The NHL announced the finalists for the Hart Tophy- awarded to the player judged most valuable to his team during the regular season (also known as the MVP)- on Tuesday. Washington Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin, Calgary Flames winger Jarome Iginla, and Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin are the three nominees for the award.
Malkin will not have to join teammate and fellow countryman Sergei Gonchar in wondering just how much better he has to be to garner a nomination among the leagues' best players. Gonchar was left off of the ballot for the Norris Trophy after enjoying a career season.
While NHL goals (65) and points (112) leader Alex Ovechkin seems to be the heavy favorite to pull a Crosby and take home the Art Ross and Hart Trophies in the same season (while also one-upping his counterpart by winning the Maurice Richard Trophy as the league's leading goal scorer), Malkins' performance should not go unmentioned.
Malkin finished second to Ovechkin with 106 points, and his 47 goals was fourth best in the league.
When Sidney Crosby went down with a high ankle sprain on January 18, it became evident that there would be no room for a "sophomore slump" from Malkin if the Penguins wanted to reach the playoffs for the second consecutive season. Malkin responded in an unexpected fashion.
Everyone knew this kid was good after winning the Calder Trophy as the league's best rookie last season, but even Pens' fans didn't know just how good Geno could be.
Malkin posted 15 goals and 22 assists in the initial 21 games in which Crosby was out of the Penguins' lineup.
From mid-January until the end of the season, Malkin registered 46 points in 29 games without Crosby and an additional 60 points in the 53 games he played alongside his all-star teammate.
While Ovechkin certainly was the sole reason the Capitals made the playoffs, Malkin did have some consistent help from his line mates Petr Sykora and Ryan Malone, as well as from backup goaltender Ty Conklin.
Ovechkin certainly should win the Hart Trophy, but if Malkin can replicate this seasons' performance throughout the remainder of his career, we might be talking more about this Russian rivalry than the overused Crosby vs. Ovechkin match up for a long time to come.