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GR8NESS: OVI’S CHASE FOR 700: As Alex Ovechkin approaches 700 career NHL goals, PHT is going to examine all aspects of his goal-scoring prowess. We’ll break down and provide context for his amazing stats, project if he can top Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894, and take a look at his most important goals.
Thursday night’s coverage (livestream link) of Capitals-Avalanche will be the second half of an NHL doubleheader on NBCSN, immediately following originally-scheduled coverage of Flyers-Panthers, which begins at 7 p.m. ET. Pre-game coverage at 6 p.m. ET with NHL Live.
When it comes to the 2019-20 NHL MVP race Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin has not yet received a ton of attention.
As the season goes on, and assuming Ovechkin continues on his current path, that should begin to change.
At least if the voting follows the same trend it has in recent years.
Entering the Capitals’ game on Thursday against the Colorado Avalanche (9:30 p.m. ET NBCSN), Ovechkin is in the middle of a back-and-forth goal-scoring race with Pastrnak and Toronto’s Auston Matthews for the top spot.
As he continues his pursuit of 700 career goals (just two away), he is on track to score 50 goals for the ninth time in his career (which would tie an NHL record) and has a very real shot at his second 60-goal season.
He also has a very good chance of winning an NHL record ninth goal scoring crown.
That is where his name is going to get put into the MVP race.
The argument for him
Leading the league in goals isn’t always enough to win the award, but it is almost certainly enough to get a player near the top-five of the voting. Especially if they play on a good team, as Ovechkin currently is.
We can look at past voting results to get a sense for how Ovechkin’s season might be perceived when ballots are due at the end of the regular season.
Going back to the 1999-00 season, players that finished with at least a share of the NHL’s goal-scoring crown had an average finish of 6th in the Hart Trophy voting, while 12 of those players finished somewhere in the top-five. All but four finished inside the top-10. The only ones that finished outside of the top-10 were Ovechkin during the 2013-14 season (team missed playoffs), Jonathan Cheechoo in 2005-06 (his teammate and linemate, Joe Thornton, won) Rick Nash in 2003-04 (team missed playoffs), and Milan Hejduk in 2002-03.
Among players that won the goal scoring crown outright during that stretch, they averaged a top-five finish in the MVP voting.
The bottom line here is goals ultimately get noticed, and when you score the most goals for a good team that is going to put you in the discussion. The Capitals are leading the Metropolitan Division (again) and in contention for yet another Presidents’ Trophy, and Ovechkin has doubled up every other player on his team in goals and has scored 20 percent of the Capitals’ total goals.
The argument against him
What’s interesting about Ovechkin in that context, however, is he hasn’t always received quite as many votes as other top goal scorers in recent years.
Of the 17 players to win the goal-scoring crown outright since the start of the 1999-00 season, only six of them did not receive at least one first-place vote. Ovechkin represents three of those occasions, including three of the past four since the start of the 2005-06 (and each of the past two seasons).
The only other outright winners to not get at least one first-place vote were Cheechoo, Hejduk, and Pavel Bure. Ovechkin and Bure were the only players to not receive a first-or second-place vote, something that has happened to Ovechkin twice during that stretch (including this past season).
Bure played on a team that missed the playoffs, while Cheechoo and Hejduk were teammates of the winners that season (Thornton-Cheechoo; Hejduk-Peter Forsberg).
I think a lot of it comes down to the negative perception of Ovechkin’s game and playing style from critics that followed him around for a significant portion of his career.
When the Capitals did not win, it was always about Ovechkin not playing the right way, or being too one-dimensional, or not doing enough to lift his team whether it was fair or not.
The problem for Ovechkin this year is there are several players around the league that truly have been more impactful in all phases of the game, while Ovechkin’s biggest value right now is driven almost entirely by his ability to score goals.
In the end, it is probably going to play out for him the way it has in recent years: If he wins the goal crown outright he will probably get enough third, fourth, and fifth places votes to get a top-10 (maybe even top-five) finish in the Hart Trophy race, but ultimately end up behind some combination of MacKinnon and McDavid and another couple of contenders.