The only thing that can stop Sidney Crosby from winning his second Hart Trophy as league MVP is an injury. With less than a month to play in the regular season, the race is little more than a formality.
Of course, the last two times Crosby was cruising towards a Hart Trophy—2007-08 and 2012-13—he did suffer an injury, forcing him from the race. But even if Crosby sat out the rest of the season, his league-leading 91 points would still be more than either Ryan Getzlaf or Phil Kessel, second and third in league scoring, are on pace to finish with this season.
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Heading into Thursday night’s games, Crosby was leading the NHL in scoring by a staggering 17 points. You have to go back to 1998-99—when Jaromir Jagr led the league in scoring by 20 points—for someone to have crushed the competition so badly.
Crosby isn’t just a play-making, shot-taking, goal-scoring superstar either. Increasingly, head coach Dan Bylsma has used Crosby like a checking centre, having no problem going power-versus-power and sending out Crosby against the other team’s top line. And it’s worked. When Crosby is on the ice at even-strength, the Penguins prevent shots about as well as the New Jersey Devils, the stingiest team when it comes to shots against. They get all that and elite offence. Not a bad strategy.
Crosby’s dominance is also particularly impressive because of who he plays with. Although the Penguins have the likes of Evgeni Malkin and James Neal, Crosby spends the majority of his minutes with Chris Kunitz and, since the trade deadline, Lee Stempniak. Both are fine players, but Crosby is turning Stempniak into a first-line player and Kunitz into an Olympian.
Sure, there are other contenders. After a slow star,t Claude Giroux has turned it on and is once again a point-a-game player, putting the Flyers in a playoff position that, at one point, seemed like an impossibility. Phil Kessel has elevated the Maple Leafs with what could be a 40-goal season. And reigning MVP Alex Ovechkin will most likely be the only player to break the 50-goal barrier. But none come close to Crosby’s dominance.
If you want to nitpick, you can complain that Crosby doesn’t kill penalties for his team, like Ryan Getzlaf does for the Ducks, but that’s a quibble. Getzlaf aside, most Hart contenders don’t play much on the penalty kill because they are much more valuable to their team elsewhere. Teams have grinders and defensive specialists for a reason. You could make a case that short-handed play tilts the argument when all else is equal, but it isn’t.
The season is far from over, and the sprint to the post-season is heating up. But for the Hart Trophy the race is as good as done. Crosby is the best and it isn’t even close.