*With a week off between games for the Capitals, it seems like a good time to take stock of the team and its season. Here are some key mid-season questions for Capitals writers Andrew Gillis and JJ Regan to discuss.
Should Ovechkin be considered a top contender for the Hart?
Andrew: Alex Ovechkin should be a contender at season's end if two things are true: If he can finish with 50+ goals (he needs 19 in 30 games) and if he can finish in at least the top 3 of goals for in the league assuming the gap between himself and the leader(s) isn't drastic.
Ovechkin has slowed considerably since his torrid start to the year with seven goals in 17 games since Jan. 1. For most players, a 33.7 goal-pace over an 82-game season is a career year. But Ovechkin is not like most players, and this is a conversation about Hart Trophy consideration.
In 33 games from the start of the season through the end of 2021, Ovechkin scored 24 goals in 33 games. As a team the Capitals scored 114, meaning 21%, just over every fifth goal, came off Ovechkin's stick. Who knows where the Capitals would be if the top line, and Ovechkin, weren't excellent to begin the season.
So, as is the (exhausting) debate with this award every single year, it's going to come down to a discussion about best player vs. Most Valuable. I think if Ovechkin can ratchet up his play as the season winds down — and not even to the level it was at starting the year — he should certainly be considered as a finalist.
JJ: What is a "top" contender at this point in the season? Should Ovechkin be among the top 10 players vying for the Hart at this point? Absolutely. Top 5? Almost certainly. The favorite? That's tough.
At this point, I would consider Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid, Ovechkin and Igor Shesterkin to be my top four. The Oilers are remarkably terrible whenever Draisaitl or McDavid are not on the ice and Shesterkin has carried a Rangers team into the top three in the Metropolitan Division when, at 5-on-5, analytically, the Rangers are nowhere close to being that good.
Ovechkin, meanwhile, is the biggest reason a Caps team that has had to shuffle its lineup on a nearly nightly basis is still solidly in a playoff spot. The problem for Ovechkin is that he has cooled off considerably from his hot start with only seven goals in his last 17 games. If he continues to produce at that pace, I think he will fade from contention. If he catches fire again, watch out.
But this recent rough stretch for the team may be an even greater case for Ovechkin as MVP. Consider that in the 33 games from October through December, Ovechkin had 24 goals and 26 assists and the Caps were 20-6-7, tied for the most points in the NHL. That is despite T.J. Oshie playing only 16 games and Nicklas Backstrom playing only three. Ovechkin led the team in goals by 13, assists by two and points by 17. Since Jan. 1, Ovechkin has seven goals and five assists and the Caps are 8-9-2.
As Ovechkin goes, so go the Caps. That's what "most valuable" means to me. If Ovechkin gets hot again and the team gets hot with him, that is a fairly compelling case for why Ovechkin should be in contention for his fourth Hart Trophy.