With 33 goals last season, the obituaries were being written for the career of Alex Ovechkin. Scoring 33 goals is no small feat, but for the greatest goal scorer of his generation, the 2016-17 season looked like the beginning of the inevitable decline for the Russian superstar.
Fast-forward to January 2018. The now 32-year-old Ovechkin leads the Caps in points with 43, is tied for the league lead in goals with 26 and is on pace for 52 goals for the season.
The fact that Ovechkin is in the running for the Rocket Richard Trophy at the midpoint of the season at his age is absolutely incredible, but there's another piece of hardware he could find himself competing for by season's end: The Hart Trophy as the league MVP.
Ovechkin has won the Hart three times in his career. In all three times, he also won the Rocket Richard Trophy.
More importantly, however, is team success versus the expectations. The Capitals have won the Presidents' Trophy three times in franchise history and in none of those three years did Ovechkin win the MVP. Washington was going to be a great team in those seasons and everyone knew it.
Few knew what to expect from the 2017-18 Capitals heading into the season, but one thing was clear. With all the roster turnover in the summer, this year's team is not nearly as deep or as loaded as the team that won the Presidents' Trophy in each of the last two years. Yet, at the midway point of the season, Washington sits atop the absurdly competitive Metropolitan Division and Ovechkin is leading the way.
Ovechkin's previous Hart Trophies did not come in years in which he played on the best team, they came in years in which he led the team to heights no one expected. Should Washington win the Metropolitan Division this year given what they lost in the offseason and with four rookies in the lineup, this year would certainly qualify.