Handicapping the MVP Race

Ryan Miller (Photo courtesy of mark6mauno/ Flikr.)

With less than 10 games remaining in the NHL regular season, the race for the last few playoff spots in each conference is heating up. Most games have some kind of playoff implications, making for some very exciting hockey. But the recent talk emerging evolves around the possible Hart Trophy candidates, likely spurned by the very tight battles for both the Art Ross Trophy and the Rocket Richard trophy. Currently, Henrik Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks leads the NHL in scoring with 101 points, followed closely by Washington’s Alex Ovechkin at 100 points. The race for the Rocket Richard is led by Sidney Crosby at 47 goals, with Ovechkin hot on his heels at 46. Surprisingly, both superstars are being shadowed by Tampa Bay Lightning sophomore Steven Stamkos, who sits at 45 goals.

While some hockey pundits suggest Ovechkin will take home the Hart again, there are others who believe it’s quite up for grabs this year. Ovechkin has a linemate in Nicklas Backstrom who is having arguably a better year. Backstrom is 4th in NHL scoring, and has evolved into a real 2-way threat. The Capitals would still be running away with the Southest division without Ovie in the lineup thanks to players like Backstrom, Alex Semin, Mike Green and their superb secondary scoring. And since the MVP is awarded to the player most valuable to his team, Ovechkin’s two suspensions this year may be a blemish on his resume. But until the award is actually presented, the debate rages on as to who is most deserving.

Ryan Miller is the heart and soul of the Buffalo Sabres. Likely, without him between the pipes they wouldn’t be leading the Northeast division. Miller leads the league in save percentage and is second in goals against average. In keeping with goaltending candidates, Ilya Bryzgalov’s name has been floating around in MVP talk, as his play with the surprising Phoenix Coyotes has been stellar. He has 40 wins this season, and 8 shutouts, and on a team with just three 20 goal scorers, timely goaltending is a key for success. The Coyotes have clinched a playoff spot and rank third in the NHL with 100 points.

Sidney Crosby ©Stephanie Cohen/THW

If Henrik Sedin wins the Art Ross Trophy, odds are he will be nominated by default. And he did step up admirably when his brother Daniel missed 20 games with an injury. But having star goaltender Roberto Luongo on his team could arguably diminish his chances. And then of course there is Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, who has added a new dimension to his game, which is goal scoring. He’s already eclipsed his career best of 39, and with far less quality linemates then that of Ovechkin or Stamkos. He is stepping up in the absence of Conn Symthe winner Evgeni Malkin, who is out with injury, but who has also had a very subpar season by his standards. Take Crosby off the Penguins and they would not be close to the same team.

Everyone likes to voice their opinion regarding such a topic, but will have to wait until the awards this summer for the answer to be revealed. But even so, it’s always fun to weigh in.

Marcy Di Michele

  • Andrew Knoll

    Chibi, could not agree more (as you can see). I did not read your post but those would be my three finalists as well.

  • Andrew Knoll

    If people had difficulty ascertaining that Ovechkin was not a one-man show last year, it should be perfectly clear this year since we got a good look at the Caps playing without him at times and they seemed fine. I hate to bring up the surrounding talent argument but this is the most VALUABLE we are discussing here so that does factor in.

    I don’t think any single player on the top teams–San Jose, Pittsburgh, New Jersey, Chicago, Washington–has really stood out to me in that way. This year a lot of team’s success have been predicated on their goalies and I would give a long look to Bryzgalov, Miller, Howard and Kiprusoff as a result. Kiprusoff’s team has not been successful enough and Howard’s team underachieved early on so that will wipe out his candidacy (even though he held them in it big time during the tough stretches).

    That leaves Bryzgalov and Miller, both guys whose teams have been unexpectedly successful and have point totals good enough to win a division (even though Phoenix will probably not). Take MIller off of Buffalo and I think they flat out miss the playoffs, even replacing him with an average number one goalie. Replace him with Lalime or Enroth and they are probably behind Toronto. That team has next to nothing, particularly on defense.

    Bryzgalov is an almost equally strong candidate but will he not get the recognition he deserves playing in a western market with a small following. However, if he is not nominated for the Vezina, that will be flat out criminal.

    Among skaters I think my vote would go to Henrik Sedin. He has played like a man possessed this year and been the lone constant in a successful Vancouver campaign. His puck pursuit has been tremendous, his playmaking is already well known but even that improved, he has been responsible defensively and we are seeing him get aggressive trying to score. Wonderful season for him, I would give him a first place vote without hestitation.

    Crosby has improved in every area of his game this year, he has probably been the most complete player and deserves a long look. Pronger has been huge for Philadelphia, easily their best player but that is more of a Norris consideration.

    • Marcy Di Michele

      I probably shouldn’t offer my real opinion as the writer, but I do feel Miller is most deserving. The MVP isn’t for the BEST player in the LEAGUE. It’s the player his team would not be able to do without. I think fans really get confused with this award. If you take Ovie out of Washington, they’ll still have 4th leading scorer Backstrom, 30 goal scorer Semin and Norris candidate Green. Take Miller out of Buffalo….and there u have it. Good comments guys!

  • chibi

    sedin and miller are the only two listed above who move their teams into elite status. without them, the canucks and sabres would be struggling to make the playoffs rather than leading their respective divisions. the supporting cast with the capitals have made a case for themselves playing without ovie; they would still win the southeast. i think crosby has the next strongest case, to round out the nominees….

    • http://thehockeywriters.com Bruce Hollingdrake

      That is a great observation chibi – and that’s exactly what the mvp award is all about.

  • Scott

    Why on earth would having a star goalie – especially a star goalie who has struggled – on his team diminish Henrik Sedin’s chances.
    By that logic… Ovechkin’s chances should be diminished because he plays with a star offensive defenceman.
    He plays in a much tougher conference/division than Ovechkin with far tougher travel and played without his brother for 18 games.

    • Marcy Di Michele

      I guess it’s the same reason why Evgeni Malkin didn’t win the hart last year, even though he won the scoring title, because he had Sidney Crosby on his team. I’m just using the NHL’s logic. sorry if u don’t like it. I don’t like it either.

  • hockey nut

    my post was a little snippy.. sorry bout that.. thank you for taking the time to respond..

    • Marcy Di Michele

      not a problem, I appreciate u pointing out my error though, it was a very important fact. I love to see what readers have to say. Keep commenting!

  • hockey nut

    .. sedin or ovi should win hands down..sedins brother daniel was out 20 games and he still continued to rally for his team.. the hart should go to the player who helped his team most.. this is a disappointing read .. seeing as you didnt include that important fact Im guessing your a writer that hails from the east ..

    • Marcy Di Michele

      I’ve added the stat about Daniel being injured. Not trying to downplay Sedin’s skill. Just writing about the possible candidates without leaning towards one or the other.

  • Forrest

    While the Caps would have still probably taken the Southeast without Ovie, I’m sure you can discreadit his importance to the team that easily. Some will point to the number of wins the Caps put up without Ovie, but those were only short spurts of time. Over an extented time without Ovie I think you’d see something different. Don’t forget intangibles either, look at how fired up the whole team became when Ovie was named captain. This is definitely an interesting time for these discussions as there are so many deserving players this year.