Crosby, McDavid have lots of company in MVP race
Marchand, Kane, Malkin also making a case for Hart Trophy
Nobody could touch Patrick Kane in last season's race for the Hart Trophy.
The Chicago Blackhawks winger and Art Ross Trophy winner (by 17 points) earned 121 of 150 first-place votes for NHL MVP and 93 per cent of the vote overall.
A runaway winner for the league's top award seems unlikely this season.
Co-favourites in the fall, Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid looked to be 1-2 at mid-season, but since then, a flood of worthy contenders has emerged.
Here is a look at the crowded field:
He's No. 1 in points-per-game and just clinched his first 40-goal season since the 2009-10 season. He's right there in the thick of the race for the Rocket Richard and Art Ross trophies despite missing nearly two weeks to start the season.
It's already easy to take McDavid for granted, but remember: he's only 20, in his second NHL season and already an MVP candidate. The Oilers captain has had a hand in almost 40 per cent of his club's offence this year, leads the league in assists and remains a favourite to win the scoring title.
He's not producing at last year's pace — 46 goals and 106 points — but has been pretty close to it in the past couple months, collecting 20 goals and 30 points since Feb. 1. The NHL hasn't had a repeat MVP winner since Alex Ovechkin (2008 and 2009).
Second to only Crosby in points-per-game, Malkin is headed for his biggest season offensively since 2011-12 when he won the Art Ross and Hart trophies by posting 50 goals and 109 points.
No one had more goals or points since the beginning of December heading into Monday's action, making the 28-year-old a viable threat to win both the Art Ross and Rocket Richard trophies.
Backstrom trails only McDavid in assists, hovers near the league lead in power-play points and is a dark horse to win the Art Ross. The 29-year-old is headed for his best year since 2009-10 when he garnered 101 points for the Capitals.
Burns has cooled off this month, but he's still tracking toward one of the more electric seasons from a defenceman that we've ever seen. He has an outside shot at joining Paul Coffey, Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque, Denis Potvin and Doug Wilson (his general manager with the Sharks) as the only defencemen to crack 30 goals and 80 points in one season.
The Senators captain is tiptoeing back into not only the Norris race as the league's top defenceman, but the Hart with maybe the most well-rounded season of his career. Karlsson is pretty close to a point-per-game once more — despite a drop in ice-time — while leading the league in blocked shots.
Honourable mentions: Mark Scheifele, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman and Sergei Bobrovsky.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville had this to say recently on Kane's performance:
"I see Kaner every single year getting a little bit better. He gets a little bit faster, quicker, he gets the puck, he commands the puck and once he has it he does so many good things with it."
Eichel on a tear
It's been lost with his team tumbling out of the playoff mix, but Sabres centre Jack Eichel has been tearing the league apart this season. Still just 20, Eichel entered Monday's play with more points than anybody but Marchand and Kane since the start of February and has an outside shot at surpassing the 24 goals and 56 points he managed as a rookie — in far fewer games after missing nearly two months with injury to start the season.
Flames' top pair
One of the sneaky smart decisions early this season by first-year Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan was connecting Dougie Hamilton with captain Mark Giordano on the team's top pair.
A look at the puck possession numbers reveals that success:
Hamilton and Giordano together: 56 per cent
Hamilton apart: 52 per cent
Giordano apart: 47 per cent
Trade speculation involving Hamilton has rightly fizzled. The 23-year-old has already set a career-high with 47 points and 36 assists this season, soon to post new personal bests in goals and power-play points.
13 30-goal scorers
The NHL had 13 30-goal scorers heading into Monday's play, including five first-timers: Jackets winger Cam Atkinson, Bruins winger David Pastrnak, Ducks centre Rickard Rakell and the rookie duo of Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine. A number of others could join them in the club for the first time, including Scheifele, Burns, T.J. Oshie, Nazem Kadri, Chris Kreider, Anders Lee, Viktor Arvidsson and perhaps McDavid.