Who is your first-half MVP?
Pierre LeBrun: My pick is Brent Burns, who is doing it all for the San Jose Sharks. His 44 points (17 goals, 27 assists) has him up there with Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid among the league's top scorers, and his 166 shots lead the NHL. No defenseman has led the NHL in shots for a full season since Ray Bourque did it in 1986-87. What's more, in the first couple of months of the season, the Sharks weren't scoring like they should, so Burns was carrying them. They've heated up over the past month yet still are just 18th in goals per game, and even then, they have a defenseman up there with the top forwards in the league scoring like a monster. No defenseman has won the Hart Trophy since Chris Pronger in 2000, and before that, no one since Bobby Orr's MVP reign in the 1970s. That seems unfair given how important defensemen are in today's game. The Sharks are definitely playoff-bound, which will help Burns' MVP case if he can maintain this amazing pace.
Scott Burnside: If Crosby and McDavid stay healthy, the debate over who is more worthy of MVP honors is going to be one for the ages, assuming the Edmonton Oilers are really playoff-bound for the first time since 2006. But for me the first-half MVP has to be Crosby, given how difficult it is for defending Stanley Cup champs to keep playing at an elite level -- and Crosby has willed the Pittsburgh Penguins very much into back-to-back discussion. Crosby is averaging 1.32 points per game, which is another time zone compared to the competition. He is on pace for 50 goals despite missing six games at the start of the season with a concussion. Yes, McDavid is poised to be the best player in the world. But I'm giving my midseason Hart Trophy to the guy who already owns that trophy from last season.
Craig Custance: No player is more valuable to his team than McDavid is to the Oilers, which is the essence of the Hart Trophy to me. If Crosby got hurt, the Penguins would still find a way to get in the playoffs and be a threat. If McDavid were to get hurt, I think the Oilers would have a really hard time staying in a playoff spot. He leads the league in points and can change the game in an instant single-handedly, but he also makes those around him better. Just look at Patrick Maroon, who's having a breakout season with a career-high 16 goals already -- that's what happens when you play with McDavid. Crosby is definitely in that conversation. I like Burns, too. But I'm giving the edge to McDavid.
Joe McDonald: I know that many don't think goalies should be considered for MVP because they have the Vezina to fight over, but I've got to go with Columbus Blue Jackets netminder Sergei Bobrovsky. He's returned to his Vezina-like form and is a big reason the Blue Jackets rattled off a 16-game winning streak and sit in first place in the Metropolitan Division. It was a similar discussion when the Montreal Canadiens' Carey Price won the Hart and Vezina in 2014-15.
Corey Pronman: Hard to vote for anyone other than Burnsy, in my view. Jumbo Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau have both fallen off the age cliff somewhat in San Jose, yet the Sharks are still atop the West -- and that's due to Burns. He's having one of the most dominant offensive seasons ever by a defenseman in the modern era. To lead the league in shots on goal, a league that features a healthy Alex Ovechkin, is mind-blowing. And how can anyone vote against that smile?