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Heavy competition in quest for Hart repeat

by Adam Kimelman / Vancouver Canucks

Last season, Henrik Sedin led the NHL in scoring and became the first member of the Vancouver Canucks and second Swedish player ever to win the Hart Trophy as League MVP.

It certainly helped him that the Canucks were among the League's elite teams, something that should be the same this season. So can Sedin repeat Alex Ovechkin's feat of the previous two seasons and win a second straight Hart? Or will someone else from the great galaxy of NHL stars rise up and steal away the award? takes a look at some of the top candidates -- in alphabetical order only. We'll avoid the prediction business, because picking a major award winner in September is like walking into an atom hockey group and picking out the next Wayne Gretzky.

Sidney Crosby, C, Penguins -- The Pittsburgh captain has been here before -- he won the Hart in 2007 and was a finalist in 2008 and last season. All he did last season was lead the Penguins in every meaningful offensive category, including an NHL-high 51 goals. He's a threat to score every time he's on the ice, and he's also become defensively responsible. He was a plus-15 last season, scored the first two shorthanded goals of his career, tied a career best with 43 blocked shots and was second on the team with 43 takeaways.

Crosby will be the focal point of every team's defensive game plan, much like he's been throughout his first five NHL seasons. After showing he can score as well as he can dish the puck, Crosby said he's going to be even more creative when he gets the puck on his stick.

"It's pretty easy now to scout guys and get guys' habits and tendencies down now," he told "So in order to create things consistently, you have to keep guys guessing. … Guys in the first 30 games aren't going to be surprised if I shoot a little more, so I have to make sure that I keep them guessing."

Ryan Getzlaf, C, Ducks -- How important is the big center to Anaheim's playoff hopes? They never were the same team after Getzlaf injured his ankle Feb. 8, and with his play down from its normal star level, the team scuffled and missed the playoffs by six points.

In 2008-09, Getzlaf scored a personal-best 91 points, and even though he played just 66 games last season, he had 50 assists and 69 points. Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan each scored 30 goals and were Olympians thanks to playing with Getzlaf.

A long offseason allowed Getzlaf's ankle to heal, and he looks healthy so far -- he had 4 assists in a preseason game last Friday against San Jose.

Getzlaf is a top candidate to replace the retired Scott Niedermayer as team captain. He's already the Ducks' MVP; receiving that honor from the League isn't that much of a stretch.

Ryan Miller, G, Sabres -- Take Ryan Miller away from the Sabres and there's probably no way they win a division title, let alone compete for a playoff spot. 

Last season, Miller finished second in the League with a 2.22 goals-against average and .929 save percentage while winning a personal-best 41 games. He was an easy choice for last season's Vezina Trophy.

The Sabres had a fairly quiet offseason, so Miller will be playing behind basically the same team as last season. While that means he'll have to play at the same level for the team to have similar -- or more -- success this season, he's OK with that.

"We put a lot of hard work in and it was a culmination of a lot of years of work," Miller told "We had some good runs a few years ago. We had some down years that really led to a good year last year. We have to get to that point, and sometimes things don't go your way. I think that I'd rather learn the lessons and come back with the same group than be a part of a team that doesn't show any patience. Sometimes you have to go through tough things in order to improve and be better. We had our fair share of success last year, but the end was definitely frustrating. You grow from that and learn from that."

Alex Ovechkin, LW, Capitals -- All the dynamic Russian sniper did was score 50 goals for the fourth time in five seasons, go over 100 points for the third straight year and help the Capitals win the Presidents' Trophy. While he was a finalist for the Hart, he missed out on a chance at a three-peat when Henrik Sedin took home the award.

Ovechkin is the most breath-taking offensive player in the League, as willing and able to go through a defender as he is to go around him. He can score from just about any place on the ice and also has come through in the playoffs. However, his team hasn't and that has Ovechkin hoping for more this season. And a driven Ovechkin could be even scarier than usual for the opposition.

"I look at the season to win every game -- to try to win every game -- and be ready for the most important thing why we're here, the playoffs and the Stanley Cup," he told

Mike Richards, C, Flyers -- The Philadelphia captain took some heat locally for perceived issues in the locker room and nationally for his crushing hit on Florida's David Booth in October, but Richards persevered and led his team to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Teammate Chris Pronger might garner the spotlight because of his outspoken personality, but Richards has evolved into a quiet, determined leader who won't put up Ovechkin-type numbers, but will contribute in a major way in all facets of the game. He had 31 goals and team-highs of 62 points and 13 power-play goals, and he nearly completed an ice-time hat trick -- he led the team's forwards in even-strength ice time and power-play ice time, and was third in shorthanded ice time.

Richards said he learned a lot through the good and bad of last season in Philadelphia, and there was a lot of both. With Jeff Carter potentially on his wing this season, there could be more scoring opportunities, which could draw more eyes. If he can keep the Flyers on a consistent, successful ride, there's no reason he can't be in the conversation for a Hart Trophy.

Henrik Sedin, C, Canucks -- After years of quietly building a solid career out of the spotlight in Vancouver, Sedin exploded with League-leading totals of 83 assists and 112 points, and his 29 goals were a personal best. He helped the Canucks win their third Northwest Division title in four seasons and advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second straight season.

This season, the pressure will be ratcheted even higher. The Canucks will enter the season as top contenders for the Western Conference and Stanley Cup, and a lot of that is because of Sedin.

He understands, and knows that it's not about him winning a scoring title -- it's about winning, period.

"If I have 85 points and we win our (conference) I'm extremely happy," Sedin told TSN. "If I have 85 points and we finish third, I'm extremely disappointed.

"I know it's going to be a lot of pressure from outside, from fans. There will be a lot of talk if I'm not producing on a high level like I did last year. That is something we have dealt with before. It's not a problem."

Jonathan Toews, C, Blackhawks -- Toews got a huge helping of the good life last season. He won a gold medal at the Olympics, was voted the tournament's best forward, then captained the Hawks to the Stanley Cup and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

Leading a team to a Cup is one thing; what Toews will have to do this season is another. Not only does he need to help his team avoid a Stanley Cup hangover, he'll also have to initiate almost half a new team thanks to an offseason roster overhaul.

It's another challenge for a player who seems to do well with whatever is thrown into his path, but one no doubts he'll be able to overcome.

Others to watch: Nicklas Backstrom, C, Capitals; Pavel Datsyuk, C, Red Wings; Roberto Luongo, G, Canucks; Patrick Kane, RW, Blackhawks, Evgeni Malkin, C, Penguins
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