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For the first time in a three seasons, the Hart Trophy debate isn't about who's going to finish second or third behind Alex Ovechkin(notes). While the Washington Capitals superstar is once again in the mix for his third straight NHL MVP award, there's a general feeling that the choice this year isn't automatically Ovechkin.  There's no denying his stats of 45 goals and 98 points even after missing 10 games for the Capitals, but there are a number of other worthy contenders that are making cases of their own to take home the Hart.

There's still 16 days remaining in the regular season, which is plenty of time for players like Zach Parise(notes) or maybe even Steven Stamkos(notes) to play themselves into the conversation, but five names are floating out there dominating the discussion.

After the jump, we look at the five contenders for the 2009-10 Hart Trophy. 

Alex Ovechkin - His trophy case is getting full of MVP awards, so why not one more? Despite missing 10 games due to suspension and injury, Ovechkin is still tied for first in goals scored (45), is second in points (98) and is first in plus/minus (+44). The knock on Ovie for a third Hart could be the success of the Capitals when he's not in the lineup. Washington is 7-2-1 this year when missing their captain and if you take away his 45 goals from the team total of 289, the Capitals would still lead the NHL.

Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post wrote on Sunday that Ovechkin's production with the amount of games he's missed this year should give him a strong case:

"What makes Ovechkin's statistics all the more remarkable is that he has missed 10 games -- six because of injury and four because of suspension -- and was forced out of four others because of injury or ejection, twice in the first period. (In his previous four seasons, the 24-year-old Russian missed only four games total.)

Still, he remains on pace to match his career high for points, 112, and a set a career high for assists with 60.

He also has been more efficient and disciplined than last season. Ovechkin is playing a minute less per game on average and has taken only 18 minor penalties, down from the 35 he committed in 2008-09."

Henrik Sedin(notes) - In his ninth season and coming off signing a five-year, $30.5 million deal along with brother Daniel over the summer, the 29-year old Swede has set career highs in goals (28), assists (71), points, and plus/minus (+35). With eight games left in the season for the Vancouver Canucks, Sedin will break the 100-point mark for the first time in his career as he's currently at 99 points and leads the Canucks in scoring by 25 points over Daniel. It's no shock that Sedin's two previous best seasons have come in years that Vancouver won the Northwest Division title, he's proved to be a valuable cog in the Canucks' lineup.

Hosea Cheung of the Toronto Sun added to Sedin's Hart Trophy credentials:

"Not counting Vancouver's three shootout wins, Henrik Sedin also contributed on nearly half of the team's 41 game winners, scoring five and assisting on 13.

He does all this while averaging 19:25 of ice time per game, ranking him 47th amongst NHL forwards and more than two minutes less than Crosby (21:47, third) and Ovechkin (21:35, sixth)."

Sidney Crosby(notes) - Having had to watch his co-star Evgeni Malkin(notes) battle through injury this season, Crosby has taken his game to a dimension it hadn't seen since his first two years in the NHL. Switching to a one-piece stick in the off-season, he's reaps the benefits of that change by finding the back of the net more often and tallying a career high 45 goals with a chance to hit 50 with eight games left to play. Amid all of the other trophies stacked on Crosby's mantle in the basement of Pittsburgh Penguins' owner Mario Lemieux's house, there's the possibility that a Rocket Richard Trophy could find its way on there come June.

Dave Pagnotta of The Fourth Period via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review argues the case for Crosby's second MVP award:

"I'm a huge Ovechkin backer. I have been since he jumped in the league. If I had to pick a player to build my team around, it's Alex. But, this season, I say it's a toss-up between Sidney Crosby and Henrik Sedin for MVP. Look at how well the Capitals have performed with Ovechkin out of the lineup. Nicklas Backstrom(notes), Mike Green(notes) and Alexander Semin(notes) have been controlling the offense sans Ovi, keeping the Caps atop the East. Take Sid or Henrik (Sedin of Vancouver) off their respective clubs, and they're significantly worse off. I may even give the nod to Sedin -- without his outstanding play this year, the Canucks don't have a hope in hell of making the playoffs."

Ryan Miller(notes) - There's no question the Buffalo Sabres netminder will either win the Vezina Trophy or finish a very, very close second, but can his play be enough to sway voters to give a goaltender the Hart Trophy? Only three times since Jacques Plante won the award in 1962 has a goaltender been named MVP. Dominik Hasek(notes) and Jose Theodore(notes) both put up strong seasons statistically in order to sway the voters. Miller is fifth in wins (37), second in goals-against average (2.20) and leads all goaltenders in save percentage (.929). Another factor in his MVP-worthiness is that his play has been the reason why the Sabres are a top three seed in the Eastern Conference and leading the Northeast Division.

Ilya Bryzgalov(notes) - This year's pleasant surprise has been the Phoenix Coyotes. While their offensive success has been spread throughout the lineup and not around a single player or two, Bryzgalov has been the man on the defensive end. Second in wins with 39, tied for fifth in goals-against average (2.29), tied for seventh in save percentage (.921), and leading the NHL with eight shutouts, Bryzgalov's play is one of the main reasons the Coyotes find themselves challenging for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.

The importance of Miller and Bryzgalov to their teams unquestionable with their play this season. But when the Professional Hockey Writers' Association fills out their ballots, is what Miller and Bryzgalov done all season enough to award either both the Vezina and Hart trophies?

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