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Evgeni Malkin for Hart Trophy

January 16, 2012

It’s really too early in the season to be starting the rally cry for any player to be winning any award. But I want to advance a prediction: Evgeni Malkin will be in the thick of the conversation for the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP, and he will come out victorious.

For once, Malkin will be the player that is not only excellent, but truly is the most valuable to his team. Sure, this merely perpetuates the hockey world’s love affair with the Penguins. But is there a candidate more worthy than the Russian that has returned from MCL/ACL tears and surgery to reclaim a team missing its best forward and defenseman?

No.

Malkina, perhaps buoyed by the controversy of last week’s column on trouble in Pitt, and emboldened as the team’s leader, has been on a tear in Florida. His natural hat-trick last night against Tampa to bring Pittsburgh a victory only underscored that. The Penguins have shouldered on for over a year now, largely without Sidney Crosby. They made the playoffs and pushed Tampa to a game seven, where Pens finally lost. They have exceeded all expectations this season, but have struggled of late. For all the touting of Dan Bylsma’s coaching, and make no mistake, it has few comparables, there is only so much one can do every single night with their line-up. Tyler Kennedy, James Neal, Chris Kunitz, Brooks Orpik, Pascal Dupuis–they’re all mighty players, but they cannot contend for a top Eastern Conference spot. Marc-Andrew Fleury has been doing his best from the net to keep the team afloat. But in the end, it must be Malkin, the team’s superstar, arguably the best hands in the league, that advances Pittsburgh.

And he’s already showing he can carry a team on his back. We all saw the videos of him training in Moscow last summer; he’s returned in the best shape of his life. He’s been taking more of the media load lately, his English improving. He’s become a leader, and now is his time. If he continues to make goals look effortless, and continues to keep an injury-plagued squad in the running, this is the man for the Hart Trophy. Perhaps he will not have the highest goal total, but that matters not: each of his goals came at price.

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