Detroit Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Mark Humphrey
This is a big week in more ways than one for Alexander Ovechkin.
While he's focused on trying to get his Washington Capitals into the Stanley Cup playoffs, those who decide the winner of the Hart Trophy as the NHL's MVP are also watching closely.
For some members of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association, Washington's playoff inclusion will be the deciding factor in whether they give Ovechkin their first-place vote on their Hart Trophy ballot (voters select five players ranked 1-5).
Others have already made up their minds - he deserves it either way.
The Canadian Press isn't waiting until the regular season is ends Sunday to decide and we're not waiting until June to name the award winners. Here's a look at our picks:
Most Valuable Player
The Ovechkin debate is an interesting one. If the Hart Trophy was actually awarded to the NHL's outstanding player, Ovechkin would win it in a cakewalk. But the Hart is reserved for the most valuable player. In other words, where would a team be without this player? Well, if the Caps miss the playoffs they'd be out of the playoffs with or without Ovechkin.
Tough one, isn't it?
It's the same logic that likely cost winger Jarome Iginla the Hart in 2002 when his Flames missed the playoffs while Jose Theodore edged him for the award after backstopping a very average Montreal team into the post-season.
Ovechkin's season has been sensational. He's the first 60-goal scorer in 12 years and has already secured the Rocket Richard Trophy for the NHL's top goal-scorer. He may also add the Art Ross Trophy as top NHL point-getter if he can hold off Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin this week. But the Hart? That's where there's a debate, because of his team's playoff position.
"I can't even believe people are questioning it," Caps teammate Shaone Morrisonn told The Canadian Press. "He's been unbelievable this year. He's put the team on his back. He's got 60-plus goals and he's just flying out there. There's a lot of great players in this league but I can't imagine our team without him. He'd be a lock if I had a vote.
"Hopefully we get into the playoffs and help his cause out."
Other worthy candidates include:
-Malkin. The Penguins centre stepped out from the shadow of teammate Sidney Crosby and brought his game to a new level while the superstar centre was injured this season.
-Iginla, who again this year has done it all for Calgary. If he's not scoring big goals or delivering the big check or dropping the gloves, he's showing his leadership on and off the ice.
-Defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom is the engine that makes the Detroit Red Wings machine run smoothly. From special teams to the transition game to his unbelievable plus-minus, he does it all.
-Winger Alexei Kovalev is emblematic of the surprise season his Montreal Canadiens have delivered. His clutch offensive production and his desire to carry the young Habs on his shoulders makes him a deserving possibility.
-The New Jersey Devils, given their offensive struggles, possibly do not make the playoffs without another standout season from goalie Martin Brodeur.
-Evgeni Nabokov had played in 74 of his team's 79 games before the San Jose Sharks took the ice Tuesday night. He's also the biggest reason the Sharks stayed in the hunt in the first half of the season as they struggled to find their game.
And the winner is: It's an impressive list. But there's only one true standout. Playoffs or no playoffs, we take Ovechkin.
The NHL's 30 GMs decide this one. No question Brodeur and Nabokov will be among the three final nominees. The real battle is in who else joins them at the awards show in Toronto in June.
Some feel Roberto Luongo should have won last season when Brodeur edged him out. The Vancouver Canucks star hasn't quite grabbed the league spotlight as much this year in large part because his team has struggled to find consistency. But he still carried the NHL's fifth-best save percentage into Tuesday's game.
J.S. Giguere of the Anaheim Ducks, Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers and Pascal Leclaire of the Columbus Blue Jackets are also good candidates.
And the winner is: Nabokov has had a Vezina-worthy season but so has Brodeur. The tie goes to the reigning champion. We hand Brodeur a fourth career Vezina.
One of these years Lidstrom will lose a step and the race for the Norris will be wide open. Just not this year. The 37-year-old silky smooth Swede leads all NHL blue-liners with 66 points (8-58) in 73 games but perhaps most impressive is his plus-41 rating - by far the best among NHL blue-liners.
What could change this year is who goes to the awards show with Lidstrom. It has routinely been Scott Niedermayer and often Chris Pronger. But Niedermayer missed half the season in semi-retirement and Pronger would be the first to admit he didn't dominate this season like he usually does. His eight-game suspension for stomping on Ryan Kesler probably won't curry him any favour with the PHWA either.
Other deserving candidates? How about Zdeno Chara, the No. 1 reason the Bruins exceeded expectations. We also like Dion Phaneuf of the Flames, Andrei Markov of the Canadiens, Sergei Gonchar of the Penguins and Brian Campbell of the Sharks.
And the winner is: Lidstrom gets our vote for a sixth career Norris Trophy.
What a race this one has been. The NHL has been blessed with a deep crop of impressive first-year players. At first it appeared to be contest between Chicago Blackhawks teammates Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. But Toews got hurt and Kane hit a slump. Then Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals began lighting it up in the second half, especially after being put alongside Ovechkin. Peter Mueller of the Phoenix Coyotes has been a consistently good producer and about a month ago those four names appeared to be the front-runners. Then Sam Gagner of the Edmonton Oilers decided to make it interesting by having a huge final six weeks and Carey Price took over as the No. 1 man in the Montreal net.
The PHWA has a tough one on its hands here but more than likely Gagner and Price made their impacts too late in the season.
And the winner is: We'd love Toews had he be not been injured. Backstrom gets our nod by the slimmest of margins.
JACK ADAMS AWARD
Coach of the Year
The NHL Broadcasters' Association has its work cut out yet again this season. The thing about parity in the NHL is that it also levels out the playing field for this award. There are so many good choices among the 16 playoff-bound teams.
Joel Quenneville of Colorado has to be considered given how he kept his team afloat this season despite injuries to key players such as Joe Sakic, Ryan Smyth and Paul Stastny. The Montreal Canadiens are the NHL's biggest surprise and Guy Carbonneau gets lots of credit for that. Claude Julien's Bruins were supposed to be last. Michel Therrien saw his Penguins rise, not fall, in the absence of Crosby. The Red Wings were not supposed to win another President's Trophy but that's where Mike Babcock's squad is headed. Barry Trotz should get serious consideration if his Nashville Predators sneak in. The same goes for Craig MacTavish and his injury-plagued Edmonton Oilers and for Bruce Boudreau and his run-and-gun Caps.
And the winner is: Quenneville.
Top Defensive Forward
The PHWA chooses this one, too. It's an interesting year given that two-time defending winner Rod Brind'Amour won't be considered because of his season-ending injury. Samuel Pahlsson of the Ducks was last year's runner-up and he, too, has missed 26 games through injury this season.
Detroit is among the most stingy teams in the NHL and while Lidstrom is a big part of that, the Wings believe star forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg don't get nearly enough credit for how good their two-way game is. They may have a point.
Other candidates we like include Mike Grier of San Jose, John Madden of New Jersey and Brenden Morrow in Dallas.
And the winner is: Datsyuk. His plus-41 rating leads all NHL forwards.