Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Debate Over the 2013 NHL Hart Trophy...Was Alex Ovechkin the Most Valuable?

As word leaked on June 15, 2013 that Alex Ovechkin would win his 3rd Hart Trophy (league MVP) I knew that there would be much outcry from fans, writers, etc around the NHL. Be it the Mike Milbury types, Crosby/Penguins fans, just about any homer of any player on any team that's not the Washington Capitals or people that believe that awards in a strike shortened season shouldn't count or should carry an asterisk, there was bound to be debate.

When Crosby was announced as the Most Outstanding Player (Ted Lindsay) recipient, I felt that it was fitting. Crosby was NOT the Most Valuable Player, not to his team and not to the league. Sid the Kid was playing out of his mind before being beset by injuries however those injuries killed any chance of him being named league MVP, whether that's fair or not. The fact remains that the Penguins survived just fine with Crosby sitting in the press box. As it turned out, despite missing so much time (12 games), Crosby still finished 2nd in assists and 3rd in the league for points. While great numbers he still paled in comparison in other categories compared to the players that finished in the Top 5 (forwards) in vote getting in shooting percentage (12% - last) and game winning goals (1 - last) while collecting 17 power play points (T-2nd but second lowest in goals with 3...he did lead in assists with 14). Crosby still ended up finishing second to Ovechkin but for me he was no better than 4th.

The 4th and 6th place finishers were Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane respectively.  Being on what was the best team in hockey for most of the season certainly helped these two get their votes, not to say they weren't deserving, they just weren't necessarily as valuable as their goalie tandem, in my opinion, and in the end the two pretty much cancelled each other out for the MVP voting. Both players scored 23 goals which puts them behind John Tavares and Ovechkin for most goals scored of the top 5 (forwards) MVP vote receivers while shooting 16.1% (3rd) and 16.7% (2nd) respectively.  Toews did very little on the power play while Kane had 8 goals (3rd) and 9 assists (3rd) for 17 points (T-2nd) among the top 5. In the end they'd probably end up my 5th and 6th choices for MVP.

The remaining 3 I would have been fine with any of them receiving the MVP award because they earned it.  Tavares, along with goalie Evgeni Nabokov, propelled the Islanders into the playoffs where they were a few calls and bounces away from eliminating the Penguins. While Nabokov was a huge upgrade over Rick DiePietro, and the worst contract ever handed out in sports history, it was Tavares and his leadership that really propelled the Islanders this year. With the shortened season I expected the Islanders to fight for a chance and possibly make the playoffs and I expected Tavares to be at the forefront of the elite players in the league and he didn't disappoint.  Of the Top 5 (forwards) Tavares had the worst +/- rating at a -2, the only player finishing in the negative, and finished 5th in total points with 47. Tavares finished 3rd in the league in goals, scored 16 points on the power play, netted 5 game winning goals (tied for most among the top 5) and scored on 17% of his shots. The Islanders also saw an improvement in their record, winning half their games (24) after winning only 34 of 82 the previous season. While I would have been okay with Tavares winning the Hart, he'll get 3rd from me

The lone goalie to make the Top 6 in votes was Sergei Bobrovsky. Bob showed flashes of brilliance two years ago in Philly before being jettisoned to Columbus prior to the season. Columbus just missed the playoffs, but if it weren't for Bob they wouldn't have been close. Finishing with 21 wins (T-3rd), a 2.00 GAA (T-3rd), a .932 save percentage (2nd) and 4 shutouts (T-2nd) Bob put up similar stats to other top goalies in the league (Rask, Anderson, Crawford, Lundqvist) but one glaring difference...the Blue Jackets don't have near the talent those other goalies do. Had CBJ made the playoffs then Bob wins the MVP, they didn't and instead he ends up 2nd in my book, but again I have no problem with him finishing 1st.

That brings me to Ovechkin. There is a lot of talk that Ovi only scored against the more inferior teams, that he played in the weakest division in the NHL, the Southeast, and that most of his scoring came on the power play so he needed to have an advantage to score. While valid statements, the Capitals were complete and utter garbage early in the season as they learned on the fly under new head coach Adam Oates and Ovechkin was attempting to adjust to switching to playing right wing after playing left wing his whole career. Down the stretch the Capitals caught fire and it happened to coincide with Ovechkin getting hot. Ovi ended the season as the top goal scorer with 32 goals, half of them on the power play, and only 4 of them game winners. Overall Ovi scored 27 points on the man advantage leading in both goals and total points (tied with teammate Mike Ribiero). Ovechkin's shooting percentage was 14.5%, the 2nd highest of his career and only .01% less than his best season in 2007-08. Had Ovechkin not channeled the Ovi of old there is no way the Caps would have made the playoffs nor garnered him to be the most valuable player. The Caps needed every one of those goals to get them into the playoffs, without them or him they wouldn't have been close. Of course there was much debate throughout the season that Mike Ribiero was possibly the team's most valuable player but he was more so just the perfect fit for their #2 Center position than he was the most valuable since other players put up similar stats metrically to what Ribs put up.

So there you have it. Was Ovechkin worthy of the league MVP? Yes. Should he have won it? Probably. In the end Ovechkin wins his 3rd Hart Trophy, tying him with Mario Lemieux. That has drawn the ire of many Penguins fans and writers. While Ovi isn't in the same stature of Super Mario, don't blame him. The game was different when Mario played and had a lot more worthy candidates.

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