Corey Perry has been hearing the talk lately. Quite a bit of it in fact, and he finds that as amusing as he does flattering.
The notion of the Anaheim Ducks talented, if understated forward as the league's most valuable player has been a recent development, yet one that has caught on quickly because Perry has put together an individual season that has become impossible to ignore. Still for the 25-year-old right winger, though long considered a premier player within league circles, this kind of attention is well, different.
|Corey Perry shows off the gold he won with Team Canada on Feb. 28, 2010. (Getty Images)|
"We're in a tough race and we have a job to do. This is like playoff hockey the last few weeks and right now, my focus is on doing whatever I can to help us get there."
So far Perry has done quite a bit for a Ducks team that has been one of the league's bigger surprises this season, and in the process has made his name part of the Hart Trophy conversation.
The front runner for the award remains NHL points leader Daniel Sedin, a catalyst for a deeply skilled Vancouver Canucks team that has run away with the Western Conference and could lock up the Presidents' Trophy by the weekend. The Ducks though, are another story. They're a team that has been steadily transitioning since winning the 2007 Stanley Cup, and was widely expected to miss the playoffs a second consecutive time this season after losing its foundation player, Scott Niedermayer, to retirement.
Anaheim still could fall short because at least six of the eight West seeds are still in play with less than two weeks remaining. But despite extended injuries to captain Ryan Getzlaf in late December and later to All-Star goalie Jonas Hiller, the Ducks have been in the thick of the hunt all season and sat seventh, four points shy of the fourth seed heading into Wednesday's game in Calgary.
Getzlaf and Hiller have made major contributions to Anaheim's success when they've been in the lineup, as have veterans Teemu Selanne and Lubomir Visnovsky. But in the crucial stretch run in March, the Ducks have been making important gains largely because Perry has been scorching all month.
"He's been at another level," added linemate Bobby Ryan.
What kind of level? Well for starters consider that Perry has moved from sixth place in league goal scoring to a tie for first with Steven Stamkos in less than 30 days. Perry's 44 goals are a dozen more than he has ever scored during his first five NHL seasons in Anaheim, and 13 have come during a 10-3 run this month. Four were game-winners, two of them in overtime.
"Those [overtime] wins can't be overlooked this year with the non-shootout wins being the first tie breaker," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said.
And as the late Billy Mays would say: ‘wait, there's more.'
All told, Perry has scored 23 goals this season that have either tied games for the Ducks, put them ahead or won games, and Anaheim has gone 13-4-3 in those contests. Beyond that, Perry is tied for the league lead in game-winning goals, he has scored more than anyone in third periods and overtimes, and he ranks second among forwards in ice time.
Those are the kinds of numbers that get people talking, certainly more than ever before about a player who was part of the great first-round draft in 2003 and has a Stanley Cup, Olympic gold medal and Memorial Cup on his resume.
"I think he's recognized in our market more than from a national standpoint, which is a category that a few of our players probably fall into," Carlyle said. "But it's not like this player has come from nowhere.
"He has shown a tremendous amount of maturity in the last two or three years when we've had a transformation in our lineup and asked guys like him and Ryan Getzlaf to step to the forefront. This is their team now, and Corey Perry is stepping into the leadership role that has been expanded for him."
That role seemed to grow even more when Getzlaf, who was drafted by Anaheim a few slots ahead of Perry in 2003 and has been his linemate ever since, went down in December. There were some concerns that Perry would fade without his longtime partner in crime, but instead he may have stepped out of his shadow.
"The last couple of years, Getzy has taken on a big leadership role and I've tried to follow," Perry said. "When he's out somebody has to step up and a lot of guys in that room did step up. It's not one person, it's a whole group of leaders. Part of my role on the team is to be one of them and go out there and contribute."
In a most valuable way.