It wasn’t the easiest season for Alex Ovechkin, as he changed positions and worked to reinvent himself under the guidance of Washington Capitals rookie Coach Adam Oates. But Saturday night his effort and the successful revitalization of his game were recognized as he was awarded the Hart Memorial Trophy as hockey’s most valuable player.
The award is voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. The Washington Post does not allow its writers to vote on awards.
Ovechkin, 27, won the Hart Trophy for third time, becoming just the eighth player in NHL history to earn the honor three or more times joining Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, Mario Lemieux, Bobby Orr, Bobby Clarke, Eddie Shore and Howie Morenz. The star winger is currently in Moscow and is scheduled to speak with reporters Sunday morning. Ovechkin, who previously won the Hart Trophy in 2007-08 and 2008-09, accepted the award via videotape Saturday evening prior to Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Ovechkin recorded 56 points and a league-best 32 goals in the lockout-shortened, 48-game regular season but it wasn’t until the second half of the season that he truly found his stride. He scored 23 goals and had 36 points in the final 23 games and was the main driver behind Washington’s surge from the worst team in the NHL to first place in the Southeast Division and a playoff berth.
The slow start can be largely attributed to the time Ovechkin needed to assimilate to the new angles, reads and routes he had as a right wing after spending his entire career on the left side. In the early stages of the season it wasn’t uncommon to see him drift back to the left, collide with a teammate as he crossed through center ice or misplay the puck as he learned his new options. With encouragement from Oates he stuck with the change and by the end of the year, Ovechkin was making better use of his linemates to create scoring opportunities and contributing to the play in all three zones.
Even in his taped acceptance speech, after thanking his family for their support, Ovechkin cited the switch in position.
“Big thanks to my linemates, teammates and all the coaching staff, trainers. They do great job, especially coaching staff,” Ovechkin said in the response that aired during the award presentation. “They put me on the right wing. It was kind of hard, but as everybody knows I like challenges. It was big challenge for me and for coaching staff but we make it, so thank you very much.”
Critics point out that Ovechkin’s dominance was limited to half the season, but in this year Washington’s captain demonstrated his ability to improve his game after decreasing point totals in the previous two seasons. Ovechkin’s efforts to become a better player are why Oates, who readily admits his bias in this instance, consistently backed the winger for Hart Trophy consideration.
“He was willing to switch positions for the benefit of the organization,” Oates said earlier this week. “He did it, had success. I was happy he had success, I think everybody was. I think we saw the benefit of [changing positions] but he still had to do it. He had the best year, that’s what I feel. At the end of the day it was all contingent on him.”
Ovechkin was beat out by Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby for the Ted Lindsay Award, given to the most outstanding player as voted by their peers.
Check out Ovechkin’s full acceptance speech below:
The 2013 NHL award winners:
Hart Memorial Trophy (MVP): Alex Ovechkin, Capitals
Ted Lindsay Award (MVP as voted by players): Sidney Crosby, Penguins
Norris Memorial Trophy (best defenseman): P.K. Subban, Canadiens
Calder Memorial Trophy (best rookie): Jonathan Huberdeau, Panthers
Vezina Trophy (best goaltender): Sergei Bobrovsky, Blue Jackets
Selke Trophy (best defensive forward): Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks
Lady Byng Memorial Trophy (most gentlemanly): Martin St. Louis, Lightning
Jack Adams Award (best coach): Paul MacLean, Senators
General Manager of the Year: Ray Shero, Penguins
Masterton Memorial Trophy (perseverance, dedication): Josh Harding, Wild
King Clancy Memorial Trophy (humanitarian): Patrice Bergeron, Bruins
NHL Foundation Award (community work): Henrik Zetterberg, Red Wings
Messier Leadership Award: Daniel Alfredsson, Senators
Take a look back at some of the key moments in Ovechkin’s season:
Jan. 14: Ovechkin switches to right wing for the start of training camp
Feb. 11: Ovechkin growing into Oates’s system
Feb. 24: A look at Ovechkin’s first hat trick in over two years, a breakout Oates saw coming
March 15: Ovechkin, Oates forging a solid relationship
March 18: Evaluating Ovechkin’s season in transition, just before he found his stride
April 11: Mike Wise on how Oates may be just what Ovechkin needed