Last month I wrote a column in hopes of letting North America in on what the rest of the world already knows, that Alexander Ovechkin is the best player in the National Hockey League. My point was that while ESPN and all of Pennsylvania continues to slurp “Cindy” Crosby, a goofy-looking Russian is single-handedly making hockey important again in our nation’s capital.
I bring this up because that column struck a nerve with more than a couple folks. While Caps fans gave me a nod and a smile, Penguins fans wrote in to call me a blind homer. Most everyone else chimed in repeating what the talking heads have been saying for a month, “That’s all well and good, but the Capitals probably aren’t going to make the playoffs anyway, and Ovechkin can’t be the league’s most valuable player if they miss the playoffs.”
Which leads me to ask a very pointed question – why the hell not?
According to NHL.com, the Hart Memorial Trophy is an annual award given to the player judged to be the most valuable to his team. The winner is selected in a poll of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association in all NHL cities at the end of the regular season.
That’s it. That’s all they have to say about what goes into selecting a league MVP. Does it say – the best player on the best team in the league? Nope. Does it say the best player on a team that makes the playoffs? Nope. All it says is the award goes to the guy judged to be most valuable to his team.
By all accounts, this is a three-player race for the NHL MVP – Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Martin Broduer of the New Jersey Devils. Any of the three would be worthy of the award, but I honestly don’t even think its close. Ovechkin means more to his team than any other player in the league. Period. End of discussion. Without him, the Caps are crossing their fingers and praying for the lottery gods to look fondly upon them in hopes of earning the first pick in the next NHL draft.
With him, the Capitals are the hottest team in the league down the stretch (winning nine of their last 10 games), while he leads the league in goals and points. On top of that, with 63 goals, Alexandre Ovechkin has tied Luc Robitaille for the most goals ever by a left wing in the history of the league (and unlike Barry Bonds, he got to 61 without an asterisk). Washington may or may not make the playoffs, but that shouldn’t matter when it’s time for the writers’ association to turn in their ballots.
And since we’re on the topic of league MVPs, let’s talk about the National Basketball Association. I keep hearing that Kobe Bryant is “hands down” the MVP this year. Taking nothing away from Bryant, I feel the need to ask why people are seemingly overlooking a fine point guard named Chris Paul, who is putting up video game-type numbers on the New Orleans Hornets.
In about 37 minutes a game, Paul is putting up 21.4 points (2nd in the NBA point guards), 11.4 assists (1st overall in the NBA) and 2.7 steals per game (also 1st overall in the NBA). Oh, by the way, the Hornets currently have the second-best record in the league at 52-22. I don’t care that people feel Kobe should have won an MVP award by now in his career – Paul has been phenomenal all year long, posting career highs in all the major categories while simultaneously bringing out the best from a team that isn’t nearly as talented as the Los Angeles Lakers or Boston Celtics.
Awards shouldn’t turn political (i.e. – screwing over Paul now to make up for Bryant getting screwed over in the past), they should be about recognizing excellence on the court/ice/playing field. Let’s be honest, Eli Manning wasn’t the most valuable player in the Super Bowl. That award should have gone to Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora or my personal favorite, Justin Tuck.
Its common knowledge that quarterbacks get all of the fame and blame, but the real reason the New York Giants took home the hardware was because Tuck and the Giants aggressive defensive line made Tom Brady uncomfortable all night long. But Eli made one incredible play on the NFL’s biggest stage and the rest is history. Chalk it up to another example of the most valuable player rarely being the one taking home the trophy at the end of the year.
Brian Murphy is an award-winning sportswriter, and still doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.