An Affair of the Hart

Cup'pa Joe

A month ago, league-wide consensus was that Alexander Ovechkin was pretty much a lock to win another Hart Trophy. Today, perhaps not so much.

Alex has done nothing wrong since, and his Hart candidacy remains stellar. But his countryman Geno in Pittsburgh is going to win the league scoring title, comfortably, and he more so than his more hyped teammate pivot is having his name fairly widely associated with the Hart now (interesting, that), as the Pens have catapulted up the standings under the bench guidance of Dan Bylsma. (The Pens are 11-1-3 under Bylsma.)

Malkin’s candidacy this season may be benefiting, to no small extent, from his virtuoso efforts last year — particularly when the Pens’ precocious captain was shelved for weeks with a bad ankle sprain. Instead of collapsing, the Pens surged, with Malkin going great guns: Geno tallied 44 points in the 28 games Sidney missed. He finished second in scoring to Ovechkin last season, 6 points back of Ovi — the first time in league history Russians finished 1-2 in scoring — and for the first time a lot of folks openly wondered if indeed Pittsburgh’s no. 2 center wasn’t in point of fact their true no. 1.    

But then this happened: Malkin’s wheels fairly fell off in last spring’s postseason. His play was for much of it godawful; he was on many nights either invisible or thoroughly ineffective, especially the deeper the postseason endured. So as 2008-09 dawned, folks seemed to somewhat forget Malkin’s 106 points and individual heroics of last season and instead focus on, guess who, and his returned health. Now, though, during this season of Sidney’s conspicuous petulance, with its attack on opponent testicles, boorish behavior in faceoff circles, and loud-mouth loutishness near opponents’ benches, Sidney’s star seems to have dulled a bit relative to the high-octane, seriously having fun games of the Russians. Indeed, it’s quite fun to imagine the likelihood of a helathy Alexander Semin shoving Sidney into fourth of fifth place in the scoring column this season. That well could happen next season.

In hindsight, it’s a surprise that entering this season there wasn’t more focus on the Ovechkin-Malkin rivalry beyond their in-game tensions (recently solved). Then again, it isn’t: the league has too much marketing campaign capital invested in the Nova Scotian. But in truth the more natural rivalry is between Malkin and Ovi. They went 1-2 in the 2004 Entry Draft; there has been a healthy debate ever since about how the picks could have been swapped without the drafting clubs suffering in either instance; and then of course there was the contretemps between the two last season and much of this. In Montreal at the All Star game earlier this winter, the two hammed it up in a manner the league couldn’t fathom Sid the Kid carrying off.

It seems fitting that these two are racing to the regular season finish with the MVP award very much in doubt.   

A One-Man Club at 50

Ovechkin will score 50 goals this season and he will be the only NHLer to do so. That highlights both his unrivaled goal scoring ability and the ongoing need to take down further the Michelin Man look of today’s goalies. That has to count for something special beyond the Richard trophy. As does this:  

Carried by Charisma

As if Ovechkin’s jaw-dropping play weren’t enough, he widens spectator eyes and smiles with his ebullient enthusiasm. Ovechkin moreso than anyone else in the league is the face of his franchise. In fact, he’s more: he’s the prophet, pied piper, the Pope of Puck in this town. When he scores he displays an authentic and infectious enthusiasm that more so than any other reason has transformed downtown D.C. into a Sea of Red on game nights. He is our Jordan, our Favre, our big man on campus — we haven’t had his likes in our city ever. That, too, is increasingly being acknowledged by hockey writers across the continent.   

Malkin’s Hart candidacy, to me, is premised more on his newly arrived at status as perhaps the most dangerous player in the game. He is for good reason the most feared player on the Pens. In a tie game with 15 seconds left and Malkin on the puck behind his own net, opposition fans’ watch with their collective hearts in their throats. He and he alone on his team can go 200 feet, at terrific speed, without the aid of a single teammate and end the game with his wrists. In that regard, he is very much like Mario.

That the Penguins again this season demonstrated a stunning ability to triumph and propser sans Sidney only bolsters Malkin’s Hart bona fides. 

This may be difficult for most Capitals’ fans to read, but it may be in the best interest of our sport to have Malkin edge out Ovi for the Hart in Las Vegas this June. (Speaking of which, what will the two of them concoct out on the Strip as followup to their Montreal mayhem?) The league and its myopic marketing misguidedness needs to have its Cherry-colored nose rubbed in it.

Have a Hart voting tally that resembles something like this: (1) Malkin; (2) Ovechkin; (3) Steve Mason; (4) Chara; (5) Semin; (6) Sid.  

Think of it as a reward for good behavior.

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4 Responses to An Affair of the Hart

  1. Flying Cloud says:

    But you forget Pavel Datsyuk. He will surely get at least one vote for the Hart. He ranks in the top 5 in more categories than any of the other guys. Malkin may get it, and may deserve it, but Datsyuk is the more well-rounded player and has contributed more overall.

  2. jg284481-37-5 says:

    How about Scott Clemmenson (sp) for Hart ?
    Who would have thought Devils would be in top 3 of conference with Brodeur missing most of season ?

  3. pucksandbooks says:

    Datsyuk is stupendous, and undoubtedly the best two-way player of the elite talents in the league. He needs his own award.
    Clemmenson is a damned interesting argument. But among goalies, given Columbus’ talent relative to Jersey’s, I’d have to say I’m more wowed by Mason.

  4. Bill says:

    OMG! With that hed I was hoping we’d get more sweetie talk!

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