February 16, 2011
He may be "the best all-around American player in the NHL today," according to CBS. He's playing "the most impressive hockey of his NHL career, an irreplaceable force on a team seemingly built for this moment," according to ESPN. He isn't "just the hottest player in the National Hockey League, he's also the best player in the league at this moment," according to Straight.com (out of Vancouver, in case that wasn't obvious).
Unless the Professional Hockey Writers Association uses the butterfly ballot, he's going to win his first Selke Trophy for top defensive forward; not only having been a bridesmaid for the award but having the stats to deserve it, as he leads the Canucks in takeaways (46) and is second to Manny Malhotra(notes) in blocked shots by a forward (58).
But can he win the big trophy? Is Ryan Kesler your 2010-11 MVP?
Leahy was ahead of the curve on this, writing last month that Kesler was the dark horse candidate for the Hart Trophy. Earlier this month, Ed Willes of the Vancouver Provience called Kesler his MVP and spelled out his chances:
Since, 1967 the Hart has gone to a forward 35 times. Of those players, just two didn't finish in the top two in league scoring: the Flyers' Bobby Clarke in 1975 (sixth) and the Rangers' Mark Messier in 1992 (sixth). Kesler isn't going to finish in the top two. He'll be lucky to finish in the top 10. But, in the absence of a huge season from anyone else, and considering his significant edge in goals over [Henrik] Zetterberg, Kesler, right now, would get my vote for the Hart.
Here is how the USA Today expert panel (well, as expert as a panel can be with yours truly and Justin Bourne on it) broke down the state of the Hart race this week:
As you can see, the problem is that Stamkos is the big dog in this race; and as long as the Tampa Bay Lightning are looking like a division champion and he's leading the League in goals, that's not going to change.
The other problems are on Kesler's own team: Daniel Sedin(notes) is second to Stamkos in the voting and in points, while last year's MVP Henrik Sedin(notes) has more support than Kesler, at least in this caucus.
Kesler was fourth on my ballot, behind Stamkos, Brad Richards(notes) (criminally underrated in this race) and Sidney Crosby(notes) (old habits die hard). He's as worthy a candidate as any of them; I'm just not sure he can overcome the competition and the institutional biases against players outside the Top 10 in scoring to win the Hart.