There is no clear-cut, runaway candidate for the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player, in large part because of the deflected shot that broke Sidney Crosby’s jaw to bits and still has him sidelined, post-surgery, with the playoffs to start this week. Sid the Kid (15-41—56 through 36 games) was running away with it, until the ricochet of teammate Brooks Orpik’s shot nailed him in the kisser March 30.
That said, they don’t put an asterisk on the Hart, a trophy that probably should carry at least a Post-it note as a way of reminding everyone that it is not the “best player’’ award. Though the distinction may be fine — and some years the same player fits the bill for both — the Hart is awarded to the player who is adjudged most valuable to his team. The simple standard to apply, before casting a vote, is to ask: Where would his team be without him? The problem with that standard this year, of course, is Crosby/Pittsburgh. In case anyone missed it, the Penguins didn’t fall off the face of the earth without him. In fact, after losing their first two games (Sabres, Rangers) by a collective 10-2, they rattled off seven straight wins by a 28-15 margin en route to clinching the No. 1 seed in the East.