The Mighty Ducks' Paul Kariya isn't expected to win the NHL's most-valuable-player award this season, but he was named one of the three finalists Thursday along with Buffalo goaltender Dominik Hasek and Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux.
Hasek is the favorite for the Hart Trophy, given to the player judged "most valuable to his team," and if he wins, he'll be the first goalie to win since Jacques Plante in 1962.
But many people think it's only a matter of time before Kariya, 22, takes home his first Hart trophy, especially after his performance in the playoffs.
"He's one of the best players in the NHL today," Edmonton General Manager Glen Sather said. "He may be the best player; he's certainly one of the top five. As Anaheim's team matures, he's going to do nothing but get better.
"If you look at their record when he was hurt and after he came back. . . . But he doesn't get the exposure. Hasek is in the East and gets a lot more than Kariya, but as he gets better known, it will catch up. He's explosive."
Kariya was third in the NHL in scoring this season with 99 points despite sitting out 13 games because of injuries. Only Lemieux, who retired at the end of the season, and the Ducks' Teemu Selanne had more points.
Kariya also led the NHL in game-winning goals with 10 and in shots with 340. But perhaps most impressively, the Ducks were 1-9-2 without Kariya--and 35-24-11 when he played.
In addition to the Hart, Kariya is a finalist for the Lady Byng Trophy--the league's award for "sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct"--and is favored to win the award for the second year in a row after being called for only three penalties.
Selanne and Washington's Adam Oates are the other finalists, but Selanne's 34 penalty minutes included some slashing and retaliatory penalties.
"You can't vote for Teemu: He said he's no more Mr. Nice Guy," Duck Coach Ron Wilson quipped.
The winners will be announced June 19. The voting, a poll of selected members of the Professional Hockey Writers Assn., is conducted before the playoffs.
"I truly believe that [Kariya is MVP]," Wilson said. "[Goalies] have their own awards--the Vezina, the Jennings. Maybe the goalie is the MVP. But what Paul has done for our team is amazing."
Kariya, typically, downplayed his accomplishments.
"I wouldn't be in that position without great teammates, and the team having some good success," he said.
"You should be always reaching," Wilson said. "That's what makes Paul Kariya so good. He'll never say it, but he wants to be the best player. That's what pushes Paul."