Monday, June 21, 2010

Got Hart? The 2010 Edition (Part Deux)

Now that I’ve said my piece on those who WEREN’T considered for the Hart Trophy, I’ll shift my attention to those who actually were nominated for the National Hockey League’s MVP.

As much as disagree with the exclusion of Ryan Miller and Ilya Bryzgalov from the running for the Hart Trophy, it’s hard to make a case against Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin, and Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin. I suppose the NHL is simply selling themselves short by limiting the candidates for MVP to simply three, but it’s hard to top this trio of point producers.

I know what you’re all thinking….He’s been brainwashed by the NHL’s promotional team! The Crosvechkin phenomenon continues to take over, and will soon block out the sun! Yes I will admit, it was an incredibly convenient pair of selections to name #87 and #8 amongst the league’s best (considering the NHL mentions one or both of their names in nearly every breath). But both had extraordinary seasons in 2009-10. Crosby tied for the NHL-lead in goals scored (with 51, a career-high), elevating his game after suggestion that he doesn’t score enough goals for the Pens. Ovechkin finished just behind Crosby with 50 goals on the season – in only 72 games – and tied Sid with 109 points, good for 2nd overall in the NHL. Both were certainly central fixtures on their squads, and were key to the successes of their respective teams – Washington, of course, captured the President’s Trophy with 121 points, while Pittsburgh finished with 101 points, two behind New Jersey in the Atlantic Division and for 2nd overall in the Eastern Conference.

That being said about those two heavyweights, my support for the Hart goes solely to Henrik Sedin. And it’s not a choice I’ve made simply to spite the fans of Crosby and Ovechkin

“Hank” led the NHL with 112 points (29 goals, 83 assists) after playing in all 82 of the Canucks’ games, which has already earned him the Art Ross Trophy. Sedin improved upon last year’s previous career high of 82 points – a quantum leap of 30 points! But going beyond the sheer scoring numbers, it must be noted that Sedin did so while garnering significantly less ice time per game - 19:41 per game – than either Crosby (21:57) or Ovechkin (21:47) or many of the NHL’s other top forwards, as Sedin ranked 37th amongst forwards in ice time per game.

While Sedin anchored the Canucks’ power play (6th in the NHL, clicking at a 20.9% clip), it should be noted that 83 of his 112 points were scored while at even strength.  No one in the NHL has tallied as many even-strength points in 14 seasons.  While his power play numbers were solid (4 G – 23 A – 27 Pts), he was far from padding his stats with the man-advantage.

Henrik Sedin has always predictably linked to his twin brother, Daniel. The “Wonder Twins” have been a point producing pair for the Canucks since their NHL debut in 2000-01. But when Daniel went on the shelf in November with a broken foot, Henrik continued to excel, scoring 10 goals and 8 assists in the 18 games Daniel was on IR for. Henrik also tallied an assist in a late season game Daniel was scratched for due to a back injury, making the final tally 19 points in 19 games sans Danny. Incidentally, Daniel still managed to total 29 goals and 56 assists in 63 games, with those 85 points placing Daniel tied for 11th in the league in scoring – while missing nearly a quarter of the season – as his brother’s go-to winger.

Many have chosen to knock Sedin’s credentials as a Hart candidate by stating that he doesn’t score enough goals to be a true MVP (Hank’s 29 goals placed him in a tie for 25th).  Some have even suggested that of Sedin padded his stats with “secondary” assists (indeed, 40 of his 83 league-leading assists were considered secondary). But the fact remains that Vancouver – as a team – finished second in the league in goals scored (up from 11th a season ago). The Canucks also finished with 6 different players with 25 or more goals this season – a feat unmatched by any other team.

And Henrik Sedin was the key cog in that team-wide scoring explosion for the Northwest Division champions. Sedin elevated the play of all who played along side of him. He is directly responsible for the emergence of the scoring touch of uber-pest Alexandre Burrows, who led the Canucks this season with 35 goals. Burrows – whose mouth may still over-shadow his talent – notched also 28 goals in 2008-09 after being placed on Vancouver’s first line with Henrik and Daniel Sedin, up from his previous career high of 12 goals. Burrows saw company in posting a career-high in goals in Vancouver in the form of career journeyman Mikael Samuelsson. In his first season with the Canucks, Samuelsson notched 30 tallies (his previous high was 23 markers with Detroit in 2005-06), and clearly benefited from the first-line minutes playing with Henrik he earned when Daniel Sedin was injured.

If the true mark of a great player is to make his teammates better, then Henrik Sedin ranks above all others in my book. The heights to which the likes of Burrows and Samuelsson took their game along side of Henrik Sedin is what you should expect of your first line center. He may not be a pure, bona-fide goal scorer himself, but if you play along side of Hank Sedin, he’ll make sure you’ll become one.

Not to knock Crosby for altering his game to score more goals, but many of the Penguins’ woes this year were perpetuated by the weak scoring touch of Sid’s wingers (as well as an anemic power play, but let’s blame Pittsburgh’s blueliners there). Had he opted to concentrate more on his great playmaking skills, he may well have raised the games of Kunitz or Guerin or Fedetenko or Dupuis. Yes, I realize that’s a tall order, but Guerin was the only of that group of wingers that reached the 20-goal mark for the Pens. I also realize Crosby needed to score more for Pittsburgh due to the injury-riddled and less-effective Evgeni Malkin (who seemed to float and coast on the ice like a lost puppy when he was healthy), which may ultimately give Sid the edge over Sedin, give the weaker supporting cast.

As for Ovechkin, his haphazard style of play made him somewhat of a liability this season in Washington. Suspensions and injuries – all directly attributed to the reckless abandon with which he plays – cost him 10 games this season, plus additional game misconducts cost him what (more-or-less) amounted to another 3 more games. Even so, the Capitals fared quite well without him, going 9-1 during those contests Ovechkin sat. The well-oiled arsenal of offensive weapons on Washington’s roster (Backstrom, Semin, Green, et al) didn’t seem to miss a beat without its captain.

Even with Sedin’s gaudy resume, the odds makers is Las Vegas seem less than impressed. Hank has been given 9/2 odds of winning the Hart, paling in comparison to the 2/3 odds of Crosby or the 5/4 odds of Ovechkin. Could it be the old East Coast bias rearing its ugly head yet again (despite the generally accepted thought that the Western Conference is the tougher of the NHL’s two halves)?

I’m not much of a gambling man, but if I were to lay down a wager, I’d take Sedin’s odds right to the bank. It is entirely possible that the Eastern Conference voting contingency could very well split their vote between Sid and A.O., leaving Sedin to mop up the Western Conference voters.

I anticipate a close vote once the final numbers are revealed, and it wouldn’t surprise me (or offend me) if Crosby won the Hart. And while I like Ovechkin as a player, I wouldn’t give him the Hart this season for the reasons I’d outlined above. 

But in a race this close, you go with what you know, and I must admit I watched the Canucks play more than anyone else this season (yes, that statement is true).  Therefore, my vote goes to Sedin.

Regardless of how the Hart vote turns out, at least I know I'm not alone in my thinking.

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