The more things have changed for Alexander Ovechkin during the last three seasons, the more they look like they will stay the same. The Washington Capitals franchise forward captured his third Hart Memorial Trophy as the league MVP.
The announcement was made on the Stanley Cup Finals pre-game show. A brief taped message of acceptance was played, as Ovie stood with his native Russia in the background. This is Ovechkin’s first MVP win since the 2008-09 season but the third of his eight-year career.
The Great 8 becomes just the seventh player in league history to be named the MVP three times, joining Bobby Orr, Howie Morenz, Mario Lemieux and Bobby Clarke in the three-timer's club.
Having already won the Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL's leading goal scorer, Ovechkin’s third is likely the sweetest of his career considering the struggles of the past two seasons. Ovechkin’s game became predictable as his goal scoring and point production dropped to career lows. After averaging nearly 54 goals per season during his first five years in the NHL, he would score just 32 goals games during the 2010-11 season and 38 the following year.
To put Ovechkin’s troubles into perspective, his combined total of 70 goals during those past two seasons was just five more than he scored during the entire 07-08 season, when he tallied 65 times. In winning the Richard Trophy this past season, Ovechkin led the league with 32 goals in 49 games. That is as many as he scored in 79 games two seasons ago. There were whispers that Ovi was developing into somewhat of a coach killer, as Bruce Boudreau was fired in November of 2011 and Dale Hunter did not return to coach after the 2012 season.
As Hall of Fame player and rookie head coach Adam Oates took over in Washington this past season following the lockout, many wondered if Ovechkin could even be traded after starting slowly for the third straight season.
Ovie had just nine goals and 20 points during the first half of the season (24 games) and the Capitals were in the tank. They were 10-13-1 and coming off a 4-1 loss to the Rangers in which Ovechkin himself committed two penalties in 10 seconds which led to power play goals for the Blue Shirts of Manhattan.
Nevertheless, Adam Oates convinced his players to buy into his system, which was a mix of the Bruce Boudreau highflying days and the tight trapping style of Dale Hunter. Confusion reigned in D.C. but eventually Washington--- and Ovechkin found their way. It was almost as if a light bulb literally went off over the heads of the players, as it does in cartoons, the Capitals began to play better--- and more importantly-- win.
The Great 8 would score 23 goals during the final 24 games and as a result the Capitals would finish the season 17-5-2 and 27-18-3 overall (54 points), good enough to capture their fifth Southeast division title in their past six seasons.
In the last 32 games of the season, Ovechkin had 27 of his 32 goals and where Ovechkin really excelled was on the power play. Ovechkin’s 16 power play goals led the league and helped the Capitals man advantage unit finish first in the league during the regular season. Ovie also finished third in the NHL with 56-points and led the league with 220 shots
Why the sudden change in Ovi’s game? Many say he decided to follow the coaching and advice of a Hall of Fame playmaker in Oates. His new head coach moved him to Right Wing and at first, Ovechkin was not a fan.
"We tried it a couple of times," Ovechkin said, reflecting on the start of the season as he prepared to face the visiting New York Rangers in Game 1 of the playoffs. "I didn't feel comfortable there."
So Oates temporarily relented and switched Ovechkin back to the left side for a handful of games, putting him on a line with little-used players, as if to send the message: Are you sure this is what you want? That did not last long.
Ovechkin agreed to try Oates’ experiment. "I'm glad I did," Ovechkin said. "And I'm glad it worked." The result worked for all involved as Ovechkin joins elite company with his third MVP. As an assistant coach with the New Jersey Devils, the past two years, Oates, thought he detected a reason for the scoring decline.
During an interview with the Hockey News following the end of the season, Oates said, simply put-- Ovechkin "didn't get the puck enough." Oates thought changing the side of the ice Ovechkin spends much of his time on could be a way to get more touches. Oates pitched the idea to Capitals general manager George McPhee during a job interview to replace Dale Hunter as Washington's coach.
"When we interviewed Adam this summer, he was convinced that he could make (Ovechkin) a better player. And that was a big part of choosing Adam," McPhee told The HN. "Everybody's going to say, 'I can get this guy going.' But Adam had the video and the data to back it up."
As for why Oates' plan made sense, McPhee explained: "It had gotten stale on the left side. It had gotten a little bit too predictable. ... Teams started making adjustments to play him over the years, and the game changed a lot over the years, with clogging up the neutral zone again. So he had to adjust, and Adam helped him with that."
Oates understood why Ovechkin might have harbored doubts, though. "'I need kind of my security blanket,' in a sense," is the way Oates described his player's hesitation about leaving the left side.
"I was totally comfortable with that," Oates said. "Like I said to him all along, 'It's going to be your call, eventually.' I wanted to keep testing the water ... and we got to a point where he said, 'Sure.'"
Ask around the locker room, and there are other explanations offered for why Ovechkin’s shot and numbers returned. According to the same article, teammates were quick to note that center Nicklas Backstrom was healthy after missing 40 games with a concussion last season; his 40 assists ranked third in the NHL. Others say Ovechkin is getting more mature as he gets older and growing into his role as captain. Some even point to his engagement to top-20 professional tennis player Maria Kirilenko, which Ovechkin he says "helped me a lot."
The most obvious difference on the ice, though, is that move to the right, something Oates calls an example of Ovechkin being "unselfish."
"Everybody had him down as some sort of superhuman. Batman or Superman. (But) opponents were learning and catching on to tendencies he had, and now that he switched over to the right side, it's kind of giving a different look ... and opens up some more space," forward Joel Ward said. "It's no secret: Anytime you've got a guy that can hit a home run, it's always beneficial. He can score from nothing."
Ovechkin’s top nemesis and biggest rival in the league, Sidney Crosby was also a finalist for the Hart Memorial Trophy, as was the New York Islanders John Tavares. Voting was close, very close. Ovechkin finished with 50 first place votes compared to 46 for Sid the Kid. Overall, Ovechkin collected 1,090 points to Crosby's 1,058. Tavares finished third with 38 first place votes and 919-points.
Crosby was not completely shut out of the MVP voting as he won the Ted Lindsay award.
Formerly known as the Lester B. Pearson Award, the Lindsay is awarded annually to the National Hockey League's most outstanding player in the regular season as judged by the members of the NHL Players Association. It is a companion to the Hart Memorial Trophy, which Ovechkin won tonight.
Ovechkin has also won the Lindsay---In fact he did so three consecutive years from 2007-10. This was Crosby’s second Lindsay award and he keeps the trophy in Pittsburgh, as Crosby’s teammate, Evgeni Malkin took home the honor last season.
For all of the individual accolades that Ovechkin has been awarded during his eight-year career, the 27-year old Russian still trails Crosby in the one trophy that matters most. The Stanley Cup. Crosby has one, which he won in 2009 when the Pens ousted the Red Wings in the finals.
Ovechkin continued his recent playoff struggles versus the Rangers in the Stanley Cup playoffs. He recorded just one goal, which came in Game 1 and aside from his hitting, was ineffective as a play maker or goal scorer for the final six games of the series, which the Rangers won in seven games.
Ovechkin’s Capitals have continued a troubling Washington tradition of finding new and innovative ways to lose when spring arrives in the United States capital. However, many believe Oates has the team headed in the right direction but it will not be easy, considering the Capitals will no longer have a chance to dominate a weak division, which many MVP voters said was a reason Ovechkin, should not have won the 2013 MVP award.
Next season, Ovechkin will play in the same division with not only Crosby but also the leagues other MVP candidate this season, John Tavares. Washington is going to renew acquaintances with all of their former rivals from the old Patrick Division, where the Caps spent 15-years as a member. Aside from the Penguins, Ovechkin and company will battle for a playoff spot with the Islanders, Rangers, Devils, Flyers and joining them from the Southeast will be the Carolina Hurricanes. The Columbus Blue Jackets will also move into the division after competing in the Western Conference since coming into the NHL in 2000.
OTHER MAJOR AWARD WINNERS:
Calder Memorial Trophy: Jonathan Huberdeau Florida Panthers
After tying for the rookie scoring lead with 31 points, Florida Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league's rookie of the year. Huberdeau, who is the first Panther to win the award, beat out finalists Brandon Saad of the Chicago Blackhawks and Brendan Gallagher of the Canadiens.
Vezina Trophy: Sergei Bobrovsky Columbus Blue Jackets
Though it didn't leak early, the Vezina Trophy winner seemed to be a no-brainer all along and the voting showed it, too. Sergei Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets took home the award for the league's best goaltender, beating out the New York Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist and Antti Niemi of the San Jose Sharks.
Bobrovsky, who earned 17 first-place votes, was a revelation in Columbus this season in leading the Blue Jackets to the doorstep of the playoffs. Among goalies starting the majority of his team's games, Bobrovsky led the NHL with a .932 save percentage and posted a 2.00 goals-against average in 38 appearances.
James Norris Memorial Trophy: P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens
In what was one of the NHL's worst-kept secrets, Montreal's P.K. Subban won his first Norris Memorial Trophy as the league's best defenseman, beating out Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Minnesota Wild's Ryan Suter.
Subban is the first Montreal defenseman to win the award since Chris Chelios did it in 1989.