Whether they like it or not, Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby will forever be associated with one another and have their accomplishments compared side by side. The NHL awarded Ovechkin the Hart Trophy on June 15, kicking up plenty of conversation as to who should have taken the hardware home.
The Great Eight or Sid the Kid?
Taking a look at how close the voting for the Hart was, the debate over who should (or shouldn't) have won the trophy will likely continue to burn on for several weeks and into the offseason. According to NHL.com, Ovie finished with 1,090 points while Crosby accumulated 1,054.
Per the league's official website: "The margin of 32 points from a record-setting 179 ballots was the closest Hart Trophy race since Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jose Theodore and Calgary Flames forward Jarome Iginla finished in a tie in 2002."
So did the Professional Hockey Writers' Association get this one right? Did Ovechkin deserve the Hart, or should Crosby have won it despite missing a good portion of the season?
The Case for Sidney Crosby
After an on (the ice)-again, off (the ice)-again couple of seasons due to concussions and related issues, Sidney Crosby appeared to be back on track in 2013.
He posted seven points through the first seven games of the season and then exploded for 24 points in January and 25 points in March. Crosby had 17 multi-point games and helped the Pittsburgh Penguins cruise through March without a regulation loss.
His outstanding season was derailed with 11 games remaining when he had his jaw shattered by a teammate's deflected slap shot. Crosby was running away with the points lead at that point, and it took the rest of the NHL close to two weeks to close the gap that No. 87 had opened.
Crosby eventually finished fourth in points, tied with Hart trophy winner Ovechkin. The major difference between the two stat lines runs deeper than just goals (AO's specialty) versus assists (Crosby's stronger suit). The fact that Crosby managed to do in 36 games that which took Ovie 48 looms large over this to-have-Hart or not-to-have-Hart debate.
The Penguins had the most efficient and effective offense in the NHL in 2013, posting an average of 3.38 goals-per-game. When he was healthy, Crosby was the center cog around which the offense ran.
The Case for Alex Ovechkin
The 2013 season was going to be an interesting one for the Great Eight regardless of whether or not he won any hardware. New head coach Adam Oates brought his "no off-wing" philosophy to the Washington Capitals, forcing AO from the left side to the right for the first time in his seven-year career.
The results weren't immediately gratifying.
Ovechkin—and the Caps as a whole, for that matter—took a few weeks to get going. He posted a measly three points through the first seven games of the regular season, and Washington stumbled to a 1-5-1 start.
Suddenly, on February 23, Ovie put on a virtuoso performance against the New Jersey Devils, posting three goals and tacking on an assist for good measure. From that point on, AO never stopped scoring. He finished with 27 goals through his final 32 games, and the Capitals benefited mightily from his high level of production.
Starting with that contest against the Devils, Washington went 22-10 through the final 32 games on the season, surging into the playoffs on the back of an incredible (read:unstoppable) performance by Ovechkin and an outstanding proficiency on the power play.
The closeness of the Hart Trophy voting is in no way misleading as strong cases can be made for both players. This particular trophy is meant to be awarded to the player that is most valuable to the success of their team.
Pittsburgh secured an 8-3 record while Crosby was out having the bottom half of his face reconfigured, stringing together a seven-game win streak during that span as well. The Penguins are obviously more dangerous with Sid in the lineup, but they can still play the game at a high level while he is on the mend.
The question becomes a simple one then: Do the Capitals make the playoffs without Ovechkin and his massive output?
While it's impossible to determine for sure, it's unlikely that Washington would have climbed back into the playoff race without Ovie's output. Once you start looking at the final scores of the contests that the Caps won, you begin to see how important his production was in those victories.
It's not an easy call to make, but it appears that the PHWA did indeed get this one right. The Capitals don't make the playoffs if AO goes on the IR through the final month of the regular season, whereas the Penguins (clearly) do without Crosby for a stretch.
While what Crosby managed to do this season was incredible, he wasn't the player that was most valuable to the success of his team. That title belonged to Ovechkin, who rightfully won the Hart as the NHL's team MVP.