Crosby concussion throws open Hart door

Sidney Crosby. (Dave Abel/QMI Agency)

Sidney Crosby. (Dave Abel/QMI Agency)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:30 PM ET

The concussion suffered by Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby might wind up being the story of the NHL season, which moves toward an intriguing conclusion during the next eight days.

Crosby's injury served to focus more attention on the impact concussions have on their victims and the game itself, their capricious and unpredictable nature and, ultimately, was another impetus for progressive moves by the league in the area of player safety.

It also served to throw wide open the competition for the Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player. Crosby was on his way to one of the best individual seasons in recent memory before he was sidelined Jan. 5. He was on pace for a 132-point season, which would have been the highest total since the Penguins' Mario Lemieux had 161 points in 1995-96.

Crosby's absence opened the door to other contenders. If you are a believer goaltenders have their own award in the Vezina Trophy and shouldn't get Hart consideration except in exceptional cases, then it's indeed a close call on the Hart this season.

My pick would be Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks.

There's not much separating him from the Sedin brothers in Vancouver (they kind of split their vote there, I think) or Martin St. Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning. What I like about Perry's game this season is he didn't have centre Ryan Getzlaf for the month of January and still managed to perform at a point-a-game pace in his absence.

Perry's 15 goals (and 21 points) in 14 games during March have powered the Ducks into a playoff spot (which they have yet to secure. If the Ducks don't make the playoffs, it will hurt Perry's candidacy, for sure).

It's remarkable that 24 of his 46 goals have come with the Ducks either down by a goal or tied in a game, so he has made big goals routine. Another eight gave the Ducks a two-goal lead in a game. So that's 32 goals with the Ducks either down a goal, tied, or up a goal (Daniel Sedin has scored 30 in similar circumstances).

Only six of Perry's goals have been scored during garbage time, with the Ducks either up or down by three goals.

He led the league going into Friday night with 30 even-strength goals.

It's going to be a close call for the Hart, but what Perry has done in Anaheim makes him my favourite with a week to go.

HEAR AND THERE: Zach Parise is expected to return to the lineup Saturday when the New Jersey Devils are home to the Montreal Canadiens. He has been out since Oct. 30 with a knee injury. Showing he's healthy is significant for him because he will be an restricted free agent July 1. Given the Devils' payroll, can you say "offer sheet?" ... Rookie Jhonas Enroth stepped up for the Buffalo Sabres with Ryan Miller injured and had his first career shutout in a big win over the Rangers. Enroth's curious claim to fame? He's the first goaltender to have his first three NHL wins come via shootout.

THE BUZZ: The NHL draft lottery is April 12. The Edmonton Oiler look to have the most balls in the barrel, gunning for the top pick overall for the second year in a row. The previous team to have the top pick two years in a row was the Ottawa Senators in 1995 (Bryan Berard) and 1996 (Chris Phillips). Unfortunately for Ottawa, those were two of the weakest draft years in recent times, though Phillips has been a solid performer until this season.

JUST SAYING: Interesting stat to see the Sabres were 14-17-4 with Derek Roy leading them in scoring when he went down with a torn quadriceps muscle. They have gone 25-12-5 without him ... With the Columbus Blue Jackets to miss the playoffs for the ninth time in their 10 years of existence, there's speculation Dave King, the Jackets' first coach, could be brought in to fill a senior adviser-type role for GM Scott Howson.

JUST WONDERING: You have to think that with all the young forwards the Oilers already have they would go with stud defenceman Adam Larsson with the first pick, if they get it, don't you?

THE LAST WORD: New Jersey's Ilya Kovalchuk isn't saying "who is good or who is bad" when it comes to coaches, but: "Whoever becomes our coach, it will be important. Look at this year. I'm not saying who is good or who is bad, but I think (Jacques Lemaire) makes a big difference. The start of the season is important. It seems like everybody thinks, 'We'll be OK later,' but it's very important right from the beginning."

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson


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