Wed Jan 12 12:02pm EST
UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Let's get this out of the way first: If Sidney Crosby(notes) continues his scoring pace once he returns from a mild concussion, he'll likely take home his second Hart Trophy in five seasons, because he'll dominate the discussion if he finishes with well over 100 points.
His 24 goals through 42 games have him ready to pass his career high of 26 for a season and he's on pace to exceed his career high of 79 points set a year ago. While Henrik and Daniel Sedin(notes) do what they do best and stockpile points, there's been no doubt that the heart and soul of the Canucks this season has been Kesler.
Kesler should already be planning a trip to Las Vegas in June for the third year in a row as a Selke Trophy finalist (our own Nick Cotsonika pegs him as the midseason winner) considering his exceptional two-way play for the Vancouver this season; but he's done enough at this point in the season that the discussions about the Hart Trophy should be including him, even if it's as a dark horse.
The Hart is given to a player "judged to be the most valuable to his team" and with the Sedins dominating on the offensive side, Kesler has excelled at both ends of the ice along with making his linemates better.
Centering Jannik Hansen(notes) and Jeff Tambellini(notes) of late, Kesler has helped boost the production of his wingers to the point where they're both on pace for career highs in goals and points, especially Tambellini, who has seven of his nine goals this year playing with the 26-year old Livonia, Michigan native.
"We really just use our speed to our advantage," said Kesler after Vancouver defeated the New York Islanders 4-3 in a shootout on Tuesday night. "Jeff has a really good shot and great speed and we feed off each other well."
Kesler has scored 20-plus goals in each of the past three seasons, but he's been more known as one of the NHL's preeminent pests, getting under the skin of opponents and chirping at referees. At the end of last season, however, Vancouver head coach Alain Vigneault put an end to that, which helped Kesler's maturation process.
"Me breaking my stick and getting pissed off, chirping on the ice, it was kind of: What would your kids think of you? What would my daughter think of the way I was acting?"
"I came into this league being a defensive specialist that got under other guys' skins. I think I just grew out of it and I'm just focusing on my game more. When you play whistle to whistle, it's a lot easier to play the game. The biggest reason why I changed is I was hurting the team. My play wasn't where it needed to be."
Having now begun taking his play where it needs to be, Kesler's offensive resume this season has helped lead the Canucks to top of the NHL. Breaking down his Hart Trophy application, here's where Kesler stands statistically among NHL leaders:
• Fifth in goals.
• Tied for sixth in power play goals.
• Tied for second in game-winning goals.
• Eighth in faceoff percentage
After working on his shot over the summer, Kesler has been shooting more and his 24 goals have given him his highest shooting percentage of his career so far.
Combine those stats with his Selke credentials -- first on Canucks in takeaways, seventh in block shots, top five in power play and shorthanded time-on-ice/game -- and Kesler has the complete package to make a case for inclusion in the NHL MVP discussion.