Ask hockey fans who should win the Hart Trophy, awarded annually to the “player judged most valuable to his team,” and you will get the feeling it is a two-horse race:
Crosby, Ovechkin, Getzlaf. RT @ngreenberg If you had to pick three Hart finalists right now, who would they be?
— Bobby Gottfried (@BobbyGottfried) December 13, 2013
@ngreenberg Ovi, Crosby, Kane
— Zach (@zach4ss) December 13, 2013
@ngreenberg Ovie Crosby Chara
— dino (@DinoHTTR) December 13, 2013
@ngreenberg Ovechkin, Crosby, Josh Harding.
— Dave S (@BaltimoreDaveS) December 13, 2013
Both Alex Ovechkin (26 goals in 29 games) and Sidney Crosby (43 points in 32 games) have the bona-fides to be the frontrunners of the conversation, but let me offer another name for your consideration: Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings.
Kopitar is one of those rare skaters who is strong on the puck and has the speed and vision to play in all situations. A true two-way player who drives possession. For example, ignoring special teams and lead-leading situations, the Kings have outshot opponents 194-117 when Kopitar skates, giving them more than 62 percent of the shots taken. Those same linemates take just 53 percent of the shots on goal without Kopitar on the ice with them. Compare that to Ovechkin (50 percent vs. 46 percent) and Crosby (58 percent vs. 49 percent), and it is clear Kopitar is valuable when it comes to tilting the ice.
The Slovenia native also makes those around him better. His most frequent linemates — Dustin Brown, Justin Williams, Dwight King and Jeff Carter — all see better puck possession numbers when they are on his line.
Offensively, Kopitar has nine goals and 18 assists in 32 games. Six of those points have come during even strength when Los Angeles finds itself trailing in a game. Overall, the Kings have outscored their opponents 37-15 when Kopitar skates.
Defensively, he has been on the ice for just eight shots against per game, or one every three shifts. And that includes his 2:20 per night on the Kings’ penalty kill, which is ranked seventh best in the league.
How people define “most valuable” varies, but by almost any measure, Anze Kopitar is one of the most valuable players in the game.