Alex Steen. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
We’re at the quarter mark of the NHL season, so THN’s Post-to-Post blog will start rolling out weekly Awards Watches. Every Monday, the publishing of Hart Trophy and Norris Trophy Watches will rotate and every Friday the publishing of Calder and Vezina rankings will follow suit. So, without further ado, here is our first look at the MVP, headlined by one of the most unlikely candidates you’d expect to see.
We’re at the quarter mark of the NHL season, so THN’s Post-to-Post blog will start rolling out weekly Awards Watches. Every Monday, the publishing of Hart Trophy and Norris Trophy Watches will rotate and every Friday the publishing of Calder and Vezina rankings will follow suit.
So, without further ado, here is our first look at the MVP, headlined by one of the most unlikely candidates you’d expect to see.
1. Alex Steen, St. Louis
With 17 goals in 19 games, Steen is already only seven goals shy of his career-high of 24 goals in a season. Known more as a checker than a scorer, Steen still covers the defensive side of his game as well, averaging more than two minutes of penalty-kill time per game. He’s one of 29 NHL forwards averaging more than 20 minutes of ice time per game, he leads the NHL in scoring and is a leader on one of the NHL’s top teams. Put it all together and you have the early front-runner for the Hart Trophy. Whether he can keep up this uncharacteristic production for the rest of the season or not will determine his long-term standing.
2. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh
Getting past the hate that will follow one of the most consistently dominant players in the NHL, Crosby is of course a serious Hart contender. With 25 points in 20 games, he’s second to only Steen in league scoring and his 22:44 of ice per game is second among forwards in the NHL.
3. Alex Ovechkin, Washington
Last year’s winner is in the thick of it again this season, leading his Capitals to the top of the Metropolitan Division. Ovechkin has at least one point in six of seven November games so far, including two, two-goal games. Sure Ovechkin doesn’t play the penalty kill, but he still averages 21:01 a night because he’s so important to his team’s success. He hits, he creates chances by taking a league-leading 110 shots and he scores key goals, as his three game-winners so far will attest. Last season he showed just how suddenly he could provide a lift for his team through offense – it’s the reason he took home the Hart. The Sid-Ovie rivalry is back in a big way.
4. John Tavares, New York Islanders
All three of last year’s Hart finalists make this early-season list, which goes to show you the shortened season didn’t cheapen the MVP award. Tavares continues to mature as a leader on the emerging Islanders and an elite NHL contributor. Tavares has at least a point in all but three games this season and is tied with Crosby for second in the league at 25 points. Kyle Okposo (20 points in 21 games) is benefitting from playing in Johnny T’s line.
5. Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim
The most amazing note of Getzlaf’s season so far isn’t the fact he’s tied for sixth in league scoring in a logjam of players who have 23 points – it's that the playmaker already has 10 goals. Getzlaf scored 15 in 44 games last season and has a career high of only 25. It’s unlikely he’ll hit 40 goals, but this scoring thing is adding another dimension to the game of one of the NHL’s most dominant players. Getzlaf wins most of his faceoffs (51.1 percent), logs the third-most PP time on the Ducks and gets some PK time too. There is no moving this guy off the puck.
6. Josh Harding, Minnesota
My colleague Ken Campbell made a case for Harding to be included on Team Canada in February and for a long-time backup to get that kind of consideration would have to mean he’s having an MVP caliber season. Sure, the Wild allowed the fewest shots-against per game, but Harding has held up his end of the bargain by allowing more than two goals only once this season. He has a .946 SP and ridiculous 1.25 GAA with a 12-2-2 record. The Wild are the fifth-best team in the NHL to date and it isn’t because of the offense.
7. Ryan Suter, Minnesota
The Wild defenseman, robbed of a Norris Trophy last season, is making a bid for an even bigger award this season. I mean, honestly, the guy averages 29:36 per game, which is nearly two and a half minutes more than second place. The last time there was this much of a gap in TOI was in 2002-03 when Nicklas Lidstrom (29:20) and Adrian Aucoin (29:00) were more than two minutes ahead of Al MacInnis (26:54). Suter is so important to Minnesota’s second place standing in the Central Division that he’s out there half of the game, and it's actually trending up: Suter has logged more than 30:00 in five of his past six games. He doesn't have a goal yet (13 assists), but Suter's contribution goes beyond the score sheet.
8. Tuukka Rask, Boston
The Bruins’ 29.3 shots-against per game rank 12th in the league and their 2.74 goals are 14th, so the team is still finding its legs. But Rask is a huge reason the B’s are still second in the Atlantic, just three points behind the now Stamkos-less Lightning. Rask’s .943 SP and 1.68 GAA are being outshone by Minnesota’s Harding, but that doesn’t make his performance any less eye-popping. He’s a big reason why Boston is staying afloat, which puts him in the MVP conversation.
9. Matt Duchene, Colorado
The blur on skates had a terrific season last year – his best since his 2010-11 sophomore season. But since it was shortened by the lockout, you could say this has so far been Duchene’s breakout year. With 12 goals and 20 points in 19 games, Duchene is putting himself in the scoring race hunt. The fact he only averages 17:37 per night and doesn’t play much on the PK hurts his MVP value, but the highest-scoring skater on the league’s most surprising team has a place inside the top 10.
10. Kari Lehtonen, Dallas
When Lehtonen is healthy you see just how much of a boost he can give the Stars. He has a .934 SP and 2.01 GAA, but backup Dan Ellis has an .895 SP and 3.60 GAA, which means Dallas would play Lehtonen every game if it could. The Stars are trending up as the Avalanche are trending down, so that fourth position in the Central is suddenly within reach. The question surrounding Lehtonen and the Stars is if this is sustainable over the long-term. For now, Lehtonen is at least on the fringe of the MVP conversation, though he has allowed three or more goals in a game seven times. There are other, better goalie performances to date, but Lehtonen is there.