As the NHL hits the halfway mark of the 2015-16 campaign, Sportsnet.ca sizes up the races for hockey’s major individual awards.
Despite his sharp start, Carey Price‘s long-term injury has squashed any notion of a title defence, but at least one goaltender is making a case to keep the trophy in the crease.
Leading Hart Trophy contenders
Jamie Benn, LW, Dallas Stars
The Stars captain won the 2015 Art Ross but failed to be named as a finalist for the Hart. It would be a shame if he’s not top-three this season. One bad game and he feels embarrassed.
Patrick Kane, RW, Chicago Blackhawks
Kane refused to lay off the gas even after his point streak — the longest ever by an American player — came to an end. Kaner has 10 points in his last five outings.
Tyler Seguin, C, Dallas Stars (43 GP | 24G | 27A | 51P)
Seguin mixes it up less than Benn, and thus avoids costly penalties. Arguably the best offensive centre in hockey.
Mid-term winner: Patrick Kane
Even though he's running away laughing with the league's scoring race (60 points) and making clavicle injuries look easy to recover from (good news, Connor!), Patrick Kane is not an easy choice for this writer's mid-term MVP.
Kane's competition is stiffer than it appears on the surface.
Sure, 88's eight-point stranglehold on the Art Ross Trophy is impressive — and crucial for Chicago, which is seeing down years, production-wise, from Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa — but critics could point out that 21 of Kane's points (more than a third) have come with the man-advantage and none have come short-handed.
Jamie Benn of the Western Conference–leading Stars is right there with Kane in even-strength points, plus he has four points on the penalty kill. Most important: His club has leaped from out of the playoff picture to tops in the West.
The problem with Benn and linemate Tyler Seguin is they'll split writers' votes come spring, or be ignored because they operate so well as a duo.
Only once in NHL history has the Hart been claimed by a goaltender in consecutive seasons (Dominik Hasek, 1997, 1998), and we're so tempted to repeat the rarity this year.
Braden Holtby has been that good for Washington. Best save percentage (.932) and goals-against average (1.93) among all goalies with 20 starts, and his 27-4-2 record is ridiculous.
Price won the 2015 MVP with a .666 winning percentage. Holtby's is at .818.
Calgary's Johnny Gaudreau and Ottawa's Erik Karlsson are deserving of MVP consideration at the 41-game mark, but there is a real chance both Canadian clubs whiff on the post-season. That matters. Plus, as dominant as Karlsson is, defencemen are essentially confined to fighting it out for the Norris.
Since Bobby Orr's reign, fewer D-men have lifted the Hart (one) than goalies (four).
So, we turn our attention back to Kane. Even if/when some journalists choose to place their vote elsewhere, perhaps influenced by his 2015 police investigation, Kane’s record-breaking, 26-game point streak from Oct. 17 to Dec. 15 will be the difference.
If Kane maintains his 1.43 points-per-game average, he'll finish with 117 points and become the most prolific scorer the NHL has seen in nine years.
Heck, even the Great One has been raving about Kane whenever he gets in front of a microphone.
"The goaltenders in general are better today, the defence is better today, the players are bigger and stronger," said Wayne Gretzky during the streak."What he's doing he should be proud of."