After a long, dry summer, it’s finally time for the weather to cool down and for hockey pucks to drop around the country. With the start of a new season come the yearly predictions of who wins what when the season is over. Today, let's talk about the players who can win the NHL’s Most Valuable Player award, otherwise known as the Hart Trophy. The usual suspects are back to claim the prize, but there are a few new faces who are trying to win it for the first time.
The three-time MVP is looking to become the first four-time winner since The Great One, Wayne Gretzky. After scoring more than 50 goals in consecutive seasons, the Russian sniper seems poised to lead the league in scoring for a fourth straight season. This is after many critics wrote him off after a few years of down production. In actuality, the decline of his numbers can be traced back to then-head coach, Bruce Boudreau, when he attempted to transform the Capitals into a defensive-orientated team. Since then, Washington has gone through two coaches and Ovechkin has been labeled a coach killer. However, he appears to be settling in with Barry Trotz, who came over from Nashville before last season. With TJ Oshie on his line this season, the ice should open up a bit more for the 30-year-old captain who has improved his even strength scoring.
It appears as though Sid the Kid has made it past the injury-plagued chapter of his career. He’s looking to stay healthy for the third straight season after battling concussions and a broken jaw for a three-year period. This season he’ll be working with the same core of players he’s been playing with for years, but this year he’ll have Phil Kessel on his line. The 30-goal scorer from Toronto will give the Penguins captain more opportunities to score and earn more assists. Some would consider 28 goals in a season an accomplishment, but not Crosby. He’s looking to get his production back up to where it needs to be for his team to be successful. Like Ovechkin, he’s settling into a new coaching regime as Mike Johnston prepares to lead the Penguins for a second year. If everything goes to plan, Crosby will join Ovechkin as the only active players with three MVP awards.
The Tampa Bay Lightning took the league by storm - pun unintended - last season, coming just two games short of the Stanley Cup. This year the league will expect the warm-weathered franchise to be just as good if not better than before. The upstart Lightning are led by a 25-year-old superstar who hasn’t even hit his prime yet. In four of his seven NHL seasons, he has scored at least 43 goals topping out at 60 in the 2011-12 season. With another healthy season, and more production from his teammates, the young captain arguably has the best shot at winning the Hart Trophy. Not to mention the fact that this is a contract year for the young scorer which means he’s looking to get paid. To get paid you have to go all out when it matters the most. Financially, this is a make or break year for Stamkos. If I was a betting man, I would put my money on him to play like the MVP that he could be.
The New York Islanders have been in the playoffs two of the last three years. This is due in large part to their new, young nucleus led by Tavares. The 30-goal scorer is on the verge of leading his team to heights they haven’t seen since the dynasty days of the early 1980s. With more playoff experience, and the best player in the league 25 and under, the Islanders are poised to make a big splash this season. More regular season victories will lead to more Hart Trophy votes for the young captain.
With Carey Price winning the Hart Trophy last season, it’s not hard to imagine another goalie winning it again this year. The Rangers have been knocking on Lord Stanley’s door for the last three years. Simply put, they’re due. Which means Lundqvist is due to win the MVP. He’s arguably the biggest reason why they’re able to compete in the rough and tough Eastern Conference playoffs. When the playoffs begin, you usually go as far as your goalie will take you. Needless to say, the Rangers netminder’s resume speaks for itself. Lundqvist is ready to win some hardware this year.
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