April 29, 2008
Everyone is bound to have his or her favorite Alexander Ovechkin moment from the 2007-08 regular season. Maybe it's one of his career-high 65 goals, scored in every way, shape and fashion. Perhaps it's one of his 11 game-winners that propelled the Washington Capitals to a division championship. Perhaps it was the revelation that, like so many of us, Ovechkin had to meet a girl over the Internet. Or maybe it's the fact that despite the rest of the hockey world openly wishing he'd leave, Ovechkin decided to commit to D.C. for 13 years, and for slightly more than the GNP of several Caribbean nations.
In covering him this season, I had two particular memories of Ovechkin. One was rather maudlin: Standing at his locker with a crush of reporters after Game 7 of the Flyers' series, watching the most emotional player in hockey stand emotionless as he faced question after question about "what could have been" and "next season." He had left it all on the ice for the last four months, and he clearly wasn't ready for it to end.
The second memory regards the Ovechkin we're more used to seeing and hearing. It was a goofy interview he gave to a Russian-language newspaper that included such questions as "What smells do you like?" and "Is it possible to play hockey on Mars?" My favorite answer, however, came when he was asked, "What would you say to President George W. Bush if you met him on the lawn in front of the White House?" Ovechkin's reply:
"What's up, dude? How's life?" And let him pretend that he doesn't know who I am.
If there's a difference between being a hockey superstar and being a straight-out puck pimp, it's in those 16 words ... well, and just about everything else Ovechkin does on the ice.
If you're wondering why the names of the other Hart Trophy nominees haven't been mentioned yet, it's because they're immaterial: All Ovechkin had to do was get his team into the postseason to secure the award.
There is no logical, subjective or coherent argument against his winning the Hart this season. Anyone who voted another way, and didn't have a homeristic or geographic reason to do so, deserves 45 minutes of re-education at the hands of Donald Brashear.
Why Iginla Deserves the Hart: Truth is that I was pushing for Iggy when it appeared that Ovechkin and the Capitals might miss the postseason. I believe it's mandatory that an MVP needs to come from a playoff team. In any other season, this is Iginla's award to lose: 98 points was a career best, and was 32 points better than the second-leading scorer on the team. When Miikka Kiprusoff was struggling and the Flames were finding their way under Keenan, Iginla was their motor. The only knock on Iggy was that 10-game goal-less stretch in the middle of the season. Other than that, he was superb -- as well-rounded a player as there is in the League, and a captain who personifies the "C."
Why Malkin Deserves the Hart: You could make the case for Nicklas Lidstrom or Martin Brodeur getting Hart consideration, but there's no arguing against 106 points. It was a monster season from a monster of a player, who managed to keep the Penguins' offense humming while last year's Hart winner was on the shelf. As Mar Sees points out, "During the 28 games that former MVP Sidney Crosby was out with an ankle injury, Malkin recorded 46 points." True. But here are two critiques of Malkin's candidacy: First, he only had five game-winning goals. By no means is this a decisive measure of value, but Ovechkin (11) and Iginla (9) clearly won more games for their teams. But the real issue with Malkin is whether or not he's the reason the Penguins remained afloat during Crosby's absence, and I happen to believe he wasn't. There's a more important factor in Pittsburgh's success without Sidney and without Marc-Andre Fleury, and it can be summed up in one word: ConkBlock. Ty Conklin's remarkable third-of-a-season was every bit as valuable as Malkin's 82 games in its own albeit limited way.
But all of this analysis is rather pointless, because it's Ovechkin's award this year.