburgh Penguins. In reality, these two actually cancel each other out. Malkin, while a steady producer for the team, still seemed to hide behind team-mate Sidney Crosby's shadow, until Crosby got injured and then he really poured it on taking over the league's scoring title in the process. The question remained, where was this superstar performance before Crosby went down? Crosby, on the other hand (who won the honour last year) saw his team not miss a step since his injury and maintained their place among the top (they are presently 1st in the east) in the conference.
Jarome Iginla-Calgary Flames. He skates, he passes, he scores, he fights, he leads. This guy can do it all. He has 42 goals so far (20 % of the teams total) and has, so far, led the Flames to 3rd place in the West. He is the heart and soul of this team, year in, year out. There is no team that would not want Jarome playing for them as he makes any team instantly better. Period.
Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklas Lidstrom-Detroit Redwings. With a plus 34, 27 and 39 respectively, these three are THE reason the Redwings are an untouchable 1st overall in the NHL. If I had to pick one, I would ask for a tie between any 2! The forwards combine for 28% of the teams goals and are both responsible defensively and speaking of defence, Nicklas Lidstrom is the backbone and quiet leader of this Detroit team. Used in virtually all scenarios : PP, PK, as well as against all other team's best lines, he has managed to maintain a miraculous + 39 in the process. All the while, the big shoes he had to fill as Steve Yzerman's replacement as captain was a smooth and reassuring transition for the team that has never wavered in the standings in years.
Of course, these are just my humble opinions and as the stats change, so may the minds of the people that count- the sports writers with the privilege and responsibility of naming such people to infamy. Miss the playoffs, lose in the 1st round, or conversely, win the Stanley cup against all odds or go farther than any pundit gave you a chance to and all bets are off.