There have been a ton of articles discussing Ovechkin’s third Hart Trophy win. Whether he “deserves” it or whether he “does not deserve it”. An exasperated Casey Demarco with THW says the NHL got “it so wrong” when they awarded Ovechkin the MVP. So, we should take a second to explain the Hart Trophy. It is a MVP award, but it is voted on not by the NHL, but by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association’s 180 members. The emotion stemming from Ovechkin winning this award is because a bunch of people with opinions opine about the opinions of others that happen to vote for the Hart Memorial Trophy winner. An argument can be made to whether this is actually the true MVP award or if NHLPA Ted Lindsay Award has more merit. These arguments are silly because the decisions behind the awards are so subjective. Ovechkin clearly is a great player and he won the award—three times.
However, the problem with winning the Hart Trophy is the false sense it gives fans that they have the best player in the league and that somehow has the Capitals on the right track to win the Stanley Cup.
First, let’s take a left turn and look at a recent quote from NBA coaching great Phil Jackson and what he said to arguably the best player ever to play in the NBA, Michael Jordan:
“I had a fortunate relationship with Michael. I didn’t buy into that [god-like] part of his being,” Jackson says. “[I] actually had to ask him to cut back from what he was doing. ‘I don’t want you to be the scoring leader. The scoring leaders have not won championships.’”
MVP Titles and Scoring Awards
Alexander Ovechkin also won the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy this year for leading the league in scoring (this was also the third time he won this award). Let’s see if Phil Jackson’s comments to a pre-championship Jordan hold true for hockey.
Since the inception of the Maurice Richard Trophy in 1999, not one team that had the player who received the scoring title won a Stanley Cup. A bleaker statistic: only once during the 2003-2004 season did the team with the “Rocket” winner make it to the Stanley Cup Finals. That year there were three people tied for the scoring title (Iginla and his Flames lost in Game 7).
On to the Hart Trophy. Joe Sakic won the award during the 2000-2001 season with the Avalanche, when the Colorado also won the Cup. Prior to Sakic, eleven years earlier (1989-1990) Mark Messier won the Hart Trophy and the Stanley Cup with the classic Oilers teams, as did Wayne Gretzky a few times in the 1980s. From 1990 to 2013, besides the two occurrences mentioned here where the Hart Trophy winner also won the Stanley Cup, the player who won the cup did not even make it to the Stanley Cup finals the other 21 years.
However, we should not forget about the firepower Edmonton and Colorado had when Messier and Sakic took the Hart Trophy. Now that we are in the salary cap era, obtaining this quality of team is nearly impossible. Case and point, no Hart Trophy winner’s team has played in the Stanley Cup finals in the salary cap era.
Jackson’s point to Jordan was that if he wanted to win a championship, he had to get the rest of his team involved, which likely meant fewer points. The same could be said to Ovechkin. With the salary cap rules, it could also be said that spending so much of your budget on one great player means there is not enough left over for quality help. Yet, we know the Caps have a quality roster. We also know Ovechkin has made a huge impact as he has led Washington to the playoffs every year he has been with the team after his first two seasons in the league.
Checking Your Ego at the Door
As with Jordan, it seems that Ovechkin needs to do more to be a better player—a better captain—which likely means less scoring. For star players like Ovechkin, this usually means checking your ego at the door. Unfortunately for Ovi, new coach Adam Oates has him believing he is doing just that.
In Ovechkin’s switch from left wing to right wing this year, Oates stated:
“We’re talking about a guy who won the award twice as the best player in the world [as a left wing], and he was willing to change his game, his position, his security blanket for the organization,”Oates said. “He believed in it enough that it would help him, and for the good of the organization he took a shot at it. He didn’t have to, but he did, and that’s why I’m glad he got rewarded. He checked his ego at the door to do that.”
There is no doubt that it is an amazing accomplishment to switch from the left side to the right side with a new coach and still win the scoring title. For that alone, Ovechkin should be considered for the Hart Trophy. Oates goes way too far in his praise for Ovechkin though. The position change did not change the player that Ovechkin is, or better yet change Ovechkin into the player that he needs to be.
The losers in all of this: Caps fans. It is unlikely your team will ever win the Stanley Cup when you have the Hart Trophy winner or the Maurice Richard Trophy winner. It has not happened in the salary cap era. This is not another article suggesting Ovechkin should be trade bait, yet. However, in Oates young career as coach, “checking your ego at the door” has more to do with changing your game than it does changing positions. Until Oates (or someone else) can make Ovechkin do what it takes to make his team a winner, Beltway residents will continue to see trophies come to the District, but never Lord Stanley’s.