Tim Thomas a leader for the Hart Trophy 

February, 17, 2011

If you didn't stay up late in the East, you missed a turn-back-the-clock offensive performance from the Washington Capitals, who outscored the Anaheim Ducks in a 7-6 road win.

Alexander Semin busted out of a 17-game goal-scoring drought with a hat trick to lead the way. It's really hard to believe Semin could go that many games without scoring a goal.

On Wednesday night, the super-skilled winger netted both the tying and winning goals in the third period. The victory came on the heels of a players-only meeting called by veteran defenseman Scott Hannan. Whatever was said, things worked out just fine in the O.C.

Tonight, the Caps will try to make it two in a row when they travel up the coast to take on the San Jose Sharks. On Feb. 8, the Sharks blanked the Caps 2-0 in D.C.

For now, though, I'm ready to take my weekly dip into the mailbag.

With Sidney Crosby out, give me your top three Hart Trophy candidates? -- Sammy, Appleton, Wis.

Crosby's injury has dramatically changed the dynamic of the MVP race. At this point, I think you could pick as many as a dozen quality candidates.

At this point, I'd go with Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, Tampa Bay Lightning sniper Steven Stamkos and Vancouver Canucks two-way standout Ryan Kesler.

Thomas's numbers have dropped a bit since the All-Star break. His goals-against average has crept over two (2.02), while his save percentage has finally fallen below the otherworldly .940 mark (.938). He still ranks first in both categories.

In Crosby's absence, Stamkos has taken over the league's scoring lead with 74 points in 57 games. The kid sniper also tops the goal-scoring chart, having already netted 40. Barring injury or a slump, he's on track for a second straight 50-goal season.

I like Kesler because of his all-around game. He has 33 goals, which ranks him second behind Stamkos. The Michigan native has 56 points, a plus-26 rating and a 56 percent success rate in the faceoff circle. Kesler is a key ingredient on a terrific team in Vancouver.

Those would be my three guys … today. If you asked me next week, some of the names might change. It's that kind of year.

E.J. Hradek

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
E.J. Hradek is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, joining the staff prior to its launch in 1998. He began covering hockey as a writer/editor for Hockey Illustrated in 1989.