As we enter the New Year and begin to shrug off those winter blues it is an ideal time for us to take a look at the stars lighting up the NHL in this most exciting of seasons. We are approximately half way through what has been a closely contested and fascinating to watch season of top level Ice Hockey on the other side of the pond. It is at about this point in the season when spectators start tipping their favourites for the annual Hart Memorial Trophy. For those of you unfamiliar with the sport, this is the prize awarded to the player who is deemed to have been most valuable to their team during the regular season. I am here to give you a rundown of some of the frontrunners for this very prestigious award and give some well-deserved recognition to the players who have had terrific first halves of the regular season.
Claude Giroux: First up and good place to start would be the Philadelphia Flyers top line Centre. Besides the fact that he has led the NHL in overall points scored for most of the season, he has also anchored the top line with linemates Scott Hartnell and Jaromir Jagr with an abundance of skill and conviction. Giroux’s lines overall production is one of the main reasons the high flying Flyers are near the top of the eastern standings and makes him an obvious frontrunner for the Hart Trophy.
Steven Stamkos: Next up we have the ever talismanic Steven Stamkos, The franchise Centre for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Although his team aren’t having a season to remember, Stamkos certainly is. He currently leads the NHL in goals with 29 overall and continues to perform beyond that of his team. If he manages to keep up his scoring rate it would be hard to argue that he isn’t a worthy winner come the end of the season.
Phil Kessel: Another top pick amongst pundits comes in the form of Toronto Maple Leafs Right Winger Phil Kessel. This cancer survivor has re-energised the Leafs with his 24 goals and 24 assists and has helped his team in mounting a playoff push, much to the delight of the Toronto faithful. The former first round draft picks play with linemate Joffrey Lupul has been a nice surprise for Leafs nation and the dynamic duo have won plenty of plaudits throughout the NHL. His positive effect on his teams play during the first half of the season makes him a popular candidate for the end of season prize.
Evgeni Malkin: A surprising choice to some comes in the form of the Pittsburgh Penguins #71 Evgeni Malkin (or Geno as he is affectionately known) This russian Centre has had to contend with the absence of teammate and NHL superstar Sidney Crosby in his teams line-up for the vast majority of the season but Malkin has stepped up to the plate. What else would you expect from a former Art Ross trophy winner and Hart Memorial Trophy runner-up? Geno commands a very respectable 45 points for the season so far and there is no denying his paramount importance to his team especially when considering the absence of club captain Crosby.
Jonathan Toews: Finally we head out to the western conference to the young captain of the Chicago Blackhawks Jonathan Toews. The left handed Centre Toews is currently standing on 22 goals in 43 games played. Along with a bucketful of assists and you have got yourselves one of the main reasons why Chicago is sitting pretty in the western standings. If Toews can keep this level of production up like he promises to and has demonstrated the capability of doing in the past then there is no doubt he will be a main contender for the Trophy as the season draws to a close.
Worthwhile Mentions: Of course the ones I have highlighted are not the only stars to have shone so far this season. Other players worth noting for contention include; both of the Sedin brothers who so often inspire the Canucks in the offensive half of the ice, Alex Ovechkin who is very hard to discount being a two-time former winner, young rookie Defenseman Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators who is having an outstanding year in leading all blueliners in assists and even Marian Gaborik who has been a major goal scoring threat for the table topping Rangers during the first half of the season. Those eagle-eyed amongst you reading this may have noticed that I have failed to mention any shot stoppers as possible contenders. Well fear not for there is plenty of talent in that position too. None more so than Boston netminder TimThomas. Thomas is renowned for his ability between the sticks and is expected to again produce the form that saw the Bruins claim the Stanley Cup only last season. Another goalie who’s in with a chance is New York’s Swedish supremo Henrik Lundqvist whose multiple game winning performances have enabled the Rangers to reach the summit of the league midway through the season.
Whoever comes out the winner at the end of the regular season one thing is for sure, we are in for a tremendous few months of hockey. There is plenty of time for outsiders to stake a claim during the second half of the season and for the aforementioned players to cement their grip on the award and possibly even the Stanley Cup come early June. I know that I will enjoy, as I am sure you will, watching how it all pans out. I hope you have enjoyed reading this piece and would welcome any/all comments on your thoughts and maybe even a few picks of your own.
*All Statistics quoted are accurate as of 11/01/12