The Great Debate: Who is truly Hart Trophy worthy?

Since last week's 'Rumors Chat', the topic of this year's Hart Trophy winner came up and raucous and spirited debate ensued. Lyle Richardson and David Pagnotta were dead set on Washington Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin.

Wyshynski on the other hand was on the bandwagon of the likely Art Ross Trophy winner, Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Of course, anytime you're comparing players of the Capitals and Penguins, the debate is going to be passionate and intense until the hardware is handed out in June in Las Vegas between cocktails and hands of blackjack.

One point of contention during the debate, typically used when arguing who is more valuable to a team, is the "take the player off the team" angle, comparing how the Capitals and Penguins would be if Ovechkin and Malkin were not in the lineup. Obviously, both teams have decent talent around them that if they were not in the lineup one night, they wouldn't suffer too poorly.

While Ovechkin and Malkin are pretty much certain to have their names included on the final list of MVP nominees, who deserves to fill the third slot?

In a more general sense, which one of the following players deserves the hardware? Cast your vote in the Puck Daddy poll below:

More MVP race analysis after the jump.

Looking at the numbers, a competent argument can be made for the future scoring champion and last year's MVP and Rocket Richard winner as the MVP.

Evgeni Malkin 74 GP - 33 G - 72 A - 105 PTS - +19 -13 PPG - 4 GWG - 12.4% shots

Alex Ovechkin 72 GP - 51 G - 45 A - 96 PTS - +11 - 17 PPG - 10 GWG - 10.7% shots

Despite their roller coaster of a season, Malkin has remained consistent while the Penguins struggled at times this season, having not gone more than two games without registering a point. Ovechkin is still the most electrifying player in the National Hockey League and is dangerous from anywhere on the ice. He's the focal point of the Capitals high-powered offense and for some reason, teams still forget about him slipping behind the defense on the backside during a power play.

One can argue that Malkin's 72 assists make him more valuable because he's made his teammates better; and his plus-19 shows how well of a two-way player he's become, even garnering some Selke Trophy talk. Those in the Ovechkin corner will note that his 51 goals have contributed to 21% of the Washington offense and include those ten game-winners and you've got yourself a more valuable player.

Some history to keep in mind as well when debating: since 2002, when Montreal's Jose Theodore skated home with the Hart Trophy, the last five winners of the Art Ross Trophy have also won the MVP.

Zach Parise, New Jersey

What in the heck is a New Jersey Devils forward doing scoring 41 goals in a season? That's not how Lou Lamoriello runs things in Jersey.

Parise is breaking the team philosophy that no offensive player stands out, but with the way New Jersey has played this season, even with the absence of Martin Brodeur for 50 games, I'm sure Lou isn't batting an eye. When you become a Devil, you assimilate into the culture within the locker room and become part of one solid, four-line unit. What Parise has done this year is phenomenal.

Sure, Brian Gionta scored 48 in 2005-06, but he took advantage of the entire league still learning how to survive in the "new" NHL. Besides that's "breakout" season, Gionta hasn't scored more than 25 goals a season in his career. Just ask San Jose's Jonathan Cheechoo, who's declined in production every season since '05-06.

Take him off the Devils: Who would pick up the scoring slack that Parise has provided? Would the absence of a dominant scorer like Parise have hurt New Jersey while Brodeur was injured?

Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit

With nine games remaining, Datsyuk is on pace for career numbers in goals, assists, and points and again leading the Detroit Red Wings to the top of the Western Conference. As he did last season when he won the Selke Trophy, Datsyuk is a proven factor at both ends of the ice.

With such a balanced lineup around him, how Datsyuk can still post such high numbers is a testament to his value on that Red Wings roster.

Take him off the Red Wings: You still have a lineup capable of succeeding with a balanced scoring lineup. Henrik Zetterberg compliments Datysuk on the defensive aspects of the game. Is there enough goal scoring and sound defensive-mindness minus Datsyuk?

Evgeni Nabokov, San Jose

He's carried majority of the workload out west and one of the reasons why the Sharks have been up at the top of Western Conference standings in recent years. Nabokov was front and center when San Jose Sharks got off to a hot start to begin the 2008-09 season, including reeling off ten consecutive wins over the first three months, including five in a row after returning from injury. The Sharks sputtered in late-February, but since Nabokov returned from the flu bug and lower-body injury on March 14, the team is 5-1.

That sounds pretty valuable.

Take him off the Sharks: While Brian Boucher has performed admirable in spot duty and filling in for an injured Nabokov, it's unlikely he'd be able to recapture his form that brought him to prominence during his rookie campaign in 1999-00. It's Nabokov's net and his presence only adds to a team with the NHL's second-best goal-allowed/game average.

Steve Mason, Columbus

The kid who came out of nowhere could backstop the Columbus Blue Jackets to the postseason for the first time in franchise history. While he struggled with mononucleosis at the beginning of January, he played through it and now that he's overcome that sickness, Columbus is playing very good hockey at a very important time.

Whether it's Coach Ken Hitchcock's system that's attributed to yet another Blue Jackets goaltender notching nine shutouts (for now), Mason is carrying the team now and we all know how dangerous hot goaltenders perform once they reach the playoffs.

Mason likely downfall for MVP is the belief among many members of the media that goaltenders should not win the Hart Trophy, feeling the Vezina Trophy is their award.

Take him off the Blue Jackets: Does general manager Scott Howson sweep Wade Dubielewicz right out from under the New York Islanders' feet? Does former "goaltender of the future" Pascal Leclaire get dealt to Ottawa at the trade deadline? Likely not, but considering the other options were Fredrik Norrena and Dan Lacosta, it likely would have been another early start to Columbus' off-season had Mason not arrived on the scene.

Jarome Iginla, Calgary

Yet again among the leaders in scoring, Iggy Pop is one of the best leaders in the sport and his value to the Flames is immeasurable. He and Mike Cammalleri have led the charge on offense for the Calgary Flames, which is now boosted by the arrival of Olli Jokinen from Phoenix.

Iginla is currently threatening to end the season as a minus, something he hasn't done since the 2002-03 season. After his +27 a season ago, such a huge drop off could make voters think twice about how valuable he's been to the Flames.

Take him off the Flames: Is Calgary's offense in front of Miikka Kiprusoff enough, without Iginla, to put them comfortably in the Western Conference playoff picture?

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