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Saturday, April 10, 2010

MVP (Editorial)

Written by Netty, April 10th, 2010

*This is the first of 2 articles that discuss why I think that a Capitals player should win a NHL trophy for this season. This one is for Alexander Ovechkin and his candidacy for the Hart Memorial Trophy.

2377c99dea60e302b6ca88d50c04780b-getty-90955248ja016__capitals_penguins (1) (Photo from Yahoo)

Introduction

The NHL gives out numerous trophies every year at their annual awards ceremony, which takes place following the conclusion of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Thought they the ceremony takes place after the playoffs, the voting for the awards is done prior to the playoffs and is based solely on regular season performance. The main individual awards handed out are the Hart Memorial Trophy, given to “the player judged to be the most valuable to his team” and is voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association; the James Norris Memorial Trophy, given to “the top defensive player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position” and is also voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association; the Vezina Trophy, given to the league’s goaltender who is “judged to be the best at this position” and is voted on by the 30 general managers in the NHL; the Calder Memorial Trophy, given to “the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the National Hockey League” and is voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association; and the Lester B. Pearson Award, given to the “most outstanding player in the regular season as judged by members of the NHL Players Association (NHLPA)”, usually a companion award to the Hart Memorial Trophy. There are also numerous smaller awards, including, for example: the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, awarded to the player who exhibited outstanding sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct, along with a high standard of playing ability; the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the most valuable player in the playoffs; the Jack Adams Award, given to the top coach in the NHL; as well as numerous statistical awards, such as the the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy and the Art Ross Trophy, given to the league’s top goal scorer and top points scorer, respectively. – Netty (using information from Wikipedia)

Alexander Ovechkin for the Hart

Alexander Ovechkin should, once again win the Hart Memorial Trophy for being the most valuable player on his team, and the NHL. Having won the award the previous two years, Ovechkin would then also join Hall of Famers Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky as the the only players to have ever won the Hart three times in a row.

However, this year it is very possible that Ovechkin will not be going home from the Awards Ceremony with another Hart to his name; people say that the increased scoring of Pittsburgh Penguins captain, centre Sidney Crosby, or the excellent play of Vancouver Canucks assistant captain, centre Henrik Sedin, overall as well as in the mid-season absence of his twin brother Daniel, as reasons Ovechkin should not go home with the award. Others point to goalies, such as Ilya Byrzagalov, of the Phoenix Coyotes, and Ryan Miller, of the Buffalo Sabres, as players who should receive the Hart, due to their essential play throughout the season. Still, in my opinion, Alexander Ovechkin trumps them all.

Let my say right now that I am one of many who think that, no matter how good, should not be a recipient of the Hart; goalies are, in my mind, always the most important person on the ice, and are always essential to their team’s success. However, goalies have the Vezina Trophy for that, so the Hart should go to a player playing a different position.

Anyway, here is my argument for why Alexander Ovechkin, captain of the Washington Capitals, should win the Hart. I also will argue against reasons others feel Ovechkin should not win the Hart. Let’s begin;

Sheer Statistical Domination 

There is no doubt who the most dominating player on the ice, statistically, has been this season: Alexander Ovechkin.

Yes, Ovechkin is in a tight battle with Henrik Sedin for the NHL points lead (for the Art Ross Trophy). Yes, Ovechkin is in a tight battle against Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos for the NHL goal scoring lead (for the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy). Ovechkin even is in a battle for the NHL +/- lead, against four of his own team mates.

However, he is competitive in all these categories at once, which is a marvelous achievement in and of itself. Henrik Sedin is not in the goals scoring race. Steven Stamkos is not in the points race. Sidney Crosby is not in the +/- race. Ovechkin is, amazingly, in all of these. Let’s check out some stats (I’ve put Sedin, Crosby, and Ovechkin in BOLD)….

NHL Points Scoring
Points GP Player Team
109 71 Alexander Ovechkin, LW Washington Capitals
108 81 Henrik Sedin, C Vancouver Canucks
104 79 Sidney Crosby, C Pittsburgh Penguins
101 81 Nicklas Backstrom, C Washington Capitals
92 80 Martin St. Louis, RW Tampa Bay Lightning
91 80 Steven Stamkos, C Tampa Bay Lightning
91 79 Brad Richards, C Dallas Stars
88 78 Joe Thornton, C San Jose Sharks
87 81 Patrick Kane, RW Chicago Blackhawks
86 75 Marian Gaborik, RW New York Rangers

NHL Goals Scoring
Goals GP Player Team
50 71 Alexander Ovechkin, LW Washington Capitals
49 79 Sidney Crosby, C Pittsburgh Penguins
48 80 Steven Stamkos, C Tampa Bay Lightning
43 81 Patrick Marleau, C San Jose Sharks
42 75 Marian Gaborik, RW New York Rangers
40 74 Ilya Kovalchuk, LW New Jersey Devils / Atlanta Thrashers
39 72 Alexander Semin, LW Washington Capitals
39 81 Dany Heatley, LW San Jose Sharks
37 79 Zach Parise, LW New Jersey Devils
35 81 Alex Burrows, LW Vancouver Canucks

NHL Assists
Assists GP Player Team
79 81 Henrik Sedin, C Vancouver Canucks
68 81 Nicklas Backstrom, C Washington Capitals
68 78 Joe Thornton, C San Jose Sharks
67 79 Brad Richards, C Dallas Stars
64 80 Martin St. Louis, RW Tampa Bay Lightning
59 71 Alexander Ovechkin, LW Washington Capitals
59 80 Paul Stastny, C Colorado Avalanche
57 81 Patrick Kane, RW Chicago Blackhawks
56 74 Mike Green, D Washington Capitals
55 79 Sidney Crosby, C Pittsburgh Penguins

NHL Points-Per-Game
PPG GP Player Team
1.54 71 Alexander Ovechkin, LW Washington Capitals
1.33 81 Henrik Sedin, C Vancouver Canucks
1.32 79 Sidney Crosby, C Pittsburgh Penguins
1.31 62 Daniel Sedin, LW Vancouver Canucks
1.25 81 Nicklas Backstrom, C Washington Capitals
1.15 72 Alexander Semin, LW Washington Capitals
1.15 79 Brad Richards, C Dallas Stars
1.15 80 Martin St. Louis, RW Tampa Bay Lightning
1.15 75 Marian Gaborik, RW New York Rangers
1.14 80 Steven Stamkos, C Tampa Bay Lightning

NHL Plus / Minus
+/- GP Player Team
48 72 Jeff Schultz, D Washington Capitals
46 71 Alexander Ovechkin, LW Washington Capitals
38 81 Nicklas Backstrom, C Washington Capitals
37 74 Mike Green, D Washington Capitals
35 72 Alexander Semin, LW Washington Capitals
33 79 Christian Ehrhoff, D Vancouver Canucks
32 62 Daniel Sedin, LW Vancouver Canucks
31 81 Henrik Sedin, C Vancouver Canucks
31 81 Alex Burrows, LW Vancouver Canucks
26 69 Tom Poti, D Washington Capitals

Looking at these basic stats, one thing becomes very clear; statistically, Alexander Ovechkin trumps Crosby and Sedin. Period. Yes, Sedin has more assists, but he is a centre; generally a playmaking position. He is not a sniper; but Ovechkin is. Ovechkin is also a league leader is such categories as shots-on-goal, game winning goals, etc. The most impressive factor, however, is that Alexander Ovechkin has player about 10 game left than either one of his opponents; Ovechkin was also ejected from 2 games in the 1st period. That shows up in the points-per-game pace especially, where Ovechkin has .21 more points-per-game than Sedin. Should he have played a full 81 games (up to this point), Ovie would have, without rounding, 124.74 points, split into 57.04 goals and 67.7 assists. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a significant difference.

Also, in less immediately apparent categories, Alexander Ovechkin is on the ice for significantly more goals for his team, as well as very significantly fewer goals against his team. The numbers are actually astounding: 

GFON GAON Difference Player
87 33 +54 Alexander Ovechkin
86 57 +29 Henrik Sedin
80 64 +16 Sidney Crosby

Wow. Alexander Ovechkin has been on ice for more goals that either Henrik Sedin or Sidney Crosby, but not by a large margin. However, he has been on ice for far fewer goals against; he goals-for to goals-against differential is an incredible 54, compared to the 29 and 16 Sedin and Crosby get, respectively. Looking at this data, Ovechkin not only  is better at scoring himself, as well as dominating statistically, but is far better defensively.

As far as the statistics go, between the three players most often considered to be in the running for the Hart Trophy, Alexander Ovechkin is by far the best.

Captain of the Best Team in the NHL

Of the three players most often considered to be in the Hart race, both Sidney Crosby and, since January 5th, Alexander Ovechkin, are captains of their respective teams. Henrik Sedin is merely an assistant captain, so he will not be included in this portion of the discussion.

After trading away their captain, at the time, Chris Clark, the Washington Capitals played 3 games without a captain. In those, they went 0-3-0, and were outscored 13-6. The first game the Capitals played with Alexander Ovechkin as captain was on January 5th, 2010. Let’s take a look at the Capitals’ record prior to trading Clark, and after making Ovechkin captain;

Captain GP Wins Losses OL Points Possible Pts. Pts. %
Chris Clark

38

24

-

8

-

6

56

76

56.71

No Captain

3

0

-

3

-

0

0

6

0

Alexander Ovechkin

40

30

-

4

-

6

66

80

82.5

Obviously, this team is far better with Ovechkin as captain. Over an entire, 82 game season, if the team played as well as it has with Ovechkin wearing the “C'”, the team’s record would look something like this (without any rounding)….

Captain GP Wins   Losses   OL Points Possible Pts. Pts. %
Alexander Ovechkin

82

61.5

-

8.2

-

12.3

135.3

164

82.5

How good are those numbers? Well; they’re .5 away from most wins (62, by the 1995-1996 Detroit Red Wings); they’d be #1 all-time in points (the current record is 132, by the 1976-1977 Montreal Canadiens); and they’re within reach of fewest losses (8, also by the 76-77 Canadiens). Basically, that’d be, if not the best, within the top-3 best NHL seasons in history. That is astounding. Rest assured, Sidney Crosby’s Penguins are not doing nearly that well.

Alexander Ovechkin has long been the face of the Washington Capitals off-ice, almost since his rookie season. By making him captain and their leader on-ice, the team has been invigorated; it transformed a pretty good season into the franchise’s best season ever, as well as one of the best NHL seasons in a while; no question. Ovechkin’s hard-charging, run-and-gun physical style of play has been adopted by the rest of the team, and the other 29 teams in the NHL simply cannot keep up. Prior to making Ovechkin captain, the Capitals were 3rd in the Eastern Conference and 6th overall in the NHL. As of today, the Capitals are 1st in the NHL with a 21 point lead in the Eastern Conference and a 9 point lead over any other team in the NHL. The Washington Capitals have improved in every area with Ovechkin as captain, and the team plays with the same confidence that they can beat anyone, anytime, anywhere that Ovechkin himself has. Now, instead of Ovechkin making that crucial play, that critical, essential goal, it could be someone like Eric Fehr or Brooks Laich doing that. While as a player statistically he might have made himself less essential, his spirit and presence has become all the more essential for Washington with his captaincy.  Crosby’s team is fourth in the Eastern conference, and is 7th in the NHL. Crosby does not represent what his team plays like, but Alexander Ovechkin most certainly does. Is he the most important player on the ice for the Washington Capitals? Most definitely.

As Joe Beninati and Craig Laughlin, commentators on CSN Washington put it;

Alexander Ovechkin is the best player on the best team in the NHL. Enough said.”

That is exactly what the Hart Trophy is for. And that is why Alexander Ovechkin is the perfect Hart Trophy winner.

In Review

In conclusion, from the top three contenders for the Hart Memorial Trophy, Henrik Sedin, Sidney Crosby, and Alexander Ovechkin, Ovechkin should be the winner. The Hart Trophy is given to “the player judged to be the most valuable to his team.”  No player in the NHL today, in my opinion, represents the spirit and ideals of his team as well as Alexander Ovechkin does, and, as captain, he leads by example. He is, statistically, one of, if not the best, player in the NHL. On and off the ice, he leads his team with his fast and furious style of play, something that is exciting to watch. The NHL has not had teams that play as powerfully as this since the 80’s and 90’s, when the Wayne Gretzky-lead Edmonton Oilers scored and won Stanley Cups, and when the Mario Lemieux-lead Pittsburgh Penguins did the same.

Yes, Sidney Crosby is a great player, and so is Henrik Sedin. However, in term’s of value to their teams, Alexander Ovechkin is the clear winner. On ice, off ice, on the score sheets, and as a leader, Ovechkin is the most valuable player for the Washington Capitals. He embodies the team spirit, and should be your 2009-2010 Hart Memorial Trophy recipient. He deserves it.

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