TORONTO - The NHL insists it hasn't spilled the beans on this year's Hart Trophy winner.
The league's official online store briefly featured a blue Alexander Ovechkin t-shirt Friday afternoon with the phrase "2007-08 Hart Trophy winner" displayed along the bottom. The item was removed from the website later in the day.
A league source attributed the gaffe to a mistake by a third party distributor, while pointing out that licensees create inventory for every possible scenario. Should Ovechkin not win the Hart Trophy, the t-shirts would be destroyed.
"In an effort to offer our fans the merchandise they want in a timely manner following an event such as the NHL Awards, our licensees prepare product for all possible outcomes," explained NHL spokesman Frank Brown in a statement.
"In this situation, the link for one of the possible products became live early through an error by our e-commerce provider. We regret the error and have taken steps to amend."
Ovechkin, who led the NHL with 65 goals and 112 points, is one of three candidates for NHL most valuable player, joining Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin and Calgary Flames superstar Jarome Iginla. The winner will be announced at the league's awards ceremony June 12 in Toronto.