NHL.com's midseason edition of Trophy Trackers attempts to project winners of the major individual awards. Today we predict the winner of the Hart Trophy, an annual award given to the player judged to be the most valuable to his team.
The best evidence of Sidney Crosby's value to the Pittsburgh Penguins might have come during a four-game stretch late in December.
Missing from the roster during most or all of those games were four defensemen with a combined four Stanley Cup rings and more than 2,000 games of NHL experience, a 40-goal scorer and a two-time Art Ross Trophy winner.
Center - PIT
GOALS: 23 | ASST: 40 | PTS: 63
SOG: 144 | +/-: 11
With Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Rob Scuderi, Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin and Kris Letang all injured, the Penguins went into those games with six or seven players who started the season in the American Hockey League on the roster.
So when the Penguins needed their best players to be their best players, Crosby stepped up to total two goals and four assists as the Penguins went 3-1-0 with their depleted lineup and remained the top team in the Metropolitan Division. He scored or set up six of the Penguins' 10 non-shootout goals in that span.
The way Crosby elevated his game when his team needed him the most is the reason he is NHL.com's pick for the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most value player at the halfway point of the season.
Crosby's League-leading 63 points in 44 games tops all players and puts him on pace for his first 100-point season since 2009-10. He has either scored or set up 45.3 percent of the Penguins' 139 non-shootout goals. And he's been just as good at home (11 goals, 35 points in 22 games) as he has on the road (12 goals, 28 points in 22 games).
And he's done it all against some pretty tough competition. According to advanced statistics site BehindtheNet.ca, Crosby's quality of competition rating is second-best among Penguins skaters to play at least 20 games, and 14th among NHL forwards.
The Pittsburgh captain has been the League's most valuable player through the first half of the season, although a number of outstanding performers are keeping themselves in consideration for the honor. But for now, the award is Crosby's to lose.
Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks -- The Anaheim captain has been the best player on one of the best teams in the Western Conference. He leads his team with 48 points and is on pace to set career-highs in goals and points. He's also had a hand in 33.3 percent of the Ducks' goals this season. Perhaps most impressive, his best play has been at even strength, where his 16 goals are second on the team.
He's also been productive while staying out of the penalty box; he's on pace for 28 penalty minutes, which would be a career low for an 82-game season. That's allowed him to average 21 minutes of ice time per game, including 2:03 shorthanded, second among the team's forwards.
And Getzlaf has done it while facing the toughest competition of any player on the team, according to BehindTheNet.ca.
Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks -- If there's something the Blackhawks need during a game, Toews is the player they turn to, regardless of the situation.
He has 15 goals, 44 points and a plus-21 rating in 45 games, all of which rank in the top four on the team. He leads Blackhawks forwards in ice time at 20:27 per game, including 1:23 per game shorthanded. He's also won 56.8 percent of his faceoffs while taking the fifth-most draws in the League.
And much like Crosby and Getzlaf, Toews has been productive while facing some of the League's toughest competition. According to BehindTheNet.ca, Toews has faced the third-toughest opposition on the team, first among the club's forwards.