by PuckStopsHere on 11/13/09 at 01:30 PM ET
In October, I picked Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals as the early season MVP. He has fallen from the race since suffering a shoulder injury on November 1st. In the meantime, two candidates have emerged as the MVP leaders. There is Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings, who has 30 points to lead the NHL and top goalie Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres, who leads the NHL with a .938 saves percentage and a 1.82 GAA.
I think the current MVP is Ryan Miller, but it is not by a large margin. The main difference comes from the relative values of different positions. A goaltender is the most important player to a team when he plays well. He is on the ice the entire game and has a better ability to singlehandedly keep a team in the game. That is not to say that a position player cannot be MVP (in fact the MVP usually is a position player), but in event of a close race between a goalie and a non-goalie, I tend to favor the goalie.
Both Buffalo and Los Angeles have been surprise teams this year. Neither was picked as playoff teams by many experts in pre-season. If the season ended now, both would be solid playoff teams with Buffalo taking third seed in the East Conference as Northeast Division champion and Los Angeles taking fourth seed in the West Conference.
Buffalo has the fewest goals against in the NHL (but they also have a relatively low number of games played and sit in fifth in goals allowed per game). They have done this despite having a defence where rookie Tyler Myers and second year man Chris Butler (in his first full year of NHL play) are among the top three defencemen in ice time on the team (along with Craig Rivet). Making a leap forward in preventing goals while relying upon unproven defencemen, requires outstanding goaltending.
Los Angeles is fourth in goals scored per game. This improvement has come with the leadership of Kopitar and newcomer Ryan Smyth.
While it is clear that both Kopitar and Miller have been important to their teams, I would give the early season MVP to Ryan Miller as he is in a more important position and is leading the Sabres to a defensive improvement while adding some young and unproven defencemen to the fold.
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