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Inside the NHL: Historic logjam at top of Hart ballot

The ballot arrived Thursday via e-mail. It has to be returned before the first puck drops Wednesday night in the Stanley Cup playoffs. This corner has had a vote for the major NHL awards each season since 2007-08 but there has never been a dilemma like the one we see with this year's Hart Trophy balloting.

You're supposed to vote for your top five. It's pretty easy to come up with 10 or 12. And you have to do it while keeping in my mind what the standard for the award is. No easy task. Remember, this is not the "best player in the league" vote. That would be easy. We could all fill in our ballots for Connor McDavid and simply move on.

The Hart goes to the "player judged most valuable to his team" in a vote of members of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association. And that provides for a ton of gray area. The assumption is there will be lots of varying definitions of that edict.

This year, for the first time, the PHWA has made an excellent decision in voting for full transparency. That means after the awards are announced in late June in Las Vegas, the individual ballots will be revealed. It's something that's been done for many years in baseball and is long overdue. Of course, the craziness of this year's Hart ballot ensures voters will take a beating on social media for who they left off.

In addition, the PHWA and NHL have mandated ballots are not to be revealed in spaces like this one until after the awards are announced. As of this writing, that's not an issue because the ballot hasn't been filled out anyway. I keep staring at a blank e-mail because of all the candidates. In no particular order, here are the ones floating through this corner's head.

McDavid, Edmonton: He went into Saturday's season finale with 106 points. How much of a dope is GM Peter Chiarelli for missing the playoffs with a team that has this guy playing every single game?

Taylor Hall, New Jersey and Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado: Their teams both came from last in the conference (note that, Sabres) to the playoff race but wouldn't have gotten close without them. It's well-noted in the Sabres' dressing room by guys like Jack Eichel and Kyle Okposo how much of a difference this duo has made.

Claude Giroux, Philadelphia: He hit the weekend with a career-high 99 points and was a dynamo on the power play. Again, little chance of a playoff run without him.

William Karlsson, Vegas and Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg: Likely to be periphery guys in the voting but definitely worth attention given where their teams are. Karlsson became a 40-goal man and Wheeler entered the weekend with 90 points and one behind Giroux for the league assist lead with 67.

Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles: In a huge bounceback season, he has 35 goals, 92 points and is plus-27. (No idea how you pick between Kopitar and Patrice Bergeron for the Selke). An incredible turnaround after he had just 12 goals, 52 points and a minus-10 rating last year that made his eight-year, $80 million extension initially look like a disaster for the Kings.

Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay and Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh: Kucherov became the league's second 100-point man Friday night against the Sabres and was probably the favorite to win the award until McDavid overtook him in the scoring race. If you voted based on the first half alone, Kucherov would be an easy No. 1 choice. Malkin hit Saturday with 42 goals and 98 points and would be the Pens' choice with Sidney Crosby "only" at 29-60-89.

Brad Marchand, Boston: At 1.29 points per game, he's just behind McDavid (1.31) and MacKinnon (1.30) as he's compiled 85 in 66 games. He's been a dynamo in overtime too, leading the league with five game-winners. A wondrous talent who is also a supplemental discipline gnat too. Have to figure that costs himi some votes.

Alex Ovechkin, Washington: He just keeps trucking along, making him easy to overlook at times. But now that he's hit 600 goals and 1,000 games, the glory of The Great Eight should be appreciated every night. Entered the final night of the season leading the league with 47 goals on a division champion. Pretty good resume.

The goaltenders union: There are too many scorers on the ballot to think any goaltender will get a sniff this year. But most valuable to their team? There's no shortage of candidates: Frederik Andersen of Toronto, Connor Hellebuyck of Winnipeg, Pekka Rinne of Nashville, Andrei Vasilevskiy of Tampa Bay and Tuukka Rask of Boston have all had massive seasons. Good luck to NHL GMs voting on the Vezina.

Bravo to the sensational Sedins

If you missed the highlights on Henrik and Daniel Sedin's farewell game Thursday in Vancouver, you owe it to yourself to head over to NHL.com and find them. Tremendous response from the crowd at Rogers Arena and from the Sedins' Canuck teammates. And what kind of storybook was it that Vancouver rallied from a 3-1 deficit and won in overtime on a goal from Daniel with an assist to Henrik?

The twins, remember, wore Nos. 22 (Daniel) and 33 (Henrik) for their career. The winning goal was at 2:33 of overtime (22:33 if you count the third period and OT). It was No. 22 from No. 33 in a game that also saw No. 22 score assisted by 33 at 33 seconds of the second period. Crazy.

By the way, the Canucks threw unclaimed funds from the season into their 50/50 draw for Thursday night. The winner took home $507,278 of the pot that climbed to over $1,014,000 and was believed to be the largest 50/50 in North American sports history.

Kane more able to go to Canucks?

Current connection of the Sedins to the Sabres: With $14 million in cap space suddenly open for next season, does that allow the Canucks to throw boatloads of money at Vancouver native Evander Kane? Will Kane be interested or will the winning atmosphere in San Jose convince him to stay? The Sharks' veteran lineup, led by Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Marc-Eduoard vlasic and Brent Burns, is able to keep Kane in check and allow him to be more of a complimentary player.

You know who Jason Botterill is rooting for. Remember, a re-sign with the Sharks means the Sabres get a first-round pick in 2019 instead of the second they earned when the trade was made the at the deadline.

Inside the Sabres: Saying goodbye to underachievers won't be easy

Coach speak

This is the first season since expansion started in 1967 that no coaches were fired. Not a single one. But are we headed for a Black Monday?

Calgary's Glen Gulutzan and Carolina's Bill Peters should be the most nervous. You wonder if Dallas calls a one-and-done with Ken Hitchcock. And Barry Trotz is without a contract in Washington. He better get to at least the conference final this year.

The Blackhawks, meanwhile, have opted to keep Joel Quenneville (and GM Stan Bowman). After three Cups and five West finals, that should be more than enough equity to survive one bad year. And it says here that a healthy Corey Crawford may have been the only thing keeping the Blackhawks out of the playoffs this year anyway, so that has little to do with coaching.

Around the boards

* With apologies to the folks in Vegas and Winnipeg, it's an upset if any team other than Nashville emerges from the Western Conference for the Stanley Cup final. But the East is completely wide open. You can easily make a case for Boston, Tampa Bay, Toronto, Pittsburgh or Washington to get there. It will be a wild two months to watch.

* Mathew Barzal of the Islanders collected three points Tuesday against Philadelphia to become the first rookie to reach the 80-point mark in a season since Evgeni Malkin in 2006-07 (33-52—85). Barzal entered Saturday's season finale with 83 points (22-61) in 81 games, assured of being a point-a-game player. Calder favorite? Has to be.

* Brilliant thought by the Golden Knights, providing playoff tickets at a discount to season ticket-holders if they took a "Knights Vow" to not resell their tickets on secondary sites like StubHub. This keeps available seats to a minimum for fans of visiting teams. Nashville tried limiting Illinois zip codes in recent years from buying tickets to games against the Blackhawks. The Sabres need to do something similar for games against the Leafs, especially if they ever become competitive and re-establish a real rivalry with Toronto.

* Gordie Howe, Rocket Richard, Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull are no longer on the Stanley Cup. Their names are being removed as the ring of winners from 1954-65 comes off the trophy, to be permanently displayed at the Hockey Hall of Fame. An old ring is removed to make room for a new one -- and the same-sized Cup -- every 13 years. So that means in 2031, the 1967 Leafs will be gone. Better win a new Cup by then, Toronto.

* Rockford defenseman Adam Clendening of Wheatfield was named AHL Player of the Week last week. He had two goals and five assists in three games to help the IceHogs, a Chicago affiliate, hold their Central Division playoff spot. Clendening, 25, has five goals and 28 assists in 33 games between Rockford and Tucson this season. A second-pick by Chicago in 2011, Clendening has cirlced back to the Hawks after playing 86 NHL games with six teams.

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