Like most awards in professional sports, the NHL awards are often the subject of debate and, at times, controversy, as fans and media alike weigh in on who should or should not have won each trophy once the ballots have been cast and the...
Like most awards in professional sports, the NHL awards are often the subject of debate and, at times, controversy, as fans and media alike weigh in on who should or should not have won each trophy once the ballots have been cast and the hardware handed out. Of all of the awards, however, few seem to draw as much focus and generate as much conversation as the Hart Trophy.
The Hart Trophy is awarded annually to "the player judged to be the most valuable to his team" - criteria which may seem fairly straightforward but which can be (and often is) interpreted slightly differently as being the League's best player... of course if that were the case, it would beg the question of why the NHL would hand out two awards that mean the same thing, since the Ted Lindsay Award (nee Lester B. Pearson Award) is given to the League's most outstanding player, but that's a separate issue.
Regardless of how one views the Hart Trophy, 2013 was one of those rare years in which a case could actually be made for each of the three finalists to win (to say nothing of at least one or two others who didn't make the cut) - in large part because of the 48-game sample, which provided less time for the the top guys to separate themselves from the pack. This season it came down to a battle of the top draft picks, pitting Alex Ovechkin against some very tough competition in Sidney Crosby and John Tavares for the trophy.
2013 Rink Wrap: Alex Ovechkin
Despite missing the last 12 games of the regular season with a broken jaw, Crosby was without question the best player in the NHL this season (when he played), putting up huge numbers in just 36 games and elevating the respective games of his linemates - neither of whom played at nearly the same level after he got injured. Meanwhile Tavares drove the Islanders' playoff push with a point-per-game pace, including some impressive road numbers en route to one of the League's best records away from home and the first postseason berth for the Islanders in six years.
Which brings us to the third finalist - and eventual winner - Alex Ovechkin.
Ovechkin's 2013 resume is fairly impressive in its own right and more than enough to justify his Hart Trophy win, particularly if one takes the words "most valuable to his team" literally... and yet his win still set off a fair amount of complaining about why he didn't deserve it (or worse, why his win means the Hart Trophy criteria is somehow flawed). So what's the case for Ovechkin's third career Hart Trophy win?
For starters, his offensive numbers were simply phenomenal. In this lockout-shortened season, Ovechkin finished the year with 32 goals in 48 games, equaling his production from the entire 2010-11 season (consisting of 79 games) and falling six goals short of last year's total (which he scored in 78 games). Those 32 goals topped the League, besting reigning Richard Trophy winner and division rival Steven Stamkos by three; half of them came on the power play, also a League-leading total that was six more than anyone else in the NHL this season and the most he's scored since the 2008-09 season. With 24 assists to go along with all of the goals, he finished the year with 56 points, good enough for third-best in the NHL and tying him with fellow Hart finalist Crosby.
For Ovechkin, the midpoint of the season signaled a complete turnaround (at both an individual and team level), as he went on a tear over the second half to help guide the Caps to the playoffs for the sixth straight year. An amazing 23 of his 32 goals and 36 of his 56 points were accumulated in the final 24 games of the season, a torrid (albeit somewhat unsustainable) pace that changed his season - and that of the Caps - from highly disappointing to highly promising.
By the end of the season Ovechkin had scored just over 21% of the team's total goals and either scored or assisted on 37.5% of them
It went well beyond just the sheer volume of offense from #8, as his production