How wide open is this season's Hart Trophy race?

We're at the quarter-season mark in the NHL, which means it's time for outlandish proclamations about who is or is not worthy of postseason awards consideration. The Hockey News already narrowed the Calder Trophy field down to Derick Brassard, Drew Doughty and Kris Versteeg. Now what about that Hart Trophy?

If we're looking at the scoring race, then the Hart field is wide open. You have Alexander Semin having carried the Washington Capitals for a month, and then Alexander Ovechkin playing some unstoppable offensive hockey lately. You have Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby both having had their moments of glory for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Zach Parise has been the New Jersey Devils' total offense at times this season. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry have overcome bad starts to shine for the Anaheim Ducks. Simon Gagne and Marc Savard are right there as well.

There doesn't seem to be a legitimate Hart contender among defensemen -- at least not yet -- but you have to factor in the goalies. Can anyone deny Tim Thomas's place among Hart contenders? Or Roberto Luongo being in the mix? What about Niklas Backstrom, Henrik Lundqvist and Carey Price?

The field appears to be wide open. But in a survey sent out to fans, the NHL has narrowed it down to 23 players. Are Patrick Marleau of the San Jose Sharks and Mike Richards of the Philadelphia Flyers really out of the Hart Trophy race?

The NHL Fan Face Off is an e-mail based fan polling service. One of the questions it asked in the most recent mailing is which player deserves the Hart Trophy at this point of the season. And the nominees are:

Hard to argue with a lot of them, although Marc-Andre Fleury's inclusion is a little puzzling -- with Malkin and Crosby, there is zero chance he'll win the Hart this season.

But in true NHL fashion, it's the names that didn't make the cut that are interesting.

There's no question that Devin Setoguchi has been a revelation for the Sharks, scoring 12 goals and 24 points. He's got two game-winners; and so does linemate Patrick Marleau, who also has 24 points. Seto's been the trigger man, but one can argue that Marleau's resurgent season -- he already has half his point total from all of 2007-08 -- has been more valuable to the Sharks. He leads all San Jose forwards in average Time on Ice, too (21:54).

Like Marleau, Mike Richards of the Philadelphia Flyers leads his team in TOI for a forward (22:17) and is currently being overshadowed by the offensive output of a teammate (Simon Gagne in Richards's case). But after a rough start, Richards has rallied to flat-out win a couple of games for the Flyers on his own.

Again, the NHL list above isn't gospel, and there are only so many players that can be on the ballot. But Richards and Marleau deserve to be in the Hart conversation at the quarter-mile mark of the season, and most likely at season's end.

Who wins your quarter-season Hart Trophy?

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