It's incredibly difficult to plead any player's case for MVP when Alex Ovechkin played the way he did this year. However, it must be done. Yes, Ovechkin is an unbelievable player. No one absolutely dominates the offensive zone or celebrates a goal like Ovechkin does. Oh, and the boy can hit (See YouTube).
But, there is a player out their who can do other things. Things like making every single player around him better, having an absolutely humbled yet truly relished enjoyment of the game, and absolute domination of any zone that he happens to be in.
If you haven't guessed, this writer believes that Pavel Datsyuk is said player. Yes I am a major Red Wings fan, but I am also a very big Russian fan. I have followed both players careers with the same excitement and enthusiasm. I love watching Ovechkin jump into the boards after a goal (or in a player's face), and seeing Datsyuk lazily skate his way to his teammates with a sheepish grin on his face. Coming from a Russian family, that is an all too familiar modesty.
There was always something special about Pavel, ever since i first saw him play in the season opener back in 2001 against the Sharks. He just had something, raw unrefined talent. The way he would dangle the puck, or his skating behind the net, or the uncanny ability to be a complete puck vacuum. Seriously, if anyone is within a 7 foot radius of Datsyuk on the ice, he will find a way to get the puck.
This kid was going to be special. The season continued on like this, a bit inconsistent but so many amazing shades of skill. He did it again in the next season, but in a bit more consistent manner. Then, in the 2003-2004 season, he finished with 68 points. He started getting some attention around the league so what does he do? He gets stronger, building himself up in the off-season.
This seemed to be the last piece to the puzzle. 87 points in back-to-back seasons, followed by 97 points this year. Oh and a league best +41 (puck vacuum). All of a sudden, no one can hit Pavel. He just absorbs the hit or skates around them, with emphasis on the word around. No one can weave through a crowd like Pasha.
If you get near him with the puck, you'd better pass it away, or he's going to get your stick in the air, and take your puck, son. When he's on the ice, the name of the game is Datsyuk. No one utilizes a shift like him. Be it he dominates and gets a point, or he completely wears down the other team's top line.
Datsyuk brings out the best talent of any player he plays with. Everyone just seems to score around him. Henrik Zetterberg has learned that with Datsyuk playing at center, he should always be ready to shoot, because Pavel's doing something to attract at least 2 other guys, and he will get the puck onto your tape. When a player really starts to gel with Datsyuk, the results are amazing.
The way he sees the ice and just knows where to place the puck, it's something really rare to see in offensive players. He just knows the right thing to do in any situation, be it the on either side of the ice. He finished the season with the best +/- edging out Nicklas Lidstrom by one.
If you've watched the Red Wings at all this season, you'll notice the emerging talents of Valtteri Filppula (and his awful Darco Milicic rookie haircut). He seems to be learning the Datsyuk radar system, and showing very similair shades of skill. His game just seems to be so contagious. Pavel's just a gift that keeps on giving.
There is no question that Pavel Datsyuk has the better supporting cast around him. Ovechkin has had very little to work with until this year and he has shown what he can do with a supporting cast around him. But there is just something in the way Datsyuk plays that makes you just scratch your head. You just wouldn't trade it for anything.
Pavel Datsyuk won't win MVP this year, and Ovechkin is very deserving. But as a Detroit fan, watching him progress throughout his career, and witnessing what he does for the team night after night, it's tough not to see him as the best player in the league.