By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 12, 2008
TORONTO, June 11 -- Alex Ovechkin was dragging, worn down from jet lag, a grueling promotional schedule and a late night on the town.
But his bleary eyes perked up when a familiar face approached him at his swanky downtown Toronto hotel and asked him to describe his emotions 24 hours before finding out whether he's this season's most valuable player.
"If I win it, it will be a dream come true," Ovechkin said between photo shoots to promote his new clothing line. "It's MVP. It's for the best player in the league. It means you're the best."
He paused, glanced skyward, and added, "It will mean so much to me and my family," putting extra emphasis on the "so."
Ovechkin is one of three finalists -- with Calgary's Jarome Iginla and Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin -- for the Hart Trophy, which will be presented Thursday night at the NHL Awards Show.
Ovechkin, Iginla and Malkin also are finalists for the Lester B. Pearson Award, which is given to the most outstanding player as voted by his peers. No Capital has earned either distinction.
Ovechkin already has claimed the Art Ross and Maurice Richard trophies for leading the league in points and goals, respectively, and if he adds the Hart and Pearson to his haul, he would be the first to claim all four.
After he scored a league-best 65 goals and 112 points, many are predicting an Ovechkin sweep. The 22-year-old Russian is the game's most dynamic offensive player and carried the Capitals' offense during their riveting rebound from last place to the Southeast Division championship, scoring more of his team's goals (27.3 percent) and having a hand in a higher percentage of its points (47.1 percent) than any other player. He also became the first player in 12 years to crack the 60-goal plateau.
Though the winner won't be known until the envelope is opened on stage, the league may have unintentionally dropped a hint last Friday, when, for a few hours, NHL.com advertised blue T-shirts bearing the words "Ovechkin, 2007-08 Hart Trophy Winner." The item was quickly pulled.
Ovechkin saw the ad and got a good laugh.
"It was just a mistake," Ovechkin said, chuckling. "A funny mistake, but just a mistake. I don't know who will win."
Two other key figures in Washington's stunning turnaround last season will be wondering the same thing as they sit next to Ovechkin at the Elgin Theatre.
Coach Bruce Boudreau is a finalist for the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year and Nicklas Backstrom hopes to take home the Calder Memorial Trophy for top rookie. If Ovechkin, Boudreau and Backstrom all win, the Capitals would become the first team since the inception of the Jack Adams in 1973-74 to have the player, coach and rookie of the year.
Boudreau is the sentimental favorite after being promoted from the minor leagues on Nov. 22 to replace Glen Hanlon, then guiding the Capitals to a 37-17-7 record and the franchise's first playoff berth in five years. But his competition is stout. Guy Carbonneau led the Montreal Canadiens to the Eastern Conference regular season championship and Mike Babcock directed the Detroit Red Wings to the Presidents' Trophy, given to the team with the most points in the regular season. If Boudreau gets the nod, he would become the second Capitals coach to earn the Jack Adams Award (Bryan Murray, 1984) and the first midseason replacement to win the award since Bill Barber (Philadelphia, 2001).
Backstrom, meantime, also is facing some tough competition. The 20-year-old Swede racked up 16 points in Washington's final 17 games, but he must beat out Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, Chicago's standout rookies.
But trophies aren't the only thing Ovechkin and Backstrom can collect for their stellar seasons. Ovechkin can claim a $250,000 bonus for winning the Hart (he's already earned $250,000 for winning the Richard); Backstrom can earn an additional $212,500 for winning the Calder.
"I'm not nervous," Ovechkin said. "I'm too tired."
But before Ovechkin could get some sleep Wednesday night, he had one more late night planned -- this one for a party to introduce his signature clothing line. Earlier in the day, Capitals majority owner Ted Leonsis joked about missing the party, but said he had given Ovechkin some instructions.
"I've asked Alex to save for me one pair of bright red pants, which I'm sure will have holes in it," cracked Leonsis, who will throw a party for Ovechkin on Friday night in Washington. "They'll be low-slung bellbottoms. If he wins MVP and I can fit in them, I'll wear them Friday."
Note: District Mayor Adrian M. Fenty announced Wednesday that he will present Ovechkin with a key to the city on Friday if the Capitals' all-star wins the Hart Trophy. The tentative fan celebration will be open to the public and will begin at 4 p.m. on the steps of the Wilson Building.