Every year the NHL selects an "MVP" of the league. This player deemed "most valuable" to his team is awarded with the Hart trophy.
Unfortunately, the word valuable tends to be ignored when the recipient of the award is decided upon by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.
There is no doubt that Alexander Ovechkin is one of, if not the greatest, players in the world. But does that mean he is the most valuable to his team of all the various candidates in the NHL?
Just like Joe Thornton is one of the greatest players in the world, that alone doesn't make him the most valuable.
In both cases, if you were to look at the rosters of both the Washington Capitals and San Jose Sharks, you would see that if either team lost their superstar to injury, neither one would fall out of the playoff race.
Washington hails claim to numerous other stars such as Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, and Mike Green.
San Jose has playmakers like Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau, and Dan Boyle.
Ovechkin and Thornton are great players, but if a team like the Vancouver Canucks were to lose Henrik Sedin to injury, they would be much worse off.
Sedin may currently lead the NHL in scoring, but it is his all around game and leadership he brings to the club makes him incrementally more valuable to Vancouver then any other player is valuable to their team.
Without Henrik, Vancouver would probably be a playoff bubble team. With him, they have a chance to win the division.
All that being said, it needs to be demonstrated that while Thornton and Marleau both have a chance to win the Hart trophy for "MVP," it is first year Shark Manny Malhotra is actually the team's most valuable player.
Malhotra, the former first round pick (No. 7 overall) of the New York Rangers back in 1998, is a complete hockey player.
While his career point totals suggest he hasn't lived up to the potential of being such a high first round draft pick, the assets Malhotra brings to a club can hardly be matched by any other player in the league.
Speed? Check. Physicality? Check. Willingness to drop the gloves? Check. Awesome shot? Check. Good along the boards? Check. Defensively aware? Check. Accurate passer? Check. Versatile? Check.
In any given game, Malhotra has the talent to play any particular role that a coach could ask for. So far in his first season with San Jose, Manny has played on three of the four forward lines.
And come playoffs, it wouldn't be surprising to see Malhotra play on the top line with Thornton and Dany Heatley if the team needs a spark. If Manny were to play on that line, he will have played on all four forward lines.
So far this season, moving No. 27 around hasn't been just for a change of pace. Malhotra has excelled on the fourth, third, and second forward lines for extended periods of time this season.
He can play center, wing, and if I were a betting man I'd bet he would be could play better defense than San Jose's seventh d-man, Jay Leach.
In San Jose's last game, Malhotra's versatility proved clutch when he was bumped up to the second line where he split face-off duties with new linemate Joe Pavelski. Malhotra ended up going an absurd 12-12 in the face-off circle, and added two assists, getting his other new linemate Devin Setoguchi off a nine-game scoring drought.
Even if the game was against the lowly Edmonton Oilers, Malhotra answered his coach's bell with an enthusiastic performance to say the least.
On the season, Malhotra is the best in the NHL out of all players who have taken over 350 draws...as the Sharks forward is successful 62.6-percent of the time.
Manny's ability to win draws will become even more important come playoff time, and the fact he can center any type of line demonstrates his true value to this Sharks team.
Last season the Sharks were relying on the injury prone, physically over-matched, and offensively challenged Marcel Goc to center the third line. Along with a declining Jonathan Cheechoo and an aging Mike Grier, the Sharks didn't have a bottom six forward with the capabilities to jump up to a scoring line and be effective.
But with Malhotra in the fold, they have arguably the most versatile forward in the entire league providing everything you could ask for in a hockey player.
Simply said, when the season is on the line and you need call on your best players to hold off the opposition, Malhotra will be one of the guys the coaches will certainly have out on the ice.
Believe it or not, a healthy Malhotra is going to be more important than a healthy Thornton come playoff time.
Considering the Sharks won more playoff series in the three seasons prior to Thornton's arrival then they have in the most recent three seasons with him, his play isn't likely to be the difference between playoff success and failure.
Unless "Jumbo Joe" all of a sudden learns how to dominate in the playoffs like he can in the regular season, it will be San Jose's role players that will be the difference between last year's failures and this year's success.
Without Malhotra in the lineup, the Sharks' role players are just as inconsistent as the role players of recent seasons. But with Malhotra in the mix, the Sharks clearly have a much improved group of "bottom-six" forwards.
Manny's presence, both offensively and defensively, allows for the Sharks to roll all four lines when healthy. In the playoffs, being able to have confidence in guys like Malhotra, Ortmeyer, and Nichol to defend the likes of Henrik Zetterberg, Anze Kopitar, and Patrick Kane will be huge.
In the playoffs, every team will have to win games by scores of 2-1, and 3-2, and last season the Sharks didn't have third and fourth lines with the defensive talent that they have this time around.
Even with Dany Heatley on the roster, the Sharks won't be able to score 4-5 goals a game in the playoffs like they needed to last year with their poor defense and goaltending.
Playoffs always tend to be low scoring, and Malhotra's presence is going to make the difference on why this year's Sharks are going to find themselves on the winning side more often than not in the playoffs.
Case in point—while Malhotra certainly isn't the best player on the Sharks, he is certainly the most VALUABLE.
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