Sergei Bobrovsky has the Blue Jackets on the brink of clinching a playoff berth with his all-star caliber play. (Photo by Mark Buckner/NHLI via Getty Images)
Sidney Crosby, John Tavares and Alex Ovechkin have received most of the attention for this year’s Hart Trophy and each can make a strong case for MVP.
Crosby’s numbers separated him from the pack so much that even though he hasn’t played a game in April, he still leads the NHL in scoring. Tavares has been a goal-scoring machine on a team that has seen a large leap in offensive productivity and should make a surprise landing in the playoffs. And once Ovechkin settled in to coach Adam Oates’ system, he started to look like the Ovie of old and the Caps went on a tear around him.
But none of them are clear-cut favorites because each has some kind of a drawback to their nomination. Crosby has missed all of April and the Pens have gone 7-2 without him. Tavares – on pace for 35 assists over 82 games – would have the fewest helpers (pro-rated over a full season) for an MVP since Bobby Hull who won the prestigious trophy during the 1964-65 season, collecting 32 assists. Ovechkin was less than a point per game player for half of this short season and has basically made his case in his extraordinary final 23 games.
The 48-game season has made it a weird one for awards. The strongest case for the Hart – which I stress should go to the player most valuable to his team – might actually have been made by a couple of goalies.
The first is Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus’ savior from the depths of irrelevancy. His .930 SP ranks second among starters to Craig Anderson, who has only played 22 games. On average, the Jackets get outshot by four per night and have the 26th overall offense in the league, with no players yet at 30 points. We all know where we expected Columbus to be this season, but here they are proving us wrong. That has everything to do with Bobrovsky.
And he’s been consistent. Near the start of the season, Columbus went on a 27-game stretch where they averaged 2.07 goals per game. Bobrovsky maintained a .931 SP through this drought.
At least Bobrovsky has received some press and his name will likely appear on some ballots. Antti Niemi is another worthy MVP candidate whose contribution to San Jose’s fifth-place standing hasn’t received enough attention.
San Jose wasn’t the same old team throughout this season, even though it started that way. In 23 games from Feb. 2 to March 23, the Sharks offense slipped into the abyss averaging 1.73 goals per game (!) and fell to as low as 28th in scoring, below even Columbus. During this stretch, Niemi played in 19 games, logging a 6-8-5 record, with a .917 SP and 2.37 GAA. Out of those 13 losses, more than half (8) came when he allowed two goals or less in regulation. Four came when he allowed one or zero in regulation. And the Sharks went 0-3 without him.
Niemi kept the Sharks in it when the offense went into the gutter. He has faced the third-most shots in the league behind Ryan Miller and Ondrej Pavelec and has played the most minutes of any netminder and the Sharks have been leaning on him. Sounds pretty valuable to me.
If I were to give this year’s Hart to a goalie, it would be between these two. The case can certainly be made for other netminders who have put together strong years, but these two performances stick out.
Advantage Bobrovsky for working a miracle.
Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com's web editor. His column appears regularly only on THN.com.
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