Originally posted on Taking Bad Schotz  |  Last updated 6/22/13
I’ve always heard for a European to win the Hart Trophy, he must be better than the other finalists by a bigger margin than a Canadian would. This year is an exception. When Alex Ovechkin won his first two MVP’s, he was the clear-cut best player in the league. This year he edged Sidney Crosby by just 32 votes in the closest race for the MVP since 2002. Ovechkin was given the award last Saturday, making him the eighth player in NHL history to win at least three Hart Trophies. I’ve already heard plenty about how Crosby and even John Tavares got robbed for the award. So who really deserved the award? Here’s a few reasons for and against each nominee. Ovechkin Photo Credit: (REUTERS/Hans Deryk) Ovie led the league in goals with 32 and added 24 assists in 48 games played. Most of his goals were scored in the last half of the season. This late surge of scoring helped the Capitals win 20 games in March and April. They went 11-1-1 in April, propelling them to the three-seed in the East and to first in the Southeast Division. Compare that with January, when he had only three points and the team went 1-5-1. This is looked at in two ways. On one hand, Ovechkin deserves the award for finding a new gear late in the season, making up for his slow start, and solidifying a high playoff seed for his team. On the other hand, he could barely get on the score sheet to start the season, which caused a slow start for his team. Crosby and Tavares hit the ground running in January and both played more complete, consistent seasons. The voters obviously found the lopsided season impressive enough. Crosby via pittsburghmagazine.com Had Sidney Crosby stayed healthy all year, there’s no doubt he’d be admiring his second Hart Trophy at this very second. After a Brooks Orpik slap shot broke his jaw in March, he missed the last twelve games of the season. Despite playing twelve less games than Ovechkin and Tavares, he tied Ovechkin with 56 points, and had nine more than Tavares. Neither of the other two candidates came close to his 41 assists, reflective of his playmaking and ability to make his teammates better. It also shows he plays a more rounded game and is not purely a goal scorer. An often overlooked stat in hockey is the +/-, the difference in goals for and against when a player is on the ice. Crosby is a +26, fourth in the league and much better than Ovechkin’s +2 and Tavares’ -2. This points to two things: he is a better two-way player than he is given credit for and he plays on a really good team. The latter is why he didn’t win the MVP. The Penguins went 9-4 without Crosby in the lineup and still finished the season with the one-seed in the East. He may be the best player in the league, but his value to the success of his team would be more significant on another team. Tavares via smirfittsspeech.com Like Oveckin and Crosby, John Tavares is also a first overall draft pick. In pursuit of his first Hart nomination, Tavares was third in the league in goals with 28 and had 19 assists in 48 games. In only his fourth year in the league, he has evolved into an elite NHL center. His stats are very good, especially the goal total, but he is still only seventeenth in the league in points. What allowed him to achieve MVP candidacy was the valuable impact he made all season. The Caps have decent depth in players like Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Ribeiro, and Mike Green. The Pens have elite depth with Chris Kunitz, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, James Neal, and Pascal Dupuis, to name a few. John Tavares felt more of the burden fall on him this season. Matt Moulson, Brad Boyes, Kyle Okposo, and Frans Nielsen are good players but are not on par with Washington’s depth and not even close to Pittsburgh’s. The Islanders had a losing record when Tavares did not score a goal or tally a point, and they made it to the playoffs. One unfortunate reality is, Ovechkin and Crosby are household names. Tavares lacks their star power early in his career. This may or may not have affected the voters, but its something to consider. The league is coming off a lockout and trying to stay relevant; maybe they would rather give the MVP to a superstar like Ovechkin than an up-and-comer with less celebrity status. So who deserved it? Ovechkin. He turned up the heat late when no one thought the Caps could win the division or even make the playoffs. With Alexander Semin off to Carolina, Brooks Laich injured much of the year, and less depth than people think, Ovie had to pick up the slack in Washington. So he led the league in goals while digging his team out of a hole. If Crosby doesn’t get hurt, the award is his. No doubt he would have led the league in points and solidified a dominant season had he played 12 more games. But the Hart Trophy is not awarded for hypothetical success and his team was just fine without him. Tavares is a good young player, carried much of his team’s load, and should be in the Hart discussion for years to come. But his point total was the lowest of the three and competing with the Crosby/Ovechkin circus is no easy task. -Vespasiano
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