Has the time come for the NHL to change the way it defines the Hart Trophy? Currently, the award – voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association – goes to the player adjudged "to be the most valuable to his team."
This, annually, trips up voters, and it did again this year, when Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals won his third overall MVP award, beating out Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Presumably, Crosby lost out to Ovechkin for two reasons. First, he missed the final month of the season because of a broken jaw and thus played just 36 games; and two, his team didn't collapse under the weight of his absence and still managed to finish first overall in the Eastern Conference.
How else to explain why the vote went the way it did? Ovechkin had the same number of points as Crosby – 56 – but had 12 extra games to get to that number. In fact, despite his lengthy absence, Crosby held the scoring lead until five days remained in the regular season when the eventual scoring champion, Martin St. Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning, passed him. Crosby finished in a tie for third with Ovechkin, one point behind Tampa's Steve Stamkos. Neither Stamkos nor St. Louis were factors in the Hart balloting because their team wasn't a playoff contender and both were roughly equal in terms of their contributions to the team's success, what little there was of it.
So essentially, Crosby was penalized for playing on a strong team that overcame his absence because of a series of moves general manager Ray Shero made at the trading deadline. While you can debate the relative merits and contributions of Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow, Jussi Jokinen and Douglas Murray to the Penguins cause during the playoffs, there is little argument about how their collective presence helped keep Pittsburgh cruising along in the regular season.
Meanwhile, Ovechkin was the considered to be the single lone-wolf the driving force behind the Caps' playoff run, after a miserable start to the season for both him and the team. For reasons unknown, Ovechkin wasn't penalized for his slow –to-no start, but he was rewarded for the fact that he and the team came to life in the second month and beyond.
Make no mistake about it, to finish with 32 goals in 48 games is an impressive overall total. But it wasn't so long ago that the hockey world debated where the Crosby vs. Ovechkin rivalry stood and it wasn't really much of a discussion. Crosby won hands-down. Moreover, Washington's surge had a lot to do with improvements in Braden Holtby's play in goal; the gradual familiarity that came as players adjusted to new coach Adam Oates' system; and primarily, a league-leading power play that produced 44 goals, 16 of them by Ovechkin. Ovechkin was the triggerman on a lot of goals, but it was the pinpoint passing of Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Ribiero and Mike Green which often found him in the right shooting position. But those factors were largely glossed over, in the push to rehabilitate Ovechkin's image and cast him as the team's saviour. Sure, he was a big part of the turnaround, but not the only part.
It would make far more sense for the NHL to amend the wording of the Hart so the league's "most-outstanding player," which is how the players association defines the Ted Lindsay award, a peer recognition award that went to the logical winner, Crosby.
Officially, Ovechkin received 1,090 voting points compared to 1,058 for Crosby. It was the closest Hart race since Montreal's Jose Theodore and Calgary's Jarome Iginla tied for the award in 2002, with 434 voting points apiece, with Theodore getting the nod because he had the greatest number of first-place votes. Iginla, the league's scoring champion, was controversially left off a handful of ballots altogether – voters get to select five candidates – because his team didn't make the playoffs. Ovechkin had 50 first-place votes, Crosby 46, while John Tavares of the New York Islanders managed 38 in finishing third. Others receiving first-place votes included Jonathan Toews (Chicago, who actually had 39, one more than Tavares); Sergei Bobrovsky (Columbus, four); and Patrick Kane of Chicago with two.
OTHER AWARDS WINNERS
To the defenceman demonstrating the greatest all-around ability in the position went to the Montreal Canadiens' P.K. Subban in a narrow victory over the Minnesota Wild's Ryan Suter. Only 33 voting points separated the two players. Subban had 66 first-place votes; Suter 65, while Pittsburgh's Kris Letang finished third and had 31 first-place votes.
To the goalkeeper adjusted to be best at his position went to the Columbus Blue Jackets' Sergei Bobrovsky. The award is selected by the 30 NHL GMs, and Bobrovsky received 17 first-place votes. Henrik Lundqvist finished second with three first-place votes and 12 seconds, while Antti Niemi had six first-place votes, but finished third overall.
To the player adjudged most proficient in his first year of competition in the NHL went to the Florida Panthers Jonathan Huberdeau, in a close vote over the Montreal Canadiens' Brendan Gallagher. Huberdeau and Gallagher each received 54 first-place votes among the 179 ballots cast, with Huberdeau picking up slightly more support further down the ballot. Points are allocated on a 10-7-5-3-1 basis for first through fifth.