The three nominees for the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player are to be announced Thursday, but it will likely come down to a two-man race between the consistency of Daniel Sedin and the late-season magic of Corey Perry.
Martin St. Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning is a strong guess to be the third player nominated, but the veteran winger who finished second to Sedin in the scoring race with 99 points and had much to do with the Lightning's return to post-season play after a three-year absence has been a distant third in a Hart debate that has centred on Sedin and Perry.
Of course, there likely would be no debate at all had Pittsburgh captain and 2007 Hart winner Sidney Crosby not been decked at the outdoor Winter Classic game on Jan. 1 and again in the Penguins' next game. He missed the rest of the season with concussion symptoms.
At the time, Crosby was the runaway scoring leader with 32 goals and 66 points in 41 games.
But he is not expected to be in the running when the award winners for the 2010-11 season are announced June 22 in Las Vegas. Voting for the Hart was conducted at the end of the regular season among members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.
Sedin is bidding to match his brother and Vancouver Canucks teammate Henrik, who won the Hart and the Art Ross Trophy as NHL scoring leader last year. Daniel's already got the Art Ross with his 104-point campaign, including 41 goals. If he is named MVP, they would be the first brothers to win back-to-back Hart trophies.
Perry has locked up the Maurice (Rocket) Richard Trophy as goal-scoring leader with 50 goals for the Anaheim Ducks—the only NHLer to reach that total this season. But his Hart votes stem from the way he led the Ducks to a playoff spot with a remarkable late-season scoring binge.
Even the Hart qualification that it should go to the player most valuable "to his team" is a close call between Sedin and Perry.
Sedin was a rock of consistency all season for Vancouver, helping the Canucks win their first President's Trophy as the first-place overall team with 117 points—10 more than second-place Washington. They also set a club record with 54 victories.
He had personal highs in points and in goals with 41, which tied for fourth in the league with teammate Ryan Kesler, who may also have some Hart votes. Sedin was also plus-30 on the NHL's highest-scoring team.
"Our goal the last few years has been to be consistent every night," Daniel told NHL.com of the identical twins' approach to the game. "That's more key to us than scoring goals or points."
Daniel Sedin missed 19 games with an injury last season and Henrik got the Hart partly because he didn't miss a beat without him en route to a 112-point campaign. This season, both Sedins played all 82 games, with Henrik finishing fourth with 19 goals and a league-leading 75 assists, so he too will probably get some votes.
Perry's appeal comes largely from the way he carried the Ducks over the last month of the season, when despite injuries to star centre Ryan Getzlaf and goaltender Jonas Hiller they rose from 11th to fourth in the Western Conference with a flurry of wins (only to lose in the first round of playoffs to Nashville).
The 25-year-old scored 19 goals in the final 14 games.
"He's a guy you can always ask more of because he's prepared and he's willing and he's always thinking he can bring more to the table than he already has," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle told ESPN.com.
But just as Daniel has Henrik, Perry's scoring was backed up by 40-year-old Teemu Selanne, who was also on fire with 10 goals down the stretch run.
In Sedin's favour is that six of the last seven Hart trophies have gone to the Art Ross winner, with the exception Evgeni Malkin who lost out in 2009 to 56-goal scorer Alex Ovechkin.
Henrik Sedin and Kesler probably also got votes, as well as Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos, who was waltzing to a 50-plus goals season before he went cold with only seven goals in the last 31 games.
Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla also had a stellar 86-point season including 18 goals down the stretch, but his team fell short of the playoffs.
Finalists for the Hart and the Jack Adams Trophy as coach of the year, which is to be named Friday, are the last to be announced.
Over the past two weeks, nominees were announced for the Vezina, Lady Byng, Calder, Norris, Masterton and Selke and general manager awards. St. Louis is up for a second straight Lady Byng as the league's most gentlemanly player, while Kesler is a favourite for the Selke as the top defensive forward.