Monday, March 24, 2008

The search for Hart
The perils of picking the NHL's MVP

Two months ago, I ran a poll on the Hart Trophy which had close to 1,000 votes, the bulk of which (43%) were cast for Alex Ovechkin.

Even with 15 candidates on the ballot, the players I figured were most likely to contend for the award at season's end, there was no Evgeni Malkin. Martin Brodeur received just six votes, and Jarome Iginla was a distant fourth with only 8 per cent support.

Two months later, in my mind anyway, there are five legitimate candidates who have a chance at the hardware: Ovechkin, Malkin, Brodeur, Iginla and Nicklas Lidstrom.

And it's a very close race.

In a piece that's been getting a lot of attention on the interweb, Damien Cox backs Lidstrom. Ross McKeon says it should be Iginla. And Steve Simmons picks Ovechkin.

These three, as members of the hockey writers' association, will all have votes, and I imagine this will be one of the most hotly contested MVP votes in NHL history. It's hard to say there's a wrong answer, but in my mind the closest thing to that would be to dismiss Ovechkin simply because his team misses the postseason.

Cox points to the fact that fans and pundits love the heroic star on a lesser team, but the fact is, there's no advantage to being the lone wolf on an otherwise dismal hockey team. A goaltender may face more shots and be able to shine brighter on a bottom feeder, but the odds are stacked against Oveckin every night, from the fact he has a rookie finding his way as his linemate to facing the most difficult opposition each and every night.

Ovechkin leads the league with 31 goals on the road, where the matchups go against him every shift, despite the fact only three others have managed even 20 away from home this season.

With 60 goals in 76 games, he's on pace for nearly 65 goals, which would tie for the 23rd-best single-season goal total in NHL history despite the fact he plays in the lowest-scoring era of any player who has ever hit the 60-goal mark.

How can you write off one of the greatest goal-scoring seasons of all time because the Capitals miss the playoffs due to poor goaltending? And injuries to key personnel? And poor coaching early on, bad management decisions, an inexperienced blueline, lack of secondary scoring...

You get the idea.

Ovechkin has had more help this season than in the past, but he's still very much a man on an island. Which makes his accomplishments all the more impressive — not less.

That's not to say he's my pick with no questions asked. At this point, I'd be satisfied with either Ovechkin, Iginla or Lidstrom as MVP, with the last two weeks of the season playing a big part in determining who wins of the three.

But let's pick a player for the right reasons.

Which brings me to Cox's comments on Lidstrom:
Lidstrom's worth to the Wings was amply demonstrated by the way in which the team nearly fell apart during his recent injury absence.

After years of watching Lidstrom's quiet brilliance all but ignored despite the success of the Wings, this was indisputable evidence that he is a difference-maker on a team that still sports the NHL's best record.
It sounds good, it really does. It's persuasive, and it makes sense given the Red Wings' little bump in the road this season.

But it's wrong.

Detroit was 0-6-1 in its last seven games before Lidstrom got hurt, but without him in the lineup, including the game he was injured and played just three minutes, the Red Wings went 3-3-1.

That's the basis for the Hart Trophy? That's the "indisputable evidence?"

Lidstrom's a fine candidate, and he's who I picked at the midway point, but if you want to make that argument, start with the quality of competition he faces and his plus-minus rating. Only four players face more difficult 5-on-5 opposition according to Behind The Net, yet Lidstrom's numbers at even strength are incredible: 3.73 goals for average and 1.66 goals against average when on the ice, compared to 2.11 and 1.79 when he's off it.

There's not another defenceman in the league that sees well under two goals against per 60 minutes facing that kind of opposition. It's absurd.

Detroit scores on stingy opposition when he's out there. Then he and his defence partner prevent goals against from the top-scoring players in the league. And both the offence and defence improve significantly when Lidstrom's on the ice.

Combine that with the number of points he produces, nearly a point a game at age 37, and he's in the class with the best blueliners of any era.

That's an MVP argument.

Just don't ask me for my final answer quite yet.




At 9:42 a.m., March 24, 2008, Blogger saskhab said...

Cox has this bizarre obsession with the whole Crosby v. Ovechkin argument that he lets it cloud everything about Ovechkin... and even Malkin to a degree. If Crosby ain't the MVP, Ovechkin sure as hell won't be (and the thought of Pittsburgh having a guy who could equal Crosby's feat of last year is not conducive to his argument that Crosby does more with less).

People just need to quit believing there's any logic behind Cox's comments.

I generally go against the flow by nature, but I can't see any reason to believe that Ovechkin isn't the best player to his team, best individual performer, and putting together one of the best seasons I've ever seen. It's amazing what he's doing... and the "Iginla standard" doesn't apply here at all. This is a season equivalant to Mario's amazing 1988-89 campaign.

Better recognize.

At 10:49 a.m., March 24, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This year is going to be a very interesting vote for the Hart. I don't think there is much debate that Ovechkin is the best player this year but you are always going to have those people who believe a player on a non-playoff team can't win the Hart.

I work for and came up with some mathematical formulas to predict who will win all the various NHL trophies. After many many modifications, I tested the formulas on each season since 2000/2001 and they correctly picked the winners each year (and usually the runners up). I'm interested to see how my predictions pan out this year. My Hart formula currently has Ovechkin winning the award followed closely by (in order) Iginla, Lidstrom, Malkin and Datsyuk.

You can check out my formulas here:

The rankings update every night with up to date stats and have been changing pretty frequently the past few weeks.

At 11:15 a.m., March 24, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It'll probably be Ovechkin. The other players are also deserving, but his game is so charismatic and the numbers are amazing.

Lidstrom is one of the best defenders ever, but his game is not flashy, and he probably has been penalized to some extent by the fact that he is so steady that excellence is expected from him because...well, because that is just what Lidstrom does.

At 11:21 a.m., March 24, 2008, Blogger AWF said...

No love for Nabokov? If you include Brodeur, you need to include Nabokov. The Sharks have only scored 9 more goals than the Devils, so its not like Nabokov is getting a lot more offensive support than Brodeur. And I'd be interested to see their respective stats within their conference and their division. A quick review shows the Devils are 9-16 [4 OT L] against their division so far.

And if you include Iginla, you need to include Kovalev. Kovalev's made the Canadiens "his team" - and he is the leader on its most important feature - the PP. No one expected Montreal to finish anywhere, and they are fighting for the Conference lead.

Honestly though, i dont think this is going to be close at all - I think Ovechkin is going to walk away with this.


At 11:22 a.m., March 24, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ovechkin would be my pick to win the Hart, but I can definitely see a rationale for biasing a vote against players both on i) a non-playoff team and ii) a league powerhouse.

The issue, I believe, stems from the criteria of the award which is the most valuable to his team, not the most outstanding player in the league. There are 3 types of MVP candidates:

A) The team of this player comes close but does not make the playoffs.

B) The team of this player makes the playoffs but clearly would not have without this player.

C) The team of this player is a league powerhouse and likely would have made the playoffs without him.

The goal for all teams is to win the Stanley Cup. Team A has the same chance of winning the cup with it's most valuable player as it would have had without him - zero. Team C probably has some additional home ice advantage due to the great play of Player C but still has to win the necessary 16 games. The team of Player B, however, enjoys the most incremental improvement in their chances of winning the Cup due to the play of Player B. I don't think it's irrational to think that Player B has been more valuable to his team, and thus more deserving of the Hart trophy.

At 11:29 a.m., March 24, 2008, Blogger AWF said...

oh and as far as Cox goes, you can completely ignore him. First of all, he wrote Brodeur's book. Literally:

Second the following comment alone shows you he's not interested in figuring out who actually deserves the awards:

and Brodeur the Vezina, although some are saying Evgeni Nabokov of the Sharks is the league's best goalie. Well, when you find a single NHL general manager other than Doug Wilson who would trade Brodeur straight up for Nabokov, let me know.

That has nothing to do with who should be MVP or Vezina winner. If Nabokov was the most valuable player, or the best goaltender, he deserves the awards. Cox has a built in Brodeur bias and it shows through regularly.

At 12:56 p.m., March 24, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

People just need to quit believing there's any logic behind Cox's comments.


At 1:39 p.m., March 24, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The "Iginla standard" only applies to Montreal based writers when a Habs player is in the running for the trophy.

When the same idiot Montreal writer who left Iginla off his ballot in 2002 votes for Alex this year, we can then term it the "Ovechkin double standard."

At 6:25 p.m., March 24, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Although chances are that there's virtually no way a goalie is going to win this year's Hart, for argument's sake I'll throw in Luongo's name in there as well. Luongo has been able to put up almost identical numbers to Brodeur despite the Canucks having missed valuable players throughout the season due to injuries (Morrison, Ohlund, Bieksa, Salo, Miller, Krajicek have all missed significant time).

At 7:07 p.m., March 24, 2008, Blogger rickibear said...

Jarome Iginla scored 12G in 10 Games vs. the eastern conference. If he played a full 72 games in the east he would score 87 goals plus based on his current western confrence goal scoring pace he would get 6 goals in 10 games. That is a total of 93 goals. (WHAT IS THE RECORD THAT NO ONE IS SUPPOSE TO BREAK.) Sure Ovechkin and Malkin are MVP material. It should be between Iginla and Lidstrom. My choice is Lidstrom.

At 11:46 a.m., March 25, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If he played a full 72 games in the east he would score 87 goals plus based on his current western confrence goal scoring pace he would get 6 goals in 10 games. That is a total of 93 goals. (WHAT IS THE RECORD THAT NO ONE IS SUPPOSE TO BREAK.)

The problem with this argument is that Iginla would definitely not end up scoring 93 goals. 10 games is such a small sample size to draw from and it's wildly inaccurate.

If we are going to throw out hypotheticals as support for the MVP, we might as well ponder how Ovechkin's already insane stats would grow if he was paired with a top notch playmaking centre such as Thornton, Savard, or Datsyuk.

At 8:16 p.m., March 25, 2008, Blogger rickibear said...

Of coarse! But it is obvious Ovechkin's totals are easier to achieve in the east and less "Most Valuable."


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