Gauntlet Sportspinions

By Derek Neumeier

With the National Hockey League playoffs just around the corner, every hockey fan who is any hockey fan will have his eyes and ears glued to the quest for Lord Stanley’s cup. While the battles for that piece of hardware wage on, similar battles are being fought behind the scenes for other pieces of hardware, as the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association now takes on the task of voting for the winners of the NHL’s individual awards. While the NHL awards ceremony is still months away in Jun., much less time will be needed to pick a winner for the illustrious Hart Memorial trophy as the league’s most valuable player. That award will undoubtedly belong to Washington Capitals forward Alexander Ovechkin.

Not since the time of Wayne Gretzky’s dominance in the 1980s has there been a more clear-cut choice as to who should win the Hart. The NHL’s Russian prodigy was busier than a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest during the regular season, winning the Maurice “Rocket” Richard trophy for leading the league in goals with 65, well ahead of second-place Ilya Kovalchuk who had 52, as well as winning the Art Ross trophy for leading the league in points with 112, six ahead of Penguin Evgeni Malkin. The season also saw Ovi hit a milestone by breaking the NHL record for most goals in a single year by a left wing, which was previously held by Luc Robitaille’s 63 from the 1992-93 season.

Even more remarkable was the supporting cast, or lack thereof, that Ovechkin had to work with. While Malkin–the only other player even being mentioned right now as one of the three possible candidates for the Hart–placed second in points, he finished there with the aid of other high-calibre teammates such as Sidney Crosby, Petr Sykora and Sergei Gonchar. Ovechkin’s best means of assistance was rookie Niklas Backstrom, who finished second in Capitals scoring with 69 points, a whopping 43 points behind.

Never before has the MVP trophy been awarded to a player whose team failed to make the playoffs, so when the dismal Capitals looked like they were going to fall short midway through the season, the question arose if Ovechkin would still be rewarded for his stellar play. The question will need to wait for another season to be answered as Ovechkin, in true MVP form, carried the Capitals on a late tear that saw them win nine out of their last 10 games en route to winning their division by two points over the heavily favoured Carolina Hurricanes and making the playoffs, a feat that few thought they could accomplish.

When NHL scouts first laid their eyes on Ovechkin, they saw a bedazzling youngster with the potential to be an NHL legend. Already with a Calder trophy to his name, along with the recently earned Richard and Art Ross trophies, Ovechkin is one piece of hardware away from solidifying his place among the greats, even at the tender age of 21. If there is any justice in the hockey world, that last piece of the puzzle will be his come the NHL awards ceremony this year.

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