NHL MVP: Who's Got Hart?

Matthew HoganAnalyst IMarch 27, 2008

There’s only one week left in the NHL’s regular season and only one player who can take home the Hart Memorial Trophy for league MVP. While there have been many standouts and surprises this season, the MVP voting will come down to the following players: Jarome Iginla (Calgary), Evgeni Malkin (Pittsburgh), Alexander Ovechkin (Washington), and Joe Thornton (San Jose).

First off, the four players listed were chosen by not only the amount of points that they have, but also by how well their teams are doing up to this point in the season. For example, while Vincent Lecavalier is having a fantastic season in terms of points, Tampa Bay is tied for last in the NHL with 69 points; thus, he is eliminated from any type of MVP race in my book.

Another reason why certain players are not up there is the amount of support they have from surrounding players.  For example, two of the best teams in the NHL, Detroit and Ottawa, do not have a player in my final four; this is because players like Pavel Datsyuk in Detroit and Jason Spezza in Ottawa have a beyond-stellar supporting cast. Datsyuk has teammates such as Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklas Lidstrom, just as Spezza has Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley. Therefore, it is tough to determine who is more valuable on each of those teams.

Okay, now let’s get to the four finalists. First off on the list, Jarome Iginla, who is no stranger to the MVP race. Back in the 2001-02 season, Iginla was a finalist for the MVP award, losing out to Montreal goalie Jose Theodore. This season Iginla is on pace for 99 points which would be a career-high; his current career-high for points in a season was set back in the 2001-02 season when he finished with 96 points.

His Calgary Flames currently sit in sixth place in the Western Conference with 90 points and look to be headed to the playoffs for the fourth straight season.  So far, Iginla is third in points (93), third in goals (49), and second in game-winning goals (9). Also, Iginla is +26 on this season, good for fourth in the league and first among my final MVP candidates. Iginla has been a force in the league for several seasons and this has been his best season yet, but is it enough?

At the beginning of the season, plenty of critics felt that one player from Pittsburgh would be in the running for the Hart Trophy, but unfortunately for those critics, they picked the wrong player.

With Sidney Crosby missing 28 of the Penguins’ last 31 games, someone needed to step up, and second-year superstar Evgeni Malkin did just that. In Crosby’s absence, the Penguins are 16-8-4 and Malkin has collected 47 points (20 G, 27 A) in that span. Malkin is currently second in the league in points (102), tied for fourth in assists (58), and alone in fourth in goals (44); all of those numbers are career highs. Oh, and his Penguins are currently first in the Eastern Conference with 97 points.

At the heart of the MVP race (no pun intended) is 22 year-old Alexander Ovechkin. The phenom is having the best year of his short NHL career by far this season. Ovechkin leads the league in points (107), goals (61), power play goals (21) and game-winning goals (10). A mind-boggling stat is also another category Ovechkin leads the league in: shots. This season Ovechkin has taken 421 shots; the next closest player is Zetterberg (Detroit) with 332.

The player who is covered more than any other player in the league has still managed to shoot the puck a total of 421 times! That statistic alone should be able to put Ovechkin’s talent level in perspective.  The Capitals have not had a winning season or been to the playoffs since the 2002-03 season when they finished with 92 points and were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. This year Ovechkin has his Caps just two points out of the last playoff spot with four games left; a heavy favorite for MVP.

Last, but certainly not least, is San Jose’s Joe Thornton.  Thornton has finished in the top three in scoring three times in his career and won the Hart Trophy back in the 2005-06 season when he was first traded to San Jose.  While Thornton is on pace for 97 points, which would be his lowest season total for points in three years, he is still putting up some monster number this season.

Thornton leads the league in assists with 65 and during his team’s current 17-game streak of collecting at least one point, he has 23 points; that streak has put Thornton’s Sharks at the top of the Pacific division and second in the NHL with 102 points. With the Sharks chewing their way to the top of the Western Conference, Thornton is a strong candidate for MVP.

Now for the decision. Something amazing about these four players is that not one of them has missed a single game this season; a great statistic for any MVP to have. Iginla’s numbers are consistent and very good, but not as good as Malkin’s or Ovechkin’s. Although his Sharks are almost at the top of the NHL, Thornton also has weaker numbers than Malkin and Ovechkin.

Therefore, out of this group, the two finalists will be Malkin and Ovechkin. Malkin has clearly gone above and beyond his expected duties this season and has the Penguins in prime form for the playoffs, while Ovechkin’s Capitals might fall short of the playoffs for a fourth straight season. However, Ovechkin’s numbers are mind-blowing and overpower even the fact that his team might not make the playoffs. That being said, Alexander Ovechkin, with his 60-plus goals, will take home this year’s Hart Memorial Trophy as league MVP.