The Chicago Blackhawks would be in position for an eighth consecutive trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs if forward Patrick Kane was producing this season at the same rate as he did the past three. That Kane is approximately 25 percent better than his previous production is the biggest reason why the Blackhawks have a chance to win the Central Division and finish with the top seed in the Western Conference.
Kane has been the best player in the NHL this season, which is why he's still the favorite to win the Hart Trophy with less than a month to go before the playoffs begin.
"This year, he's taken it to the next level to where he's been a dominant player for us every single night," Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said Monday from the NHL GM meetings in Boca Raton, Fla.
Kane has a League-high and NHL career-high 89 points, factoring in on 45.8 percent of Chicago's 194 goals. He was averaging 1.27 points per game, up from 1.06 the previous three seasons. He has at least one point in 55 of Chicago's 70 games and didn't go back-to-back games without a point until last week.
He's on pace for 104 points, which would be the most for an Art Ross Trophy winner since the Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby had 104 in 2013-14, when he won the Hart.
In addition, Kane has already set career highs in goals (38), power-play goals (15) and game-winning goals (7).
His production is significant to the Blackhawks because they're not getting the typical production out of Jonathan Toews or Marian Hossa, who each is well below his career average for points per game.
Video: DET@CHI: Kane nets goal 21 seconds into game
A big reason for Kane's success is the chemistry he's had with Calder Trophy favorite Artemi Panarin and center Artem Anisimov. That line has been together since the start of the season.
"He's never had that chemistry before," Bowman said. "In the past, we've looked for some chemistry for him and we never really found it like we did this year. That's the biggest thing. It's like he's been playing with those guys for five years, and it's really only been this year."
Kane defined his season with a 26-game point streak from Oct. 17-Dec. 13 to set a record for the Blackhawks and U.S.-born players. He factored in on 40 of Chicago's 75 goals during his streak, including scoring 16 himself. The Blackhawks were 15-7-4.
"Especially the first half of the year, he really carried our team," Bowman said. "We had some new players and we were trying to find the right combinations, and in the middle of all that, he was going out every night, making things happen and carrying our team until we got to the point where everything started to click. If we didn't have him doing that, we wouldn't be where we are today. He gave our team a chance to get the legs under it by going out and just doing it himself."
Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins -- It's about time one of the annual Selke Trophy favorites gets some love for the Hart Trophy, because without Bergeron this season, it's unlikely Brad Marchand would be having his best season in the NHL or that the Bruins would have a chance to win the Atlantic Division. Boston might not even be a playoff team without Bergeron, who has won the Selke two years in a row and three times in the past four years.
Bergeron's traditional statistics are the best they have been since 2005-06. He has 28 goals and 61 points through 68 games; he had 31 goals and 73 points in 81 games 10 seasons ago.
Most important, though, are the numbers that tell the story of how valuable Bergeron is to Boston.
Sixteen of his goals have given the Bruins a lead; eight of them have been the first goal of a game. Marchand, Bergeron's steadiest linemate, has a career-high 34 goals. Bergeron leads the Bruins in shot attempts percentage (SAT%) at 54.5 percent despite being second among forwards in the NHL in defensive-zone faceoffs (414).
Video: BOS@FLA: Bergeron collects his second goal of the 1st
Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks -- He's 36 years old and he's using his big body to help himself be a possession monster so the Sharks can get into the playoffs.
Thornton is on pace for 80 points, which would be the most he's had since 89 in the 2009-10 season. He is second behind Kane among forwards with 50 assists, and his 66 points are tied for seventh in the League and lead the Sharks, including Joe Pavelski, who has made his own case for the Hart with 32 goals.
Thornton, though, got the nod over Pavelski because of how effective he has been in the past 39 games, when he has totaled 50 points. He has at least a point in 34 of the games in that span. The Sharks are 24-10-5 in those games. They were 14-14-1 in the first 29 games, when Thornton had 16 points.
His resurgence is arguably the biggest reason why the Sharks are in position to make the playoffs after missing last season. They could win the Pacific Division with some help.
ALSO IN THE MIX: Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals; Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars; Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks
Video: WSH@SJS: Thornton stuffs Dillon's shot home