Since finishing second in the Hart Trophy voting in 2014-15, Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin has been suspiciously absent in the Hart discussion. This year, it’s even more baffling.
Every year, the NHL awards the Hart Trophy to the player deemed to be most valuable to his team. The PHWA votes on it. Of course, everyone has a different definition of “valuable”, so agreements are rare in Hart Trophy discussions. However, everyone can agree that Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin is quite valuable to his team. Where would they be without their heart and soul?
Ovechkin is currently in an oddly familiar place in the Hart Trophy discussion. He’s at best a fringe candidate because pretty much nobody is talking about how he deserves to be in the MVP conversation.
Granted, part of this is because Ovechkin’s only very recently started to heat up. He has 16 goals in his last 10 games, including three hat tricks and six games with multiple goals.
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To put that in context, Ovechkin has 40 goals this season. 40% of them have come in his last 10 games. On Jan. 6 (right before his 10-game heater started), he was seven goals behind David Pastrnak for the league lead in goals. Ovechkin now has a two-goal lead in the scoring race. So if that’s the reason why he hasn’t been getting that much buzz, I get that.
However, in recent years, Ovechkin hasn’t been in the Hart conversation despite leading the league in goals in three of the last four seasons. Let’s take a look at where he has finished in each of those three seasons he led the league in goals.
- 2015-16: 6th
- 2017-18: 9th
- 2018-19: 7th
Of course, goals aren’t everything in hockey. But I’d say they’re pretty freaking important. The literal goal of hockey is to outscore your opponent. Scoring goals is one of the toughest, if not the toughest, things to do in the NHL. So while goals aren’t the only thing people should look at when considering a forward’s value, goals should be, at worst, towards the top of the list of things you look at.
And historically, voters have trended towards valuing goals. Eight players have led the NHL in goals while leading their team to a division title since the 1995 lockout. Let’s take a look at where they finished in the Hart Trophy voting. I’ve bolded the ones which are most relevant.
- 1995-96: Mario Lemieux (1st)
- 2002-03: Milan Hejduk (12th)
- 2007-08: Ovechkin (1st)
- 2008-09: Ovechkin (1st)
- 2012-13: Ovechkin (1st)
- 2015-16: Ovechkin (6th)
- 2017-18: Ovechkin (9th)
- 2018-19: Ovechkin (7th)
Hejduk was a special case. He played on a stacked Colorado Avalanche team with four Hall of Fame players (Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Patrick Roy, and Rob Blake). Forsberg won the Art Ross and the Hart Trophy. Roy finished in fourth in the Vezina Trophy voting and had the same number of votes as Hejduk. Blake finished in the top five of the Norris Trophy race. So I get why Hejduk didn’t get too much Hart Trophy love.
Also, Japers Rink did the same exercise in 2018 but took it further back.
We can add Jari Kurri in 1985-86 to the oddly specific, yet telling, list. In the cases of Kurri and Hejduk, there are some common themes. Firstly, one of their teammates won the Hart Trophy (Wayne Gretzky in the former’s case, Forsberg in the latter’s case). Secondly, each time, another teammate of theirs either finished above them or tied with them in the Hart Trophy voting. So unless you want to argue John Carlson should be in the Hart Trophy conversation, Ovechkin’s not in the same boat as those two.
What I don’t get is why Ovechkin hasn’t been in the conversation since 2014-15. He finished in second that year. It took Carey Price having a historically great season to stop him from winning the Hart Trophy. Since then, Ovechkin has zero top-five finishes. That’s extraordinarily rare for someone who leads the league in goals while also being on a team good enough to win their division.
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To be clear, I don’t think Ovechkin should win the Hart Trophy this year. Barring something unforeseen, it belongs to either Connor McDavid or Nathan MacKinnon. While Jack Eichel and Artemi Panarin should be in the conversation, recent history tells us they’ll be overlooked because they aren’t on good teams. That’s a discussion for another day. Leon Draisaitl should be in it as well, though McDavid’s obviously going to steal votes from him.
Anyway, Ovechkin deserves to be in the Hart Trophy conversation. There’s no reason he shouldn’t place in the top five. If Ovechkin doesn’t finish in the top five this year, there should be more questions than answers.