Jamie Benn did everything he could last season to will the Dallas Stars to stay in the Stanley Cup Playoff race. Eventually, their defensive deficiencies and average goaltending got the best of them and they fell short. It didn't stop Benn from leading and from scoring.
Benn closed last season with 10 points in his last three games, including a hat trick in his final game. It was enough to nudge him past New York Islanders captain John Tavares for the Art Ross Trophy with 87 points. Tavares had 86.
It was just a prelude to what's in store for Dallas' captain this season.
With an improved cast around him, Benn will nudge out every other elite forward to win the Hart Trophy. He is the preseason choice to be the League's most valuable player in the 2015-16 season.
"Jamie improves every game and every year," Stars center Tyler Seguin said. "I've only been with him for two years, but as a player and as a person it seems like every week he's getting stronger and better, and becoming a better leader and better captain. He wants the team to be so successful that he's making himself better as a player."
The Stars became a better team during the offseason, adding goalie Antti Niemi, forward Patrick Sharp and defenseman Johnny Oduya. All three have won the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks. Sharp and Oduya did it last season.
Sharp is expected to start the season on a line with Benn and Seguin. It could become the best line in the NHL. Benn's numbers could go up. Would anybody be surprised if he scored 40 or more goals? He had 35 last season, 34 the season before.
A better, more experienced team around him should make Benn an even better player. That should put Benn in the national spotlight, which gives him a chance to impress more members of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association, who vote for the Hart Trophy.
Benn was 12th in the Hart Trophy voting last season and he did not receive a first-, second- or third-place vote. The 11 players that finished ahead of Benn in the voting were on playoff teams. So were the 10 players who finished behind him in the voting.
Benn was the only one of the 22 players to receive a Hart Trophy vote who did not make the playoffs. He was also one of three nominees, along with Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price and Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin, for the Ted Lindsay Award as voted on by the players.
"He was nominated as one of the top three players by his own peers and he's taken that upon himself to say, 'You know what, that's an honor, and I want to continue to be that guy,'" Stars general manager Jim Nill said. "It's his team. He realizes it's his team now and he's going to put it on his back any way he can."
Benn should carry the Stars to the playoffs. He'll carry the Hart Trophy home from the 2016 NHL Awards show next June.
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins -- Crosby has never played a full season with a right wing as talented as Phil Kessel. He should get that chance this season.
Crosby has the potential to help Kessel become a 40-goal, maybe a 50-goal scorer. Kessel has never had more than 37 (twice), but he's never played with a center like Crosby, who led the NHL with 1.09 points per game last season (84 points in 77 games) despite having linemates that were mostly in flux.
Crosby's role on the power play could also be different. Instead of being on the half-wall directing the play, he'll be in the middle, the slot, directing the play. He'll be just as valuable, and with Kessel, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang on the unit, his production won't take a hit.
It all should make the Penguins a legitimate threat to win the Metropolitan Division and finish with the best record in the Eastern Conference. That bodes well for Crosby's chances of winning the Hart Trophy for the third time in his career.
Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks -- Getzlaf has long been one of the best and most well respected players in the NHL. Nothing changes this season.
His numbers dipped last season to 70 points in 77 games after he had 87 points in 77 games in 2013-14, when he was a finalist for the Hart Trophy. However, last season he had to play without Corey Perry for 15 games because he was out first with the mumps and then a knee injury. Getzlaf didn't have a regular left wing either.
Getzlaf still led the Ducks to the best record in the Western Conference, playing a key role in all situations, special teams included.
Anaheim should again be one of the top Stanley Cup contenders in the Western Conference, and Getzlaf's numbers could go up with a healthy Perry by his side. His contributions in all phases of the game will not go unnoticed.
ALSO IN THE MIX: Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals; John Tavares, New York Islanders; Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens