Russian superstars dominate Hart Trophy discussion

Monday, 04.06.2009 / 10:30 AM / 2011 NHL Awards

By Dan Rosen - Senior Writer

The Canadians shouldn't think they are an overwhelming favorite going into the 2010 Winter Games. At least this season, the Russians have the three most valuable players in the world in Washington's Alexander Ovechkin, Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin and Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk.

The best of the bunch - by a whisker, really - is Ovechkin, who despite trailing Malkin for the most points in the League should take home his second-straight Hart Trophy when the hardware is handed out June 18 in Las Vegas

Malkin leads the League with 108 points, but Ovechkin is second with 106 and will win the Rocket Richard Trophy for the second-straight season with his 55 goals and counting. He has 11 more than anyone else.

No one can expect Ovechkin, who had 65 goals last season, to score in the 60s every year, but 50 or more per doesn't seem to be a stretch.

Plus, he does it with such flair that some consider him to be disrespectful while others believe his passion for scoring is great for the game. No matter your opinion, Ovechkin is the most talked about player in the League right now and for mostly the right reasons.

While goals are sexy and they probably define what No. 8 is all about, he is valuable for more than just his ability to put the puck in the net.

It's everything Ovechkin does before and after he scores that makes him the League's most valuable player again.

Take, for instance, his output Dec. 23 at Madison Square Garden. The Capitals fell behind 4-0 just 24:48 into the match, but behind Ovechkin they rallied for a 5-4 win in overtime.

His stat line read: 2 goals, including the game-tying tally 12:38 into the third period, 1 assist, 22:02 time on ice, 24 shifts, 13 shots on goal, 23 total attempts at the net, 4 hits, 2 takeaways and not a single giveaway.

It wasn't just another night for Ovechkin, but it was darn close. He did everything he possibly could to get his team over the hump.

He does this most every night, like on Feb. 22 against Malkin and the Penguins when he had a goal, an assist, nine shots and five hits in just 17 shifts as the Caps' won, 5-2. Or, on Jan. 14 when he had 3 points, 10 shots and five hits in a 6-3 win against Pittsburgh.

Malkin's value to the Penguins is tremendous; but, without Ovechkin, hockey fans probably wouldn't be able to locate Washington on the NHL map. Malkin at least has another world-class player in Sidney Crosby with which to share the spotlight.

To that end, Datsyuk, who may very well be the second runner-up over Crosby due to his overall play, has a host of All-World talent surrounding him. Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Marian Hossa, Nicklas Lidstrom, Johan Franzen and Brian Rafalski make the Wings a Cup contender.

Even though Norris Trophy-contender Mike Green, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin provide ample support, it's the Ovechkin Show in D.C.


G: 55 | A: 51 | PTS: 106

He starred last season with his record-breaking 65-goal, 112-point season that included a mad dash to the finish line that ended with the Caps' dramatic crowning as Southeast Division champs.

This season, Washington has led the division nearly wire-to-wire and has barely even been challenged after Nov. 1.

Ovechkin not only leads the League in goals, including his 10 game-winners, but he is crushing the field in shots on goal with 507. Eric Staal is second with 360. Ovechkin also leads the League with 211 missed shots, so he has clearly never met a shot he didn't like. He is also eighth with 239 hits.

So, to sum up: Ovechkin shoots, scores, hits, brings energy and enthusiasm and he's the most watched player on the ice every time he jumps over the boards. You can't game plan for him because his mix of power and skill is the best among this generation's superstars.

He is the Hart Trophy winner.


G: 34 | A: 74 | PTS: 108

Malkin, though, deserves some serious consideration. Datsyuk does, too. And, for that matter, Crosby as well, but our thinking is that the candidates will all be Russian.

While the Penguins struggled in the middle of the season, Malkin still contributed, keeping the team afloat most of the time. As the team turned it on under interim coach Dan Bylsma, Malkin has continued to be a pace car along with Crosby and Sergei Gonchar.

Malkin has helped on 74 goals, five more than Crosby, while scoring 34. His plus-16 is second best on the Penguins and his 91 takeaways lead the League. Malkin has been held off the scoresheet only 17 times this season and never more than two games in a row.


G: 32 | A: 63 | PTS: 95

Datsyuk flies somewhat under the radar, at least when you compare him to Ovechkin and Malkin. It can be argued that his value is undersold because of the team for which he plays; but there are some, like Detroit coach Mike Babcock, who feel he is by far and away the best forward in the game.

Year in and year out he puts up a strong case thanks to his overall play.

Datsyuk is fourth in the League with 95 points, third with 63 assists, second with a plus-36 rating and second with 86 takeaways. He rarely puts his team at a disadvantage as he has taken only 10 minor penalties this season. He has won better than 56 percent of the faceoffs he's taken, which is fifth-best among those who have taken more than 1,000 draws.

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