In four professional seasons in the National Hockey League, Alexander Ovechkin has proved he is an elite player.
And this afternoon, the league recognized his talent for the second straight year.
Ovechkin joins fellow nominees Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins (the players will meet in the second round of the playoffs, which starts in Washington, DC on May 2) and Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings, as the three finalists for the NHL’s top individual honor.
This is the first time in league history all three Hart finalists are Russian-born.
Ovechkin has been a scoring machine since his arrival in the nation’s capital. In the last two seasons, he has amassed 121 total goals, and was the youngest Capital to reach 200 career goals scored. This year he led the NHL with 56 goals.
Malkin is the Penguins’ chief enforcer. He finished his regular season winning the scoring title (113 total points), beating out Ovechkin (110 points), who had won the title last year. Teammate and Ovechkin rival, Sidney "The Kid” Crosby finished with 103 points.
“It means a lot to me to be up for this award,” said an appreciative Ovechkin, “I always want to be the best, so this is a great honor. It’s special too with three Russians nominated. It’s a great thing for our country and our sport.”
If the “Great Eight” wins the coveted trophy, he will be only the second player to win back-to-back awards since goaltender Dominik Hasek accomplished the feat in 1997 and 1998, as a member of the Buffalo Sabres.
No forward has claimed the honor in consecutive seasons since Wayne Gretzky won eight straight MVP’s from 1980 to 1987.
The winner will be announced on June 18 in Las Vegas.
Mike Green, Ovechkin's teammate and the league’s top-scoring defenseman, was named a finalist for the Norris Trophy. Green led NHL defensemen with 31 goals scored on the season. He set a record for a defenseman by scoring a goal in eight straight games. He also led the league with 17 power play goals scored.
It is hard to say Ovechkin had a down year from a season ago, but stats-wise that was the case. “Ovie” netted 65 goals last year—making him the first player to do so in a dozen seasons.
Still, to argue with his production would be fool’s gold when you break down all he’s accomplished in 86 games played this season. (He missed two games to visit his ailing grandfather back in Russia, and sat out a late season game after taking the puck hard off of his ankle courtesy of assistant coach Dean Evason in practice.)
Alex led the league in many offensive categories other than just goals scored. He topped everyone in goals at even strength with 36, points per game with 1.39 average, shots on goal with 528, and points on the power play with 46.
Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux are the only other players to reach 200 career goals and 200 career assists in their first four seasons.
Ovechkin is a player that causes a commotion wherever he goes. He drew the ire of hockey commentator Don Cherry when he pretended his stick was on fire during a celebration of his 50th goal scored.
The Tampa Bay Lightning briefly took exception to Ovechkin’s antics because he did his dastardly deed in front of their net.
Without a doubt, Alex likes to play a high-octane game. He’ll deliver the wicked one-timer on one offensive series, and in the next sequence he is popping the opponent in the mouth with a timely hit.
To imply he is a “vicious goon,” like Cherry proclaimed after the Lightning game, is incredulous to me.
I am a homer, and proud of it. But I will remind the velvet-red wearing pseudo-hockey guru that this is a contact sport. Hangnails are not a valid excuse to miss the puck drop.
Get over yourself, sir. Your audience is bored with the complaining. Every team wants an Ovechkin-type player on their roster, whether they admit it or not.
There is stiff competition from the other two finalists. Drafted No. 2 behind Ovechkin in 2004, Malkin, in addition to leading the league in points, had the most assists (78).
Malkin is a locker room leader, and is the versatile stud that will cause problems for the good-guys-in-red on Saturday. He can line up on the wing or play center with no hesitation.
Datsyuk is Detroit’s most consistent scoring threat. On a team full of stars, he plays a solid game every night. He finished fourth in points, with 97 (23 goals, 65 assists).
Pavel deserves a lot of credit for also being nominated for the NHL’s top defensive forward (Selke Trophy), and for being recognized for a player who best combines sportsmanship with performance (Lady Byng Trophy).
The professional hockey league boasts supreme talent that transcends the globe.
The players share a common goal: To be the best that has ever played the game. Join me in congratulating three worthy men on a job well done.