The 2008 Hart Trophy winner has made a strong case for repeat recognition in 2009. Following a slow start to the season Ovechkin has been scoring at his usual torrid pace and should win his second consecutive Richard trophy as the league's leading goal-scorer. More important, however, is the effect he had on his team as his efforts carried the Capitals into the playoffs last season and this season made them one of the NHL's top clubs. They've improved as a team but Ovechkin is the centerpiece, leading the Capitals in nearly every offensive category including goals, points, power-play goals and game-winning goals. He's also become the NHL's most exciting and arguably its most marketable player. No player in the NHL this season is more valuable to his team -- and the league -- than Ovechkin. -- Spector
Zach Parise, New Jersey Devils
As the NHL season winds down it's an opportune time to take a look at five potential candidates for this year's Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player. During the 2003 NHL entry draft some observers wondered why Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello was visibly ecstatic that Parise was still available by the time his club got to select with the 17th overall pick. This season we've seen why, as Parise has emerged into a full-fledged star. Due to the Devils' reputation as a team-oriented defensive club he's received little recognition for his efforts, but Parise not only leads the Devils in goals (42) and points (89) but he's also the league's second-highest goal-scorer and fifth in points. He's also very responsible defensively with a plus-minus of plus-30 and is also among the NHL's least-penalized players. With franchise goalie Martin Brodeur sidelined for much of this season the 24-year-old Parise lived up to expectations as a future franchise player and is des
Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings
The versatile 30-year-old Russian forward is the NHL's most complete player. Datsyuk leads the Red Wings in scoring by a wide margin with 91 points, placing him fourth overall in the league. As talented as he is offensively, Datsyuk is also strong defensively, winning the 2008 Selke Trophy as the league's top defensive forward and appears in line to win the award again this season. He's also a three-time winner of the Lady Byng as the league's most gentlemanly player, meaning he's not the type to take costly penalties when games are on the line. Datsyuk is a big reason the Red Wings are the defending Stanley Cup champions and considered a favorite to win the big mug again this season.
Steve Mason, Columbus Blue Jackets
For the first time in franchise history the Blue Jackets are poised to make the NHL playoffs, and while it's been a team effort much of the credit goes to the rookie goaltending sensation. The 20-year-old wunderkind currently leads the NHL in shutouts with 10, has the second-best goals-against average (2.22), the ninth-best save percentage (.918) and is tied for seventh with victories (32). Mason has battled through fatigue and a bout of mononucleosis to carry the Blue Jackets to sixth overall in the Western Conference. He is likely to win the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year and is the most important factor in the Jackets' unexpected rise to postseason contention.
Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins
His offensive production has dipped slightly from his first-half numbers -- at one point he was on pace for 140 points -- but he remains on track to win the Art Ross trophy as this season's leading scorer. While Penguins captain Sidney Crosby struggled at times this season, Malkin emerged as a genuine superstar in his own right and currently holds a 10-point lead over Crosby in the league scoring race. The 22-year-old Malkin became the Penguins' most valuable player this season, but having Crosby as a teammate could hurt his chances of winning the Hart this year. If he keeps outperforming Crosby in the coming years and winning more scoring titles, however, that won't be an impediment in the future.