by PuckStopsHere on 06/21/13 at 01:04 AM ET
When the NHL Awards were (mostly) announced, I promised to write a few pieces about the awards that were most poorly decided. It was given to Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals.
The first thing that needs to be discussed is how the Hart trophy should be decided. I will do this by analogy. Imagine there are two boxes. One contains a $2 million diamond and several other $1 million diamonds. The other box contains a $1.5 million diamond and several worthless shards of glass. Now which diamond is most valuable to its box? The $2 million diamond clearly is. It has a value of $2 million and that is more than the value of any of the other diamonds. Now some people like to argue (and vote) for the $1.5 million diamond. They argue that its box would be totally worthless without it and the other box has value without the $2 million diamond. The problem is they miss the fact that $1.5 million is less than $2 million.
When we look at the Hart Trophy voting we see that it was a tight race between Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. Ovechkin was named at the top of more ballots. He had four more first place votes than Crosby. Crosby was named more times on ballots overall. He was named two more times than Ovechkin. Nine voters did not place Crosby in the top five on his ballot. Eleven voters did not name Ovechkin on their ballot. The main reason for not picking Crosby was that he only played 36 games. He missed 12 games. In the 36 games he was clearly the best player in the NHL but he obviously had no value in the 12 games he missed. The main reason for leaving Ovechkin off the ballot was that he didn't play very well for the first part of the season and he significantly inflated his point totals by playing in the weakest division - the Southeast Division.
Crosby and Ovechkin tied in scoring with 56 points each. They finished third in the league in scoring behind Martin St Louis and Steve Stamkos - two players who didn't really figure in the Hart Trophy voting because they inflated their point totals in the weak Southeast Division (not unlike Ovechkin) and (unlike Ovechkin) they missed the playoffs. The main difference between Crosby and Ovechkin was Ovechkin played the whole season and Crosby didn't. That makes Crosby more valuable in the games he played and in the end they were equally valuable offensively (if we neglect the fact he had a much weaker quality of opposition). Crosby was more valuable because he was more dominant in more games than Ovechkin was.
There is a significant difference in terms of quality of opposition as well. Ovechkin feasted against weak opposition in his division. He only scored 27 points outside his division. Crosby, for comparison, scored 37 points outside his division. Ovechkin would never have tied Crosby in points if he was not a Southeast Division player.
Ovechkin did have a narrative for his win. Washington (and Ovechkin) had a horrible start to the season. They turned things around and made the playoffs. At the end of the season Ovechkin was the hottest player in the league. He got extra credit for the end of his season and got excused for the start of the season. That is a strange way to determine value for the entire season. Sure Washington improved. They did so in part because Ovechkin improved and also because Mike Green, Braden Holtby and others had a better second half of the season.
Ovechkin wasn't exactly a $1.5 million diamond in a box of worthless glass. There were other players of value, but he was the most valuable piece in his box. Crosby may have been the $2 million diamond and he had several other $1 million + diamonds in his box too. Crosby was more valuable than Ovechkin, but there was more other value in his box. That fact is irrelevant, but those who think a $1.5 million diamond in with shards of glass is more valuable than a $2 million diamond disagreed.
I argue that Ovechkin should not have been a Hart Trophy nominee at all. The West Conference was a better quality conference than the East Conference. It was a lower scoring conference. Its top scorer Patrick Kane was fifth in scoring in the league (just behind Crosby and Ovechkin). Jonathan Toews was fifth highest scorer in the West but only seven points behind Kane. Toews was also the top defensive forward in the NHL, which gives him a better value than his point total shows. I had Toews and Kane as my other Hart Trophy nominees.
Missing in this discussion is goaltending and defencemen. That is because there wasn't anyone as valuable as the top forwards this year. Sure Sergei Bobrovsky was a nice story in Columbus, but he wasn't more valuable than the top few scorers in the league. I argued that there was no defenceman this year worthy of the Norris Trophy but somebody had to win it anyway. I think that was made clear when PK Subban won the award. There was no goaltender or defenceman who deserved to be among the top Hart Trophy votes; hence I am not giving them much mention.
Alexander Ovechkin's Hart Trophy win was a poor choice. He had a poor start to the season and inflated his totals by playing against a weak division. He got a lot of credit for a good finish to the year and his start was overlooked. I would not have had him in the top three nominees.
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