Andrei Markov could be in for a big season in Montreal. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)
Most teams have a star player who can take a run at the Hart Trophy as league MVP in any given year. But what about their supporting casts? Here is a rundown of potential MVP candidates who you may not see coming.
When Anaheim stormed through the 2007 playoffs en route to the Ducks’ first Stanley Cup, Ryan Getzlaf was being compared to a young Mark Messier. Like the Oilers/Rangers legend, Getzlaf is a big No. 1 center who can play it mean and tough, or with skill and finesse.
Well, of course there’s Ilya Kovalchuk, but for a far-out-there thought, how about goalie Kari Lehtonen? The 24-year-old was the second overall pick in 2002, has the pedigree and has shown flash of a potential star, but has been injury-prone and inconsistent to this point in his still-young NHL career as well.
Patrice Bergeron could get more than a few sympathy votes if he comes back with a vengeance after a washout of a year last season when he missed 72 games due to concussion symptoms.
Two seasons ago, Maxim Afinogenov burst out of the gates and had people making Pavel Bure comparisons. Last year…not so much, after he scored just 10 goals in 56 games. He’s no Bure, but Afinogenov is much better than last season’s debacle.
The Flames already have three hardware hopefuls in Jarome Iginla, Dion Phaneuf and Miikka Kiprusoff. And way out there in left field – actually, left wing – is Mike Cammalleri and his sublime offensive skills.
Since Eric Staal is too high-profile, how about another player on the Canes’ roster who already has been a long shot MVP? That, of course, is Cam Ward, who copped the Conn Smythe in 2006 when Carolina won the Stanley Cup.
Forget young guns Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Forget big-money import Brian Campbell. Forget the two-headed, $12-million goalie monster of Nikobal Huetabulin. And since you’ve also already forgotten about oft-injured Martin Havlat, let’s look at the other end of the ice and go with two-way defenseman Duncan Keith, one of the more underrated players in the NHL.
Paul Stastny had a 20-game point streak as a rookie two years ago and took over the Avs last season when Joe Sakic went down with an injury. So what’s Stastny to do as an encore in Year 3? An off-the-radar Hart would be a good start.
Kristian Huselius, the league’s most valuable player? Well, he’s one of the most skilled and you know he’s going to have big games when the Jackets face his old team, the Calgary Flames (and old coach, Mike Keenan).
Fabian Brunnstrom, we hardly know you. But if you’re as good as everyone claims we might as well make you the NHL MVP right now.
Eliminate Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Marian Hossa and Nicklas Lidstrom; they’re too obvious. So who’s left? How about Niklas Kronwall, whose skill is surpassed only by his big hits.
Lubomir Visnovsky has flirted with Norris Trophy contention in recent seasons, usually fading by the three-quarter mark. He’ll get every opportunity in Edmonton.
Nathan Horton is 23 years old and has averaged about 30 goals per season the past three years. Yet, he’s been cast as a disappointment; a player who hasn’t figured out how to put it all together. Maybe this is the year.
Anze Kopitar is on everyone’s list, but don’t forget about Alexander Frolov. At 26, he’s got five years on Kopitar.
Brent Burns, how high can you fly?
Sure, the Habs have Alex Kovalev, Carey Price and Alex Tanguay, but defenseman Andrei Markov plays 25 minutes a night, in all situations and has 70-point potential.
At this point, it would be a pretty big surprise if Alexander Radulov turned up at all, never mind turn in an MVP-caliber season.
He’s not exactly a forgotten man, but what about Martin Brodeur? No matter who New Jersey has on defense, Brodeur is his usual brilliant self and the Devils keep on winning.
The Isles have several non-MVP candidates; let’s pick Mike Comrie for a breakout performance that will make Hillary Duff proud.
Markus Naslund is born again on Broadway.
Martin Gerber, stand tall and play proud.
Simon Gagne is the best player this side of Patrice Bergeron to miss basically all of last season due to concussion symptoms.
To paraphrase the teacher in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: (Peter) Mueller…Mueller…Mueller…Mueller…
How about the third-best center on the Penguins as the NHL’s best player? Let’s see that rookie season again, Jordan Staal, except with 40 goals – including 10 shorthanded – and 80 points this time.
It’s too soon to talk trophies when it comes to Erik Johnson, but the 20-year-old defenseman will get at least 20 minutes a night.
Dan Boyle and Jonathan Cheechoo have the talent, support and motivation for big seasons.
If you hear that a Lightning defenseman or goaltender has won the Hart, try to find a portal back to this season.
Maybe Vesa Toskala, if he stops 35 shots a game (which is realistic) and the Leafs make the playoffs (which isn’t).
The little-known Sedin triplet – i.e. whomever gets to play on the right side with Henrik and Daniel. Steve Bernier, NHL MVP? You read it here first.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if last year’s Hart man, Alex Ovechkin, wins it again. But it would be a surprise if either of the Caps’ other two former Hart winners give it a run: Sergei Fedorov (1994) and Jose Theodore (2002).
Sam McCaig’s From The Point column appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Have a point to make with Sam McCaig? You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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