Despite a painfully slow start, Alex Ovechkin has had one of the greatest seasons of his career. He scored more goals than any other player, earning his third Rocket Richard trophy in six seasons. He finished third in the league in points. He led his team to a division title after being mired in dead last a month into the season. Ovechkin’s play is the reason the Capitals are in the playoffs — without his success, this would have been a lost season for Washington.
Since he has been so crucial to the accomplishments of his team, he deserves consideration for the Hart Trophy, which is awarded to the guy “judged to be the most valuable to his team.” However, many of the writers who vote for the award are casting their ballots for somebody else — namely Sidney Crosby or John Tavares.
The Great One, Wayne Gretzky, disagrees with that.
Monday afternoon, Gretzky called in to Hockey Night in Canada’s afternoon radio show hosted by Rob Pizzo and Elliotte Friedman. Wayne talked about what teams he thinks will succeed in the playoffs and gave Ovechkin the ultimate endorsement, naming him and Jonathan Toews as the two people he’d like to see win the Hart trophy. He also praised the skills of first year head coach Adam Oates.
Gretzy on his MVP choice:
Listen, first of all, had Crosby not been hurt, I think he would have been a unanimous choice. And he still may win the award. He was so remarkable in the games he played. I don’t think anyone’s going to question it if Jonathan Toews wins [the Hart]. He takes faceoffs, he kills penalties. On the power play he’s an instrumental leader for that hockey club. He’s sorta the heartbeat of that team. He does it in a classy way. He’s just a wonderful player. So he’s going to get a lot of votes.
From my side of things, I look at Alexander Ovechkin. You look at the Hart trophy and what it means. And it means what player could you take away from that team and they wouldn’t have the success they had. And I think that people forget that he had three coaches in a 12 month period and I think that’s difficult for any player — especially an offensive-minded player. He struggled without question the first 20 games. And I think the final 28 games he finally got his confidence back. I don’t think there’s any coincidence that they were below .500, then as soon as he’s able to play at the level he’s capable of, they became a different team. I don’t think anybody’s going to be disappointed if either Toews or Ovechkin wins. Those would be my two guys that I would vote for. If Columbus made the playoffs, obviously that goaltender deserved a lot more attention than he would get.
Gretzky on how much credit Oates deserves:
What he’s done there is tremendous. And you have to make a decision as an organization, okay, “are we going to hang our hat on number eight” or are we going to say “time to move on, trade him” for two or three or four players that are a little bit more defensive minded. Adam Oates came in and said “he’s going to be my guy” and in fairness to Ovechkin, he’s boughten in to what Adam also wants. It’s been a good two-way street. Obviously, Ovechkin has loved playing for Oates and Oates has done a tremendous job coaching Ovechkin.
He’s a great player. He’s a superstar and it was just a matter of him getting his confidence back again and enjoying the game. I don’t care who you are. If you lose your confidence as a professional athlete, it’s very difficult to play. And so obviously he has it back and listen, the year he’s had and the finish he’s had, good for him and great for the city of Washington. It’s been exciting to watch.
Thanks to @nogoodtrying138 for first tweeting about the interview.