"The Hart Memorial Trophy signifies excellence. It’s awarded to the most valuable player of the National Hockey League, the one player considered to be the very best among the world’s very best.
In this season’s three finalists, as voted upon by the Professional Hockey Writer’s Association, excellence is defined.
Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin became the first player in a dozen years to reach 60 goals. He wound up with 65 and a League-best 112 points, capturing both the Art Ross Trophy and the Maurice Richard Trophy.
Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin rose up when last season’s Hart Trophy winner Sidney Crosby went down with a high ankle sprain. Malkin wound up finishing second to Ovechkin with 106 points. His 47 goals were fourth in the NHL.
Calgary Flames right wing Jarome Iginla continued to state his case as the League’s finest power forward with second career 50-goal season and 98 points, good for third in the NHL in both statistical categories.
These dynamic players did more than just put up big numbers. Let’s go into details as we dissect the candidacy for each finalist for what is the most prestigious individual award the NHL hands out.
Many believe it’s a forgone conclusion that Ovechkin will win this trophy in a landslide. It’s hard to argue now considering he also led the Capitals to the Southeast Division championship after they were dead last in the NHL in late November.
Along the way, Ovechkin set the bar for forwards in the NHL by becoming the first player to score 60 goals in a season since Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr both did it in 1996 as members of the Penguins. He also dished out 47 assists to best Malkin by six points in the Art Ross race.
Ovechkin earned the reputation this season as the most dynamic player in the NHL because he was more than just a scoring machine. He was physically imposing, evidenced by his 220 hits, which were ninth most in the NHL and fifth among forwards.
But his goal-scoring prowess and ability to put his team on his back are why many consider him to be a lock. He scored two or more goals in a game 13 times, including three or more three times. He twice scored four goals in a game.
His 22 power-play goals, 11 game-winning goals and 446 shots on goal were all first in the NHL. He was a plus-28, which tied him for seventh in the League. He also played 23:06 per game, which was the third most ice time among the League’s forwards.
Ovechkin also turned into one of the most celebrated players because of his wild celebrations, which many times include him slamming his body into the glass.
Mike Green told NHL.com earlier in the season that “there is not a goal he scores that he doesn’t celebrate like it’s his last one.”
Ovechkin was rewarded for his incredible talent by Capitals owner Ted Leonsis on Jan. 10 with a record multi-year contract worth well over $100 million. There’s no doubt this investment paid off this season.
“Generations come and go and you don’t have the total package, but he’s the total package,” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. “He’s the power forward with the desire to be the best every time he steps on the ice. It doesn’t take long to become a fan of his.”
When Crosby slid into the Mellon Arena end boards on Jan. 18 the Penguins’ world looked like it was about to be turned upside down and inside out. Crosby was diagnosed with a high ankle sprain, at least six weeks on the shelf was the verdict.
Enter Malkin, last year’s Calder Memorial Trophy winner.
Malkin, who was playing on the same line as Crosby before the captain’s injury, took over his own line with No. 87 up in the owner’s box.
Malkin had 15 goals and 22 assists in the 21 straight games the Penguins played without Crosby. He had 11 multi-point games during that stretch, including six three-point games and one four-point game. He had a 10-game point scoring streak from Feb. 2-21. In eight of those games he registered at least two points. He was the NHL’s First Star of the Month.
The big thing, though, was the Penguins went 11-6-4 without Crosby. That put them in position to eventually win the Atlantic Division crown, their first division title in 10 years, which they did on April 2 thanks to a 4-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers.
Malkin, who during Crosby’s absence ran neck and neck with Ovechkin for the League’s scoring title – he took over the lead for a brief time as well – finished second with 106 points on 47 goals and 59 assists.
His 47 goals were fourth in the League and his 59 assists were sixth. He also had 17 power-play goals, tying him for fourth in the League in that statistical category.
Crosby also missed seven games in mid-to-late March with remnants of that ankle injury. In his absence, Malkin registered nine more points on five goals and four assists, bringing his totals to 20 goals and 26 assists in 29 games without Crosby, who also sat out the season finale on April 6 n the 53 games Malkin and Crosby were together, the young Russian center registered 60 points, including 27 goals and 33 assists. So, with or without Crosby, Malkin had a season to remember.
Jarome Iginla ( Highlights | Interview)
While the dynamic Russian duo was making waves in the East, Iginla was once again carving himself out a fantastic season up in the northwest. Calgary’s powerful captain did it all again to lead his team to the playoffs.
Iginla, who has fast became one of the most recognizable faces in the League and a spokesperson, completed the second 50-goal season of his dynamite career and fell just two points shy of reaching 100 points for the first time. Still, his 98 points were a career-high and his plus-27 rating tied his previous career best in that statistical category as well.
He finished in the top five in the NHL in three categories, including points, goals, and game-winning goals, of which he had nine. His 15 power-play goals were eighth in the NHL and his plus-27 rating was ninth best.
Iginla was consistent throughout the entire year, posting a pair of hat tricks, 12 multi-goal games and 25 multi-point games, including 14 with three or more points and two four-point games.
On the last day of the regular season, Iginla had two assists before potting his 50th goal with 7:25 remaining in what turned out to be a 7-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks.
After that game Iginla made an MVP move by keeping his team on the ice to shake hands with Trevor Linden, who may have played his last NHL game after 19 excellent seasons.
“It was a very, very classy thing to do,” Linden told reporters. “Jarome is one of the most classy players in the League and he’s probably the best player in the League.”
We’ll soon find out."