Hart Trophy Watch: The top 10 candidates for NHL MVP

TORONTO, ON - MARCH 8: Phil Kessel #81 of the Toronto Maple Leafs waits for a face-off during NHL action against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Air Canada Centre March 8, 2014 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)

Can Phil Kessel win the Hart Trophy?

At this point, he may have played himself into the Top 3 for the MVP trophy, as No. 2 in scoring and No. 1 in our hearts, that big lug. But there are many, many other worthy candidates as well.

Here’s a look at the field for the Hart Trophy as the season nears the stretch run. Keep in mind that some of the best teams in the NHL season – the Boston Bruins, St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings come to mind – don’t have a clear MVP candidate, at least in my eyes. If you want to make a case for Rask or Kopitar in the comments, please do.

One ground rule here for the list: One player per team. Which does affect the number of candidates the Blackhawks can have, but so be it.

And here…we…go.

10. Jaromir Jagr, New Jersey Devils

Take a look at the Devils’ scoring leaders. Jagr has 15 points more than the next guy, Patrik Elias. He has 17 of his 57 points on the power play, six game-winning goals and an overtime game-winner.

The reason the Hart Trophy survives becoming a de facto “player of the year” award is context. Every candidate has a story beyond the stats, and a 42-year-old legend riding into Jersey after Ilya Kovalchuk takes his offense to Russia and leading them in scoring by a wide margin … that’s the very definition of “most valuable to his team.”

9. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers

Does Giroux belong here after failing to score a goal in his first 15 games? Well, if you’re going to give the Hart to Alex Ovechkin last season after his less-than-stellar opening half, you have to at least consider Giroux’s candidacy.

As the Flyers turned it around, so did Giroux, with 32 points in 29 games in December and January. His 27 points on the power play put him fourth in the NHL. Sure, his season didn’t start until November; but when it did, he was back in MVP form (if not, like, Olympic form).

8. Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks

The “Joe Thornton for MVP” campaign is cocked and ready to fire, but Pavelski’s the guy who might warrant it more. His 34 goals and 66 points lead the team. He also leads the Sharks in 'first goals scored in games' with six and power-play points with 23.

He’s always been a backbone player for the Sharks, especially in this postseason years when his teammates would under perform. This season, it’s more evident than it’s ever been.

7. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

Ovechkin has scored nearly a quarter of the Capitals’ 185 goals on the season and is running away with the Richard Trophy race with 44 goals in 63 games. They’re dead and buried without him.

Alas, there’s a better chance that Putin wins the Nobel Peace Prize than Ovechkin winning Hart with a minus-27.

6. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks

Your classic “watch the games” candidate. He does everything, and does it well for the Blackhawks. Kane and Sharp are ahead of him in points and goals, but he leads them both in even strength points, is one of the best faceoff men in the league and faces the toughest competition in the league. The Hawks aren’t the Hawks without Captain Serious at the wheel; and don’t think his Olympic performance won’t factor into voting. Unless you’ve forgotten Ryan Miller’s Vezina already …

5. Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars

Seguin or Benn, Benn or Seguin? It’s a tough call as to whether one of these guys deserves Hart consideration over the other, but the bottom line is that the arrival of Seguin allowed Benn to shift into a role he’s simply better at: the sniper. His shots per game is 3.43 this season, and he’s on pace to finish north of 3 shots per game for the first time in his career. That’s because Seguin’s been a hell of an assist man, but has also scored 29 goals on his own. His multi-goal games have been dominating. Both have been great, but Seguin’s been the pace-setter for the surprising Stars.

4. Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning

First off, the idea that a goalie can’t win the Hart is absurd. He can if his numbers are historically incredible in a single season. He can win it if it’s clear his team would be in the bottom of a litter box without him.

Bishop is fifth in the league in starts with 51, fourth in the league in GAA for goalies with more than 30 appearances (2.14) and sports a .928 save percentage in with a 30-11-6 record. He played himself into the Olympic conversation and backstopped the Bolts in a playoff seed with Steven Stamkos out.

Not every goalie is an MVP for their team; Bishop is.

3. Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs

I want to find a way to give Kessel the Hart.

To complete this journey from lumpy punchline to being acknowledged as one of the best players in the world. To go from being characterized as a spacy, apathetic winger to the unquestioned leader on a Cup contender.

He’ll have the stats, as Kessel is once again over a point per game. He’ll have the impact, as he’s scored 57 of his 73 points in victories and is better than a point per game within the division (27 points in 22 games). He’s been a god at even strength on a sub-par defensive team.

The Toronto media machine could push Kessel into the top three if they decide to back the candidacy, but I still think he falls short of winning. Heck, Bernier might take some votes from him.

2. Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks

He’s having his best points-per-game season of his career (1.15) and has already surpassed his career best goal total, sitting on 29. He and Corey Perry have dominated this season, but the nod here goes to Getzlaf for his statistic season, impact on every shift and the way he’s taken the captaincy to Hart, er, heart.

Like Kessel, he’s got a strong case. But …

1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

Finding an alternative to Sid is less about disrespecting the Kid than it is simply trying to knock the heavy favorite for the award off the throne. Alas, Crosby might have this locked up.

He has a 15-point lead for the Art Ross (88 points). His line with Chris Kunitz has opened the scoring in at least 13 of the Penguins’ 65 games. He scores in every situation, he’s nearly 53 percent on faceoffs and has managed to be the constant as the Penguins have played through myriad injuries.

Others have strong cases for the Hart, but none stronger than Crosby. This is going to be a coronation.