Throughout the season, whenever the Hart trophy has been brought up, the name we've heard over and over again is Alexander Ovechkin. Now, few will dispute that The Great 8 deserves to be considered the favorite for the award. Ovechkin is following up last year's Hart trophy winning performance with another dominating season. At the time of this writing he sits just one goal shy of cracking 50, he hits everything in sight, and he leads the NHL in shots on goal by a country mile. He brings energy to the rink each and every day, and that energy has spread to his teammates, making each and every one of them better. He is, in short, enormously valuable to his team, and that is the key factor in defining the individual who most deserves to take home the Hart trophy.
However, with all that in mind, isn't it about damn time that Ovechkin's countryman, Evgeni Malkin got a little respect? Sure, Malkin doesn't possess Ovechkin's charisma or his fiery passion, but this hulking Russian star does do one thing better than any other player in the league: consistently put points on the board night after night. In fact Malkin has led the NHL scoring race pretty much wire to wire this season. His five point performance the other night against Atlanta further widened that gulf, and he currently sits 10 points up on teammate Sidney Crosby and 12 points up on the aforementioned Ovechkin in the race for the Art Ross trophy. Malkin's often overlooked defensive ability is also head and shoulders over Ovechkin's and Crosby's, as evidenced by his respectable +19 rating. Ovechkin and Crosby sit at +9 and +7 respectively.
Yet despite this statistical dominance Malkin's name was rarely heard throughout the season, with Ovechkin, Crosby, and even New Jersey's Zach Parise earning all the buzz when it came to pontificating on who was most deserving of hockey's MVP award. Strangely, all that changed the other night when Malkin became the first player in the league to crack the 100 point plateau this season. It was as though he had been dwelling deep in the shadows all year, and as soon as he put up his 100th point a bright spotlight beamed down upon him, and all the hockey writers in North America abruptly noticed him.
As a result Malkin is finally earning the accolades he deserves, and though Ovechkin still remains the odds-on favorite to take home the Hart trophy at least Malkin is in the conversation, and as more than an afterthought. If he can further extend his lead among the NHL point leaders he might turn this into a two horse race yet. However, one can't help but wonder if the Hart trophy race has turned into more of a popularity contest than anything else, and if that's the case then Malkin is most certainly doomed. Everyone - from NHL brass, to media, to fans - loves Ovie, and no matter how good Malkin gets, fairly or unfairly, he can expect to dwell in his countryman's enormous shadow throughout his career