Just a month ago, many were saying Alex Ovechkin was washed up. Now, the Caps winger is the hottest player in the league with six goals in the past three games and 17 points in his last 10. Does that mean the Great Eight should be in the running for his third Hart Memorial Trophy?
Some, like TSN analyst Dave Reid, think Ovechkin should be “judged to be the most valuable to his team.” But first we need to define what that means.
Does it mean he scores the most points? That would make sense. Forwards who are among the league leaders in points are almost always Hart finalists. Since the lockout year of 1994-95, every forward who won the Hart Trophy has been in the top three for points scored. Of those 13 forwards, 10 have won the Art Ross for most points in the league, two have come in second and one (Corey Perry, who won the Rocket Richard for most goals in that season) was third in the scoring race. Ovechkin is currently sixth, with a bullet.
Does it mean he registers a point on a majority of the team’s goals? If a player is a major catalyst in his team’s scoring then it would make sense he is the most valuable. Here is how Ovechkin stacks up to the top 10 point scorers in the league.
Ovechkin has points on 68.8 percent of Washington’s goals when he is on the ice, which is less than teammates Nicklas Backstrom (73.7 percent) and Mike Ribeiro (70.4 percent). Using this method, he is not even the most valuable forward on his own team.
Does it mean he performs in the clutch? This, too, requires some defining, but to me it means performing in a way that gives his team a chance to win. This can be tricky, but to keep a level playing field among players that are utilized differently let’s first focus on how he does during even strength when the score is tied or at a one-goal differential.
Ovechkin has tallied 11 of his 21 even-strength points (52 percent) in these situations. That is less than other Hart contenders like Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby (24 of 38), Chicago’s Patrick Kane (15 of 25) and Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf (13 of 24).
When the Capitals are trailing, Ovechkin has just two goals and three assists at even strength, or 1.5 points per 60 minutes in those situations. Patrick Kane (6.6), Crosby (5.3), the Islanders’ John Tavares (2.2) and Getzlaf (1.8) are all better. So are teammates Backstrom (2.4) and Ribeiro (1.8).
Some prefer to use something simple, like game-winning goals. Ovechkin has four, three behind league leader Jeff Carter of the Los Angeles Kings.
Performing in the clutch could also include punishing the other team when they commit a penalty, in which case Ovechkin has doled out some justice, scoring a league-leading 21 points on the power play (48 percent of his point total). However, that isn’t exactly a level playing field, as only Ilya Kovalchuk gets more time with the man advantage per game (5:41) than Ovechkin (4:42). And no one has seen more total time on the power play than the Great Eight (188:01). If we look at power-play points per 60 minutes, Ovechkin (7.0) ranks fourth behind Ribeiro (7.9), Philadelphia’s Wayne Simmonds (7.4) and Claude Giroux (7.1) among forwards who see at least three minutes of power-play time per game.
Does it mean fancy stats indicate he is the best performer? This is where we would look at his rank among forwards for how much he drives puck possession (74th in Fenwick percentage), how the team scores when he is on and off the ice (12th for Behind the Net’s Goals On/Off Rating), how many goals he contributes above a replacement-level player (6th for Puck Prospectus’ GVT) and how many standings points he is responsible for (tied for 4th in Hockey-Reference Point Shares with Tampa Bay sniper Steven Stamkos).
There is no doubt Ovechkin is a healthy contributor to Washington’s rise to the top of the Southeast Division. However, it doesn’t appear to be enough to be included as a finalist for the league’s most valuable player award. At least, not yet.
Neil Greenberg, when he isn’t watching the games, analyzes advanced statistics in the NHL and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd. Follow him on Twitter: @ngreenberg.