Coming off a three-point performance in which he assisted on one of the goals of the year, Ottawa Senators forward Jason Spezza may have put himself in the middle of Hart Trophy consideration.
In a year in which the Sens were expected to be in rebuilding mode and not a realistic playoff contender, Spezza has his team four points clear of eighth place in the Eastern Conference. Spezza's comeback season has echoed the Sens' rise from preseason also-ran to likely playoff participant.
Interestingly, if you look back at Spezza's career, his play has gone hand-in-hand with the Senators team success or failure for as long as he has been in the league.
Beginning with his breakout season in 2006 until 2008 - playing on a line with Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley — Spezza averaged 90 points a season and the Sens made the playoffs each year, averaging 104 points in the standings and winning a total of 18 playoff games.
In the next three years, however, the franchise's struggles mirrored Spezza's on-ice performance. The Sens made the playoffs just once in that time and Spezza battled injuries and inconsistent play.
But how times have changed: the 2011-12 season has marked a resurgence for both the Sens and Spezza. He is fourth in NHL scoring with 81 points and has been the catalyst offensively for a team that many expected would have trouble scoring goals.
Not coincidentally, the numbers spell out the fact that as Spezza goes so too do the Sens. He has 56 points in the team's 39 wins and his best month was also the one in which the Sens were most successful. He tallied 21 points in February, while the team amassed an impressive 7-3-2 record to solidify themselves as a legitimate playoff contender.
Spezza has also made those around him that much better. He is the centerpiece of one of the best lines in hockey, helping Milan Michalek reach the 30-goal plateau for the first time in his career and become the player the Sens thought they were getting when they traded Heatley in 2009. Spezza has also been instrumental in the development of talented winger Colin Greening, who is fifth in rookie goal scoring.
Spezza is joined by several worthy nominees for Hart Trophy consideration:
Evgeni Malkin: Any MVP discussion must begin with the Penguins' dynamic centre. Malkin has returned to his 2008 and 2009 levels after two injury-plagued, disappointing seasons (by his standards). He stepped into the void left by Sidney Crosby and is on pace for the most goals of his career. He has also re-introduced the question originally posed after his Art Ross Trophy performance in the 2009 postseason: Who is the Penguins best player?
Henrik Lundqvist: The Rangers netminder is the best player on the top team - points wise - in the Eastern Conference. The Rangers have allowed the fewest goals in the conference by 16 with Lundqvist posting the best goals-against-average and save percentage marks of his career.
Steven Stamkos: The Lightning sharpshooter is on pace for the most goals and points of his career and has 29 more goals than anyone else on the roster. His team is not likely to make the playoffs, but that is surely not his fault.
Claude Giroux: An early season favourite, Giroux has put up consistent points all season, despite missing four games due to a concussion. He has increased his scoring totals in each of the three full seasons he has been in the NHL and his team is a Stanley Cup contender.
So now it's up to you. Does Jason Spezza's resurgent season deserve Hart Trophy consideration?
As always, it's Your! Call.