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Players to Watch - Hart Trophy Race! Written by AsmodeanReborn - November 3rd, 2010

Looking at the main contenders for the Hart Trophy before the season has even started, and discussing why they have a chance to win it!

Players To Watch - Hart Trophy Race!

What makes a Hart Trophy candidate? Is it pure skill, determination, work ethic, or just luck of the draw. We will attempt to make a list of the pre-season candidates of this prestigious award, and evaluate each player along with the reasons of why they could make it to the top. Note that trades will obviously affect a player's performance a lot, so many things could change. In cases where there are more than one player on a team that could get the Hart, the most likely candidate is covered. Note that several of these guys will also be chasing the Rocket, but that's a story for later on.

Marian Hossa
Hossa has spent the last few seasons on the best team in the league - Anaheim Ducks. He's got great skills across the board, and can play high minutes whenever needed. Last season he scored 46 goals and added 46 helpers - something he can easily repeat and even improve upon, given that his center is likely to be Ryan Getzlaf, and that he's also got plenty of other support coming from players like Weber and Campbell. Will this be the season he scores 50 again? That's our prediction!

Daniel Sedin
There's no doubt that Daniel is likely to have his best CMHL season ever this coming year. Whether or not that will be good enough for a Hart Trophy season, though, is up for debate.  Truth is, there aren't many players in the league as skilled as Daniel, and having his brother as a playmaker should guarantee success. The real obstacle in Daniel's path is the lack of a star right winger to help carry the load. Atlanta does not have enough cap space to acquire one, so Vanek or Raymond will have to have a great year to help propel Daniel along. Atlanta also has a couple of playmakers on defense that should help out - whether that will be enough, is the real question.

Sidney Crosby
Much like Daniel Sedin, Crosby has an incredible playmaker on his line in Pavel Datsyuk, and he also lacks a high quality right winger to take some pressure off of him. Crosby is a great scorer with a very solid overall skill set too, but Boston is even thinner on high quality talent than Atlanta is, so if somebody like Datsyuk, or even Markov goes down with a longer term injury, Crosby is hosed in the Hart Trophy race. On the other hand, if Justin Williams or Shane Doan step up and play at the top of their abilities, this could be a fun season indeed for The Kid.

Martin St.Louis
Surprisingly enough, St.Louis has had problems with his performances over the past few seasons, despite being an extremely skilled player. This has also led to him moving from team to team, only to be given up upon after not managing to establish good chemistry anywhere. That could change this season as he lines up on the right side of young phenom Jonathan Toews. Martin and Jonathan should benefit mutually from each other, and to be fair, they absolutely have to, as they will be relied upon to carry the Sabres. Currently it looks like their last linemate will be either skilled playmaker Patrick Sharp, or the powerful scorer David Jones. If they can find chemistry, St.Louis will also be helped by a rather skilled set of defensemen who should be able to set them up offensively.

Joe Thornton
Joe is a super talent and has won several awards and trophies already. He's got a great skill set and apart from his contract and tendency to take one too many penalties, he really doesn't have any weaknesses to speak of. That is, unless you look at his linemates. Alfredsson is a great scorer, and Semin is a decent playmaker, but compared to what most other Hart candidates have, they're a little bit underwhelming. Chicago will attempt to make up for this with the help of a very good puckmoving defenseman named Joni Pitkanen. If Pitkanen has a good season, so will Thornton. After that, there's Commodore and then a few defense-first guys that will not help much at all.

Jarome Iginla
As one of the league's premier power forwards, Iginly has put up point-per-game+ numbers for 5 straight seasons now. He's also one of few players to play for 6 straight seasons with the same club, something that should tell you something about his value in and of itself. Iginla has top of the line talent, and is one of the better goalscorers in the game. That's not the main thing that puts him on this list, though. As a matter of fact, it's his team that makes him one of the frontrunners for the Hart, and possibly even Rocket. While Edmonton might be a bit thin down the middle, rookie Matt Duchene and veterans Lang and White are no slouches. It gives the team a lot of options in any situation. That's not where the team's strength lies, though. On the left side, Modin is likely to carry the banner and be Iginla's linemate. Modin is a bit slow, but has elite playmaking skills. On the powerplays, look for Patrick Kane to be part of the action as well, and set Iginla up on a regular basis for easy goals. As if that's not enough, he's got passers like Paul Martin, Braydon Coburn, and Tyler Myers on the back end as well. Drew Doughty could have a breakout year as well, but he really doesn't need to have one for Iginla to be successful.

Patrick Marleau
Marleau is one of the long shots in this race. He has everything you could want in a Hart Trophy candidate, save an elite support cast. McDonald and Connolly are both good players who should have good seasons, but they're not enough to take Marleau to 100+ points, and even if Hainsey and Whitney are good puckmovers on the backend, they just aren't enough. Patrick will have to run this race on his own if he is to have a chance, and that's a tall order for any player, even one as good as Marleau. Still, with breakout years from both McDonald and Connolly, he could potentially compete, and that is why he's on this list.

Derek Roy
Some people may be confused about the inclusion of Derek on this list, but they shouldn't be. There is one big caveat, though - he has to be the first line center for Ottawa if he is to have a chance, otherwise Kopitar will be the guy who has a chance. If he wins out in the battle for first line C, Roy will have one of the fastest scorer in the game on his left with Dany Heatley. Then if you look on the other side, there's speedster Ales Hemsky. Not bad, no? The main reason Roy is in this discussion, though, is that it doesn't end with two of the fastest linemates in the league. He's got one of the best defensemen in the league with Volchenkov on the backend, and he's also got Bieksa and Jovanovsky in spots 2 and 3 on defense. That's enough to almost guarantee that Roy will have an incredible season - if he doesn't lose the #1 C spot to Kopitar, that is.

Alexander Ovechkin
You all knew he had to be on the list. He's the reigning Art Ross, Rocket, and Hart Trophy holder, and he's a one man wrecking crew. He's big, he's fast, and now he's got fellow Russian Evgeni Malkin at center. Phoenix is an ever-improving team, and with Bourque as his other linemate, Ovechkin has all that he needs to be a contender. Sure he could benefit from an elite puckmover on the backend, but it's not 100% needed for him to be successful. The team around him is "good enough" for Ovie to continue to put up 100+ points and contend again for Hart and Rocket. If Gerv can swing a deal or two to bring in another puckmover on defense, records could, and should, be broken.

Nik Antropov
Another long shot in the Hart race is Nik Antropov. Nik lacks the elite overall skill set of players like Crosby, Ovechkin, Hossa, and, Marleau, but like Roy, he has the supporting cast to take it to the next level. On his left side, he has a man who can move he puck and hold onto it no matter what you do to get him off of it, Rick Nash. Rick can play in all situations, and he will create plenty of space for Nik. On the other side is the tiny phenom known as Brian Gionta. A gifted scorer with good wheels, Gionta should help Antropov's assist total go up significantly. As if that wasn't enough, he's also got two very good puckhandling defensemen in Brian Rafalski and Kurtis Foster, and outside of Helmer, the others aren't complete slouches either. Antropov is on this list due to the talent depth of the Lightning, and you shouldn't be too surprised if you see him in close to the top at the end of the season.

Milan Hejduk
Milan's a tricky one to stick on this list. The reason being that there is a rather serious problem for him. His left wing. Who will sit on the very left side of his line? If Little can be moved over, he will be a contender - heck, if Modano moves over, he's in a great situation as well. What puts him on the list, though? First of all, Milan's a great passer who handles the puck well and can score 30+. Second, potential linemates like Savard, Little, and also Modano help create a great situation for him. But it's the help from the blueline that really propels him to the next level. Nicklas Lidstrom and Sergei Gonchar should provide Hejduk with plenty of extra points, even if they're starting to get old. The veteran leadership on this team overall is simply amazing, and it could have a huge impact down the stretch.

Last but not least, we need to mention the guys who are on the bubble. That is, the players that didn't make it simply because they don't quite have the teammates that can give them a push in the race at this team, or the ones that are just a little bit short on overall skill themselves.  A trade or two can quickly bring them into the contest, and that's why they are being named. They are, in no specific order: Patrice Bergeron, Steve Sullivan, Brad Richards, Mike Green, Olli Jokinen, Owen Nolan, Antoine Vermette, Zach Parise, Nicklas Backstrom, Jeff Carter, Eric Staal, Steven Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier, and Mike Richards.

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