Early season Hart Trophy candidates

The Hart Trophy should go to more than just one of the highest-scoring players in the NHL. (Rotatebot/Wikimedia Commons)

The Hart Trophy should go to more than just one of the highest-scoring players in the NHL. (Rotatebot/Wikimedia Commons)

By: Tim Kolupanowich

@TimKolupan_

The Puck Daddy blog is keeping a weekly awards update, naming the five players every Tuesday they feel have the upper hand to win some hardware at the end of the season. When checking out this week’s post, I noticed two players for Chicago, Corey Crawford and Marian Hossa were in the top five for the Hart Trophy which makes no sense to me.

Corey Crawford is playing probably the best hockey of his career right now while Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp are lighting it up on the other end. While the value for both a strong offense and defense is equal, when both are playing as well as they are they cancel each other out when it comes to being most valuable in the entire league.

The most valuable player shouldn’t just be one of the best, it should be the player who means more to his team than any one else. If the Blackhawks’ offense struggled to score one game, Crawford would be there to bail them out and should the goaltending not be up to par like it was in Ray Emery’s only start of the year on January 20, their offense can take over.

If one side fails to live up to expectations, there is enough depth and talent in Chicago for the Hawks to keep rollong along. When naming the most valuable player, the criteria should simply be which player can a team not afford to have an off night or miss time with injury. Patrick Marleau has Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture playing just as well and Martin St-Louis has Steven Stamkos, Corey Conacher, Vinny Lecavalier and Teddy Purcell shooting the lights out beside him, but which players are the single biggest assets to their team without as much help? That’s what I look for in a Hart Trophy candidate.

Here are my choices for MVP early on this season.

Andrei Markov – Montreal Canadiens

Knee and ankle injuries have cost the smooth-skating blueliner dearly over the past three seasons as Markov only managed 65 contests between 2009-10 and ’11-12, but he is back and healthy this season and is a big reason for Montreal’s strong start. The most obvious benefit to having Markov back is the powerplay as last season the Habs were a dreadful 14.3% with the man advantage,but with Markov’s four goals, four assists and eight points (second, tied-fifth and third in the league respectively) they are producing at a clip of 27.3%, eighth in the NHL.

He plays 24:51 a night in total, 4:56 on the power play and gives the Canadiens a ton of quality minutes they weren’t getting last season. So far he has had a hand on every game-winning goal for Montreal this season and currently has a five-game point streak, already the longest by a Canadiens defenseman since 2009-10 when he had a seven-game streak in March. The Canadiens currently have the eighth-best offense at 3.00 goals per game after finishing 19th, 22nd and 19th the past three seasons respectively. The last time they were in the top half in the league in offense was also Markov’s last full season which is no coincidence.

Zach Parise – Minnesota Wild

Like Markov, all you really need to do is compare his team’s fortunes this season with last year and his value is pretty evident. Parise is as close to a perfect hockey player as there is; he can skate like the wind, is good in all three zones, is smart on both special teams and battles hard every shift without taking many penalties. In 2010-11, the Devils had their worst season since the 1980s in large part because Parise only played 13 games with a knee injury. The next season he plays a full year and the Devils reach the Stanley Cup final.

This year he is back home in Minnesota and the culture in the State of Hockey has changed dramatically. And while Ryan Suter was the other one of Minnesota’s major free agent acquisitions and his four assists so far isn’t too shabby, his minus-5 is the worst on the team and tied for the seventh-worst mark in the NHL. Meanwhile Parise’s presence has jump started a historically weak offense, going from 2.02 goals per game last season (30th) to 2.57 goals per game this year (18th). He leads the team in goals (five), points (nine), plus-minus (plus-2), power play goals (three), power play points (five), shots (30), time on ice among forwards (21:20) and blocks among forwards (nine) and adds a dynamic the Wild haven’t had since Marian Gaborik left.

Sergei Bobrovsky – Columbus Blue Jackets

Many would argue a player on a team that not only won’t make the playoffs, but will probably not finish anywhere close to a top-eight seed, shouldn’t be an MVP candidate, but Bobrovsky is giving a poor team a chance to win every night he plays and if it weren’t for him, the Blue Jackets would likely remain winless. He is 2-1-1 this season and has posted a save percentage of at least .929 in three of his four games while Steve Mason’s highest total is .885, this with Bobrovsky facing more shots on average than Mason (32.25 vs 30.66). Bobrovsky is one of only three goalies in the league (Dallas’ Kari Lehtonen and Washington’s Michael Neuvirth the others) to have earned points for their team when the other netminder has failed to do so when both have started multiple games.

Defenseman Fedor Tyutin is the highest scoring Jacket this year putting up 1-4-5 in seven games, leaving Bobrovsky as the only player really giving this team a chance to win. He’s a lone bright spot and while he may not be among the best of the best goalies this season, his .922 save percentage is 11th among goalies who have started at least three games and 2.40 goals-against average is 12th, there may not be another player in the league a team has relied on for points this season more than the Blue Jackets have needed Bobrovsky.

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