The response was predictable.
Predictably unanimous, really.
An informal survey of Sidney Crosby's teammates concluded that if the selection were up to them, which it is not, he could begin clearing space on his mantle for a second Hart Trophy. That award is supposed to go to the player deemed to be most valuable to his team, in voting by members of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association.
"Obviously, when he's been healthy, I don't think there's any question he's been the MVP," Penguins center Brandon Sutter said. "I don't think there's anyone who's done what he has this season when he's been playing."
If Crosby's jaw hadn't been fractured by a puck 16 days ago, there probably wouldn't be much doubt about who would get the Hart in a few months. Or the Art Ross Trophy, which goes to the league's leading scorer.
Crosby was comfortably ahead of the field in the points race when he was injured, and had been consistently adding to his lead until that deflected Brooks Orpik shot slammed into his face March 30.
Despite sitting out the past six games, Crosby still leads the league with 56 points, but the field is beginning to close in. Tampa Bay teammates Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis are tied for second place with 52 each.
While contending for the scoring championship is not a criterion for winning the Hart, doing so generally reflects that an individual is having a productive season, even if his club is not.
Although Crosby might have been a near-unanimous selection if he hadn't been injured, the reality is that him missing most, if not all, of the final four weeks of the regular season injects at least a little suspense into who will end up with the Hart.
"There obviously are going to be three or four guys who are going to be considered," Sutter said. "I'll let someone else decide [who they are]."
The makeup of that list will be determined, at least in part, by what transpires over the final dozen days of the regular season. But among the guys likely to turn up on at least a few ballots are:
• Washington left winger Alex Ovechkin. His performance ran the gamut from awful to abysmal early this season, but in recent weeks, Ovechkin has rejuvenated his game and, in the process, invigorated his team.
• Chicago right winger Patrick Kane. He doesn't seem to be generating quite the Hart buzz that he was a while back, but a strong finish might be enough to vault him back into a prominent place in the conversation.
• New York Islanders center John Tavares. Easily the dominant presence on a team few expected to be in serious playoff contention this season. It's hard to overstate his importance to the Islanders.
• Chicago center Jonathan Toews. Possibly the best two-way forward in the game, and captain of the only team that's ahead of the Penguins in the overall standings.
• Anaheim center Ryan Getzlaf. Although playing in southern California might not do much for his continent-wide profile, it's tough to overlook the impact he has on a team that's solidly in second place in the Western Conference.
• Stamkos. Probably the best pure goal-scorer in hockey, at least when Ovechkin isn't on his game. Laboring for a team that's doomed to miss the playoffs, however, won't help his chances.
One thing all of those players have in common is that they haven't missed any meaningful time because of injuries or illness. The same, of course, cannot be said of Crosby.
Whether the time he is out will have an effect on the Hart voting, beyond its obvious impact on his statistics, is difficult to predict.
"I think [missing games] is always going to be held against you," Penguins forward Craig Adams said. "If a guy misses two-thirds of the season, he's probably not going to get the award, right? There has to be some point at which too much time [missed] is too much."
Winger Tanner Glass spins the game-missed issue a bit differently.
"That's definitely a factor to take into account, but look how far ahead he was in points when he got hurt, and just his impact on our team," Glass said.
"He drives this team and he's our leader, on and off the ice. I think he has a bigger impact than anyone in the league, on any given night."
As April winds down, PHWA members will cast ballots that will provide the final word on how much Crosby's injury matters.
"Whatever it comes down to, if they pick him, it's the right choice," Sutter said. "If they pick someone else, they obviously did it because of [Crosby's] injury. It just depends on what their criteria are for it."
NOTE -- The Penguins signed Quinnipiac goalie Eric Hartzell to an entry-level contract that runs through the 2012-2013 season, the team announced.
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com or Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published April 15, 2013 4:00 AM