Handicapping the Hart Trophy race
There’s a lot that can and will happen over the final few games of the regular season, but the NHL’s clash for most valuable player has become a five-horse race. Here is, with their odds to win and why, the quintet of contenders.
Alex Ovechkin, Washington – 3-2
The two-time reigning champ has the inside track. He’s the leader of the league’s runaway Presidents’ Trophy winner and a good bet to claim both the Art Ross and Rocket Richard trophies.
Ovie’s on- and off-ice antics have painted somewhat of a black mark on the superstar, but his transcendent talent casts a shadow large enough to bury those indiscretions deep into the recesses of the voters’ minds.
At the same time, No. 8’s suspensions — along with his injuries — are both a con and a pro; the amount of games he’s missed has kept the scoring and goal races close, but the time off will have him fresh for the final stretch. Plus his points per game is unrivaled.
Ryan Miller, Buffalo – 4-1
The 29-year-old had a bubble of buzz that grew larger as the season progressed and, despite not having anything to do with the NHL itself, peaked with his performance at the Olympics.
However, the Sabres’ post-Games inconsistency (7-5-1) isn’t a ringing endorsement. Also working against Miller is an historical negligence of the men between the pipes; in the 85 seasons the award has been handed out, a keeper has wrapped his hands around the handles only seven times (8.2 percent).
Miller’s impressive numbers are hard to ignore, though (2.21 goals-against average is second in the league; .929 save percentage is first; 37 wins is tied for fifth), as is his value to the team, which is 2-6-2 when he doesn’t play.
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh – 5-1
The Kid’s metamorphosis from setup man to sniper, which began in last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, has been on full display this season. In his fifth NHL campaign already, despite being only 22, Crosby has smashed his single-season high in goals with 45 (he had 39 in his rookie year) and is neck-and-neck with the yin to his yang in Washington for the Rocket Richard.
A recent cold streak (two points in five games) has dropped Crosby 10 points back in the scoring race, but even if the $8.7-million-per-year man was to overtake Ovechkin in both categories it may not be enough to convince the members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association that he’s more valuable. The fact Crosby ducks self-promotion like a head-high Shea Weber point shot doesn’t help his cause either.
Ilya Bryzgalov, Phoenix – 7-1
Prior to the Olympic break, "Cool Bryz" wasn’t on the radar for MVP consideration, but a surging pack of Coyotes (9-2-1 since the Olympics) has thrust him into the debate.
The 29-year-old waiver-wire wonder has been the main reason — along with the coaching of Dave Tippett — for Phoenix’s unexpected rise to the West’s upper echelon. Bryzgalov stacked up well statistically against Vezina Trophy favorite Ryan Miller in Buffalo heading into Friday’s action, topping him in wins and shutouts and trailing him only slightly in goals-against average and save percentage.
The X-Factor is the Russian’s record in the shootout, where he’s 7-4 (second in wins) and has a .714 SP. Miller, meanwhile, is 4-4 with a .645 SP.
Henrik Sedin, Vancouver – 8-1
Everyone expected Henrik’s production to come to a halt when a broken foot sent brother and lifelong linemate Daniel to the sidelines for 18 games starting in early October. Instead, Henrik put up a point-per-game pace (nine goals, nine assists) and helped the Canucks to an 11-7 record.
The once-defensive-minded Canucks now sport the West’s most potent offence and Henrik is the flipper that propels the beast.
Detrimental to Sedin’s cause, however, is his goal-assist ratio. The simple fact is shooting is sexier than passing, even if those sublime setups result in the Art Ross. If he does get snubbed on the Hart, a Conn Smythe is a very possible consolation.
Edward Fraser is the editor of thehockeynews.com. His blog appears weekly.
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