Give Malkin Hart Trophy, but Stamkos is NHL’s Best Player

COMMENTARY | Evgeni Malkin deserves to win the NHL's Hart Trophy as the league's Most Valuable Player.

He's a spectacular talent who has played near the peak of his abilities when his team needed him most. Malkin is the league's leading scorer and he carried much of the Pittsburgh Penguins' offense when Sidney Crosby was on the shelf, rehabbing from concussion-related issues. Malkin has 48 goals and 57 assists with two games of the season remaining and he has excelled when the game has been on the line, having scored 9 game-winning goals.

As effective as Malkin has been, he is not the best player in hockey. Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning has earned that title. The 22-year-old Ontario native has been a goal-scoring machine during his four years in the NHL and he has scored 58 goals this season. If he can score twice in the last two games of the season, Stamkos will be the NHL's first 60-goal scorer since Alex Ovechkin pounded home 65 goals with the Washington Capitals in 2007-08. (If anyone has seen that Ovie, please pass a note to Washington head coach Dale Hunter. The player currently wearing the Capitals' uniform with "Ovechkin" on it is merely a facsimile of the old Ovie.)

A further look at Stamkos' numbers reveals that he is second in the league in scoring with 95 points and he is connecting on 19.9 percent of his shots while averaging 21:57 of ice time per game. Stamkos has scored a league-high 12 game-winning goals, and 5 of them have been scored in overtime.

Stamkos is the real deal, a spectacular performer who scored 23 goals as an 18-year-old rookie and 154 more in the next three seasons. Stamkos has an array of offensive weapons that make him nearly unstoppable. His vicious wrist shot is away so quickly that the best goalies often have no chance.

In Tampa Bay's 5-2 loss against the Boston Bruins March 27, Stamkos opened the scoring by taking a pass from teammate Martin St. Louis and skating to the top of the faceoff circle in the Boston zone and firing a wrist shot by Tim Thomas. What made the goal notable is that Thomas was not screened on the play. He had a clear view of Stamkos as he watched the play develop. Stamkos ripped off a rocket that went just inside the far post.

Thomas, of course, is no slouch in goal. He is a two-time Vezina Trophy winner who took home the Conn Smythe Trophy when the Bruins won the Stanley Cup last year.

Stamkos is not some scoring diva who hangs out by the red line and waits for breakaway passes. His heart and soul is in the game and he sells out for his teammates. The proof of that came in the seventh game of last year's Eastern Conference Finals against the Bruins. During the second period, Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk unleashed a slapshot from the point. The shot was deflected and caught Stamkos flush on the face shield. Stamkos went down as if he had been shot, bleeding from the face. He was taken to the dressing room for repairs and then returned to the ice despite the injury. He refused to let a face full of vulcanized rubber fired at top speed keep him from playing when his team needed him most.

The Lightning will not be in the playoffs this year and it's a shame that Stamkos won't be able to show off his skills on the postseason stage. However, his brilliant career is still ascending and he should be one of the league's bright lights for many years.

Steve Silverman is a longtime sportswriter who has covered the NHL and written columns on it for CBSChicago.com.

References:

Hockey Reference - Steven Stamkos

http://www.hockey-reference.com/players/s/stamkst01.html

NHL.com - Player Stats

http://www.nhl.com/ice/playerstats.htm#?navid=nav-sts-indiv

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Updated Thursday, Apr 5, 2012