- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2008

One of the topics du jour around the NHL is whether Alex Ovechkin deserves to win league MVP honors if his Washington Capitals do not make the playoffs.

Some have painted it as a black-and-white issue: If his team misses the postseason, the 22-year-old is not worthy of the Hart Trophy.

That philosophy is outdated and illogical. There is plenty of gray area to consider on the subject.

Players don’t show up opponents, stop throwing punches when the other guy taps out and are feverishly territorial about shaping their sticks.

Why? Hockey is a game of tradition and routine. The traditional stance that a nonplayoff team can’t have the league’s MVP is an example of such precedent and tradition.

Here’s the thing, though: Many of the people who cling to that stance have been around the game a long time. The landscape of the league has changed through expansion and the salary cap.

So, yeah, back in the day when 16 of 21 teams made the playoffs, a nonpostseason participant probably didn’t deserve the award (though Mario Lemieux won in 1988-89). It is tougher than ever to make the playoffs, and finishing just outside the postseason should not be a definitive mark against a player’s candidacy.

“With the way the league is so tight, you might be out by two points,” Caps defenseman Mike Green said. “So that just automatically means he is not the MVP of the league? Well, we wouldn’t even been close to that if it wasn’t for him.”

There are other circumstances to consider. This is a weird year for MVP candidates. If Nicklas Lidstrom hadn’t gotten hurt and the Red Wings had continued to dominate the league, he would have been a worthy choice. Maybe it could have been Sidney Crosby or Daniel Alfredsson or Marian Gaborik, but they all have suffered injuries as well.

That Ovechkin carried the Caps into playoff contention should be a factor. This franchise has been an afterthought at this time of year for four seasons. The Caps were counted out this year after a 6-14-1 start and were last in the conference for the first half of the season.

This is not meant to stump for Ovechkin to be league MVP. There are other legitimate candidates, such as Calgary’s Jarome Iginla, Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin and New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur.

Making the decision based on what might come down to a win or two just doesn’t make much sense. Brodeur or Malkin won’t be less deserving if his team loses the top overall seed by a couple of points. If Ovechkin wins the scoring race and his club just misses the postseason, he won’t be less deserving either.

“I think the term MVP means most valuable player to your team, and if there is somebody more valuable to their team than Alex is, then I’d be very surprised,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said.

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