Another NHL season is upon us, and the usual suspects could very well recapture the Hart Trophy in 2013-14. But the NHL is a league of substance and depth, therefore, we may see a new name on the MVP trophy, when all is said and done.
Alex Ovechkin leads current players with 3 Harts. After him, a bunch of players have 1, including Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Henrik Sedin, Martin St. Louis, Jaromir Jagr, Corey Perry and Jose Theodore if he’s still around.
Those guys are good, but it’s a stretch to think one of them has this season’s Hart on lock in a league where anything is possible. Here are some serious candidates to become first time Hart Trophy winners in the NHL this season.
Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks
Bobby Lou was all but cast out of Vancouver a few months ago, but things have changed. He enters the 2013-14 season with a lot to prove about his ability to still get it done.
It would be a feel good story if the league’s most shunned player of 2013 bounced back and won the Hart. To Luongo’s credit, he is still considered one of the best players in the game, and this being an Olympic year, he has even more to prove. He’ll probably do as always, and exceed expectations.
Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers
If I had to throw a few bucks on it, I’d say Henrik Lundqvist is the most likely Hart candidate among NHL net minders. He’s amazing every season; there is no question about his ability to perform at the highest level.
This is a contract year for the Rangers’ lead man, and we all know what superstars do in contract years. Lundqvist could very well have the best performance of his career this season, leading to a Hart Trophy and Vezina win for the game’s most high profile goaltender.
Cory Schnedier of the New Jersey Devils
Well, if Luongo’s not going to do it, may as well be his former partner in crime, Cory Schneider. Schnides joins the New Jersey Devils, a team no one has given a chance to make the playoffs since Ilya Kovalchuk decided to leave the Americas for the KHL.
What stacks the odds against Schneider even more is that he joins a team with the most legendary goalie in NHL history on its roster. Martin Brodeur may be on in age, but he’s still the man in New Jersey.
All that being said, the situation couldn’t be more perfect for Schneider. Brodeur has had trouble staying healthy of late, and the Devils will excel playing a very constricting defensive style conducive to strong goaltending performances. If Marty takes an injury and the Devils do what they do best defensively, Cory could have a season worth remembering.
Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens
No goalie in the NHL enters this season, or any other, with higher expectations than the Montreal Canadiens’ Carey Price. He’s been great throughout his career with the Habs, but it often feels like there is more in store for the former 5th overall pick.
Watching Price is enjoyable. He is arguably the league’s best combination of raw talent and calm positional ability. So, it’s a surprise he hasn’t won a bunch of Vezinas yet.
The Habs look good this season and Price may be overly motivated to do especially well with a spot on Team Canada in his sights. This could be the year for Carey Price.
It’s really rare for a defenceman to win the Hart Trophy. In fact, over the last 40 years only two have made it happen – their names are Bobby Orr and Chris Pronger. As rare as it is, there are a few NHL defenceman with growing reputations as game changing players. Some of these blue liners could enjoy the rare distinction of Hart Trophy winning defenceman in 2013-14.
P. K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens
P. K. took the league by storm in last year’s shortened lockout season, scoring a league leading 39 points. If his performance throughout 2012-13 was only the tip of the ice berg, expect something monumental from the Habs rearguard in the months to come.
Subban has all the weapons needed to produce at the highest level. He’s another year older and wiser, splitting the lead with Andrei Markov on one of the league’s strongest defence corps.’ The sky is the limit for P. K. this season.
Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins
What hasn’t Zdeno Chara done over the last five NHL seasons? Win the Hart, is the answer. But that’s about it as far as accomplishments within reasonable reach for someone who dominates the game the way Z does.
If we’re talking most valuable player to his team, I’d like to see what the Bruins would be without him for a few months (knock on wood). As good as their blue line is, there is no replacing what the NHL’s steadiest defensive defenceman brings to the ice every single night of the season. Oh, and he can score. Chara has the hardest shot in hockey.
Ryan Suter of the Minnesota Wild
Ryan Suter carries a heavy workload in Minny for his Wild, and he does it effectively. The Wild defender is a work hoarse, earning a reputation as one of the game’s best big minute men. His heavily relied upon responsibilities border in comparison to Chris Chelios in his glory days, as far as TOI goes.
Suter took a huge step forward last season becoming a Norris Trophy candidate for the first time in his career. In 2013-14 he may take his game another step further and challenge for the Hart.
Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators
Last season was a setback year for Erik Karlsson, but the season before he was looking like the most offensively gifted defenceman to play in the NHL since Paul Coffey.
Which Karlsson shows up this year is undetermined, but there is no denying his ability to dominate play, even at 5 on 5, which is something no other NHL defenceman can do as often or as effectively as him.
He’s still young, thus, this season could see another massive step forward for the Sens’ franchise player. If it’s a big step forward, it could be groundbreaking by today’s NHL defencemen standard. A groundbreaking performance by a defenceman could be just what the Hart Trophy needs.
Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators
Some very smart hockey people will tell you that Shea Weber is the best defeneman in the National Hockey League, and they may be right about that. The Preds’ cornerstone player is unbelievably dominant. Winning a Hart may be a stretch for a player like Shea, but not impossible.
Playing in Nashville may hurt Weber’s claim as a Hart Trophy candidate, because the Preds don’t get a ton of attention. That being said, Webs can dominate over the course of 82 games. He can be the exception to the rule that you have to play in a big market to win major NHL awards.
Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks
Twitter went insane when last season’s Hart Trophy nominees were announced and Jonathan Toews wasn’t one of them. For how much longer will the 2-time Stanley Cup winning, former Conn Smythe capturing Blackhawks captain be ignored? Well, maybe not too much longer.
Toews probably won’t win the scoring title, this is true. But he is more about winning on a team than shining individually. Compared to his Hart winning contemporaries, he has them all beat in Cups, and he’s often a major factor in winning those Cups.
Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks
Like his fellow Hawk, Kane has a Conn Smythe to his name as well. The Conn Smythe is a step above the Hart, you could say. It is awarded to the most valuable player at the most valuable time of year – the playoffs. While Kane has been close in Hart Trophy voting in the past, he has not made the final three, let alone won. This season that could very easily change if the Hawks most identifiable talent improves on last season’s near perfect performance.
Milan Lucic of the Boston Bruins
All Milan Lucic needs to do if he’d like to challenge for the Hart, is to play the upcoming 82 game NHL schedule the way he did the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Lucic dominated throughout the Bruins Cup run, at times looking like an unstoppable inhuman force.
Lucic has never been the type of player to score amongst league leaders or win Rocket Richards, but there is more to his game than just numbers. He’s a rare breed of machinery. He’ll score against your best goalie and then beat up your toughest 4th liner.
Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins
If Milan Lucic is to be mentioned in Hart Trophy conversation, Patrice Bergeron belongs in the conversation too. Bergie is basically amazing at everything. His world wide rep suffers from a secondary offensive number output, but he makes up for that with flawless defensive hockey.
Bergeron will never get the respect he deserves from most NHL fans because his strongest attributes are qualities that often go unnoticed by most. And it’s not just that he’s good at the little things, which wouldn’t be noteworthy at all, he’s actually great at the little things – far superior than most.
Winning a Hart is a stretch for a guy like Patrice Bergeron, but not an impossibility.
Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals
The Caps stud centre is perhaps the most underrated offensive talent in the entire NHL. Very few control the game as proficiently as the Washington’s number 19.
Far too often, people think of Nicklas Backstrom as a beneficiary of Ovechkin’s elite scoring ability, but the truth is, you could strongly argue the opposite. Nick Backstrom is a major influence on the success of Alex Ovechkin. One of the league’s best playmakers and most patient offensive talents, Nick Backstrom is a 100 point scorer with all the right tools to dominate every opponent, every night.
Daniel Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks
Daniel Sedin has already won an Art Ross trophy as the NHL’s leading scorer, so, a Hart Trophy win wouldn’t be too unexpected. But the Canucks scoring winger would be a first timer if he could accomplish the incredible feat.
The Sedins enter this season under a new coaching staff, on a team with questions. However, most agree the Canucks still have a lot going for them. Daniel Sedin may be the catalyst in a Canucks revival, leading them to another division title and potentially, another scoring title, this time with a Hart Trophy to go with it.
Phil Kessel of the Toronto Maple Leafs
Phil The Thrill has established himself as one of hockey’s most lethal offensive weapons over the last few seasons. Often knocked for his lack of defensive compete level and physicality, Kessel has proven on multiple occasions that the good greatly outweighs the bad in terms of on ice performance.
Phil Kessel is the man in Toronto. He leads the charge on one of the league’s most offensively potent clubs and he does so with as much flash and finish as almost anyone in hockey. Phil has more of an edge lately, and that could translate to an even greater production rate than we’ve come to expect from him. If Kessel does have another level to take his game, we’re talking leading scorer in the NHL and serious threat for the Hart.
Rick Nash of the New York Rangers
Rick Nash is not unlike Phil Kessel, in that he’s played most of his NHL career in the wrong situation. Other than that, Nash is a scoring machine and dominant offensive weapon with one of the league’s most unique skill sets.
The Rangers enter 2013-14 with a new head coach and the identity of a stay at home, defensive club. Defence is an awesome winning tactic, but the Rangers will need goals too if they plan on winning hockey games. Rick Nash is going to score a lot of those goals.
Logan Couture of the San Jose Sharks
Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the Shark Tank, Logan Couture has emerged as one of the NHL’s top scorers and offensive weapons. He enjoyed the luxury of Thornton and Marleau in his first few seasons, but it’s hit the point where Couture is now the man, and all signs indicate, he is going to tear up the league this season.
In the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs the Sharks 2nd line centre looked more like a first line centre, causing fits for some of the best defensive teams in the league. He can take a huge step forward in 2013-14 and cement himself as one of the best players in the National Hockey League.
Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings
Somehow, Pavel Datsyuk has not won the Hart Trophy yet. That’s probably because he doesn’t win scoring titles. But he does win Selkes, and Stanley Cups. If the Wings lost their top scoring Russian centre they would be half the team. There is no replacing what Datsyuk provides on a nightly basis. That’s valuable.
The creator of Datsyukian Dekes may not win the Hart Trophy once again, but if he does, it won’t be a huge surprise. It’s an Olympic season – the tournament held in his home country. Maybe Datsyuk will be so pumped for the Games, he’ll take it out on defence corps’ and goaltenders in the first half of the NHL season.
Henrik Zetterberg of the Detroit Red Wings
The other incredible Red Wings’ forward, Henrik Zetterberg, has a Conn Smythe already, why not a Hart? WIth a move to the Eastern Conference things should be slightly easier for all the Wings, including their captain, Hank. Less travel and a few more bottom feeder teams scheduled than usual should allow for some easier nights this season.
Zetterberg is somewhat underrated in the East, because he’s played most of his hockey in western towns over the years. This season, he’ll be in front of the right eyes, who vote on stuff like the Hart Trophy, and he’ll have as good a shot as any to win it.
John Tavares of the New York Islanders
Tavares could have won the Hart last season, to be fair. The Islanders franchise superstar was unbelievable in 2013 and there is no reason he won’t be even better this year. John Tavares, recently named Captain, is one of the game’s best talents, it’s that simple.
J.T. will shine for the Isles this season, probably challenging for a spot in the top 5 scorers while making another really strong case for the Hart, especially if the Islanders can duplicate last season’s trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Claude Giroux of the Philadelphia Flyers
The last time the NHL played an 82 game schedule, Claude Giroux was one of the best players in the league, in almost every aspect of the game. There is no reason to believe this year we won’t see much of the same from the Flyers lead.
Giroux will shine for the Flyers in a bounce back season with a birth in the Stanley Cup playoffs being the ultimate goal. On the journey back to the post season, there will be many goalies who fall victim to Claude Giroux’s offensive weapons. He has Hart potential, like few other in the league.
Tyler Seguin of the Dallas Stars
Wouldn’t it be something if the Dallas Stars’ newly acquired star player won the Hart Trophy? Not too long ago in recent hockey history the Boston Bruins traded another one of their high draft picks to the Western Conference, and that guy won the Hart Trophy his first season out west.
Tyler Seguin will be like a dog off leash in Dallas, playing a less restricting style, on a more offensively green lighted team, while enjoying a much more significant scoring role. Let’s see how far he can take it.
Taylor Hall of the Edmonton Oilers
Taylor Hall finished top 10 in league scoring last season, a huge accomplishment. While he tries to lead his Oilers to a Stanley Cup playoff birth this year, offensive numbers could sky rocket to even greater heights, and we all know that huge offensive numbers are one of the surest ways to win the NHL’s Hart Trophy.
Hall is one of the most exciting players in the NHL. He also has incredible high end potential that allowed him to be drafted 1st overall in 2010. 1st overall picks have won 5 of the last 8 Harts.
Eric Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes
The Canes captain had a monster offensive season one year ago but it wasn’t enough to get his club into the Eastern Conference playoff picture. A full season with Alex Semin on his wing could change everything.
Eric Staal is one of the most dominant centres in the NHL – he’ll score a ton goals and assists this season reminding everyone of that. Winning the Hart is no easy task for anyone, but Staal has all the tools to make it happen.
Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning
With Vinny Lecavalier gone, Steven Stamkos may wear the “C” for the Lightning this season – he’s growing up. On top of possibly being captain, Stamkos can accomplish other great new heights in 2013-14 by winning his first scoring title and Hart Trophy on top.
The Bolts’ top shooter has developed into a strong all round player over the last few seasons. Another step in the right direction and a little more support from his mates in the quest for a playoff birth, and voila, Stamkos gets his name on the league’s MVP, for the first time in his career, and probably not the last.