2008-09 NHL awards race: First-quarter review

Updated: November 20, 2008, 8:39 PM ET

MVP RACE: IS IT MALKIN'S RACE TO LOSE?

Before the start of the 2008-09 season, our experts weighed in with their early MVP lists. Now, as we near the quarter mark, Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun give us their expanded list of Hart Trophy candidates.

• 2008-09 NHL awards watch: Preseason | First quarter

Scott Burnside

Pierre LeBrun

1. Evgeni Malkin, Penguins: My first-quarter MVP wasn't even on my original preseason list. How bad is that? Along with Sidney Crosby, Malkin has been the cornerstone of the NHL's most dynamic attack in Pittsburgh. The Pens have been without defensemen Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney, but remain near the top of the conference in large part because Malkin has been so dynamic. 1. Jarome Iginla, Flames: I had him in my preseason top five, and believe me, he's not going to leave this list all season long. He does it all for the Flames, from goals and hits to dropping the gloves and being the leader. Once again, he's contributing a large chunk of the offense for the Flames.
2. Alex Ovechkin, Capitals: Ovechkin got off to a slow start, but he continues to drive the Capitals. Never mind Alexander Semin, who has blossomed behind Ovechkin's talents; it is still the Ovie Show in Washington. After just four points in his first seven games, Ovechkin has 17 in his past seven as the Capitals have regained control of the Southeast. He is also an amazing plus-18. 2. Alexander Semin, Capitals: We'll see if he ranks this high on our next list, but you cannot ignore his brilliance so far this season. Where would the Caps be without it? Especially given Alex Ovechkin's early-season struggles (he's not struggling anymore). Semin hasn't taken a night off, and that's the trademark of a Hart Trophy candidate.
3. Marian Hossa, Red Wings: Here's another player who didn't even make it onto my preseason list of potential MVP candidates but has moved seamlessly into a starring role with the defending Cup champions. Coach Mike Babcock has been raving about Hossa's two-way play and passion. Hossa has been held pointless in only three games this season. 3. Simon Gagne, Flyers: Welcome back! The Flyers' leading scorer is showing no ill effects from his concussion-shortened campaign of last season. Penalty kill, power play, top line, late-period shifts -- you name it and Gagne is doing it again for Philadelphia.
4. Tim Thomas, Bruins: The Bruins are the surprise team of the Eastern Conference, and while they have been terrific up and down the lineup, it begins and ends with Thomas, who leads the NHL in both save percentage and GAA. Thomas' play thus far suggests he has taken his rightful place among the NHL's elite netminders. 4. Tim Thomas, Bruins: I don't like goalies for the Hart, but what the heck -- this is the quarter-mark list, so I can have fun with it. And how can you ignore what Thomas has done for the Bruins? The 34-year-old netminder might just challenge Ryan Miller and Rick DiPietro for that Team USA starting job in 15 months.
5. Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers: The Rangers' offense has gone south after a torrid start and it's been left to King Henrik to hold the fort. Not that he's unfamiliar with the role. Still, first in wins (12) and a solid 2.15 GAA and .923 save percentage make Lundqvist an MVP candidate. 5. Roberto Luongo, Canucks: Let's make it back-to-back goalies. His league-leading five shutouts are a big reason the Vancouver Canucks are surprising some so far this season. My guess is we may see his name on his first Vezina Trophy come June.
6. Alexander Semin, Capitals: The flashy forward earned a lot of attention for his alleged derogatory comments about Sidney Crosby. It's all a red herring, though, given the numbers Semin has put up early in the season -- he is second in overall goals and points. 6. Evgeni Malkin, Penguins: The man they call Gino led all NHL point getters at the quarter mark. He's a dominant point machine night in and night out, and especially productive on the power play. He's shown no ill effects from his disappearing act in last season's Stanley Cup finals.
7. Simon Gagne, Flyers: No one, not even Gagne, knew exactly what to expect when he returned to training camp after a concussion cost him all but 25 games last season. He's back to form, he's among the top of the NHL scoring list (tied for fourth overall) and has been a model of consistency on an inconsistent Flyers team. 7. Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers: The Rangers don't score a lot of goals, but they're leading the Eastern Conference. Translation? The man behind the mask has a great deal to do with it. The Rangers win a lot of one-goal games and Lundqvist never seems to give up a goal when it matters most. Luongo will get plenty of competition from this guy for the Vezina.
8. Sidney Crosby, Penguins: While Malkin has put up the big offensive numbers, Crosby isn't far behind and continues to be the heart and soul of this Penguins team. Although he's been trying out new linemates with Hossa going to Detroit, Crosby hasn't missed a beat. Of the top 17 scorers in the NHL, Crosby leads them in average ice time per game. 8. Joe Thornton, Sharks: His point-a-game pace might be a little lower than usual, but the Sharks' superstar has bought into what new coach Todd McLellan is selling and that has had a big impact on his team. Big Joe is doing all the little things, not just producing points. The Sharks are looking like serious Cup contenders and he's a big reason why.
9. Jarome Iginla, Flames: Iginla is tied for fourth among NHL scorers, but after him, the production drops off pretty dramatically in Calgary. It's one of the reasons the Flames have suffered through an up-and-down first quarter. Still, he remains the one constant in a team that has often found itself in a state of flux. 9. Sidney Crosby, Penguins: For him to sit this low on my list shows his season isn't quite going the way he wanted at this point. But let's be honest, the revolving door at winger isn't helping. He still produces offensively and is among the minute leaders for forwards, playing in all key situations. The best is yet to come.
10. Henrik Zetterberg, Red Wings: The slick center has missed a couple of games with injury, but is still delivering at more than a point-a-game pace. Along with Pavel Datsyuk, he provides the Red Wings' identity. 10. Alex Ovechkin, Capitals: Like Sid, lower on this list than he'll ever be. He admits his ailing grandfather was on his mind in October. I suspect he'll be much higher on this list next time around.

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MVP RACE

Vote now, SportsNation: Your MVP?
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MOST IMPROVED PLAYERS

SCOTT BURNSIDE'S PICKS
1. Devin Setoguchi, San Jose Sharks: You'll notice I didn't have one San Jose Shark in my list of quarter-mark MVPs and that's because the NHL's best team is getting it done with incredible balance. Still, if there is one player who's caught the attention of many, it's forward Devin Setoguchi. The 21-year-old boasts the sixth-highest point total in the NHL and leads the Sharks with 11 goals and 11 assists. He is also a plus-6.

2. Milan Lucic, Boston Bruins: He has become a bit of a cult figure in Boston with his thunderous hits, but the 20-year-old sophomore has proved he can do more than jar the boards. Lucic has 12 points, is plus-8 and ranks second in the NHL with 70 hits.

3. Shea Weber, Nashville Predators: No one doubted whether the big defenseman with the bigger shot had the talent, but the question was whether he had the durability to put that talent to good use after appearing in just 54 games last season. Thus far, Weber has played in all 18 Nashville games and is managing a point a game. He is also an impressive plus-8 on a team that has struggled to keep the puck out of its own net.

4. Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks: Most of the offseason attention was reserved for newcomer Brian Campbell, but it's Keith who has been a major component in the Blackhawks' march up the West standings. Keith is third in the NHL in average ice time and is a healthy plus-7.

5. Bryan Little, Atlanta Thrashers: As a rookie, the 12th overall pick in 2006 struggled to find his game. He managed six goals in 48 games, but has blossomed this season playing mostly with Todd White and Slava Kozlov. Little is the surprise points leader on the Thrashers with nine goals and eight assists.

PIERRE LeBRUN'S PICKS
1. Devin Setoguchi, San Jose Sharks: The 21-year-old already surpassed his rookie points totals at the quarter mark. But his play away from the puck and along the boards has also improved dramatically. No player in the league has taken this huge a step this season.

2. Alexander Semin, Washington Capitals: You might be wondering how I could possibly not rank Semin first here. But the fact is the Russian star had already shown his offensive touch in past seasons. Yes, he's having his best season ever at this point, but the talent was always there.

3. Phil Kessel, Boston Bruins: It's been a breakthrough season so far for the Bruins winger, whose maturity is showing in his game. He's making better decisions with and without the puck, and killing the opposition with his speed.

4. Nikolai Khabibulin, Chicago Blackhawks: Where was this the first years in Chicago, Nik? You were so unimpressive in those first three seasons that your team went out and signed another goalie in July. Now, you're vastly outplaying Cristobal Huet and confusing everyone!

5. Christian Ehrhoff, San Jose Sharks: He's got nearly as many points through 20 games as he did all of last season. But, more importantly, he's been more reliable at both ends of the rink and is making better decisions with the puck. A vastly improved player.