"Party at Kaner's house!" "Cool, we celebrating the Presidents' Trophy?" "Nah, we're celebrating... Wednesday."

“Party at Kaner’s house!” “Cool, we celebrating the Presidents’ Trophy?” “Nah, we’re celebrating… Wednesday.”

The Presidents’ Trophy is so a good award

Something bugged me when the Chicago Blackhawks clinched the best overall record in the National Hockey League. They didn’t seem proud of their accomplishment in the slightest.

Jonathan Toews:

“It’s not that important. Of course, we want to be the best. We’ve put ourselves at the top throughout the entire season. We want to stay there. But that fact it’s called the Presidents’ Trophy, it doesn’t mean a whole lot to us. We’re preparing ourselves for the postseason, and that’s the most important thing right now.”

North American sports analysis weights too much on the success of teams in the post-season “when it counts” or what-have-you. Playoffs though, are like at the end of a long game where one team has decisively won 4-2, tacking on an overtime period to the end of said game and giving the win to whichever team scores first, even if it was the team losing heading into the OT period.

The best chance a team has to win the Stanley Cup is to put a good team together and not react too much to the small sample of the playoffs. While the playoffs are exciting, heart-wrenching, breathtaking and a far more satisfying way to crown a champion, I don’t see success in the playoffs, whether it’s individual or by a team, as a repeatable skill. A lot of the time, champions are crowned by luck.

This is Dan McNeil from the Chicago Tribune, who wrote these unfortunate words which were intelligently lodged behind a Paywall:

Ask Vancouver fans, who saw their Canucks cop the honor last season only to be dumped in Round 1 by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Kings. It was the second straight top regular-season finish for Vancouver, which lost to Boston in the 2011 finals.

I still feel a pit in my stomach when I look at the Hawks’ other Presidents’ Trophy banner, which they earned with 106 points in the 1990-91 season. It is a reminder of a regular season that produced enormous entertainment. And hope. Hope that morphed into insufferable disappointment.

A first-round exit courtesy of the North Stars sullies the good times from when Mike Keenan’s Hawks were the NHL’s elite. That upset serves locally as Exhibit A on how irrelevant the Presidents’ Trophy truly is.

I guess you could look anecdotally and reason that the Presidents’ Trophy team is at a disadvantage… compared to the field. A truly irrelevant award would be giving one to the fourth-seeded team in the Eastern Conference. After all, didn’t the Pittsburgh Penguins lose a six-game series to Philadelphia last season? In the 1991 post-season, the New York Rangers, the fourth-ranked team in the Wales Conference, lost in six games to the Washington Capitals.

Young Jonathan Willis showed in 2011 that while Presidents’ Trophy winners generally don’t win the Stanley Cup, they do win it more than any other seed. Seven games is enough of a sample that a decent team can beat a top team with two good goaltending performances and two home wins. It’s also a large-enough sample that generally, the best team will win a series. JLikens ran the numbers and showed that the best team in any given year should expect the Stanley Cup 22% of the time. I’d be willing to bet that they could expect the Presidents’ Trophy a lot more than that, since we’re looking at an 82-game stretch and not one that runs a maximum of 28.

So kudos, Chicago Blackhawks, and to Jonathan Toews, I can assure you that even if your team doesn’t win the Stanley Cup, I’ll remember this Blackhawks team. After all… every team tries to win as many games they can, right? Why not recognize the team that wins the most?

(As an afterthought, you know the Presidents’ Trophy is cool because Laurence Gilman keeps one in his office.)

Alexander Ovechkin is probably the MVP

I subscribe more to the “Most Outstanding Player” version of the Hart Trophy than I do the “Most Valuable Player” version. The worst arguments that arise from MVP discussions, in any sport, is the definition of the word “value”. If the definition were changed to giving the Hart Trophy to the “Most Outstanding Forward” and the Norris Trophy to the “Most Outstanding Defenceman” we’d have a much easier time actually arguing the accomplishments of certain players rather than pissing away valuable time about what a player meant to his team.

This year I’d probably go with Alex Ovechkin. Him, or maybe Sidney Crosby. Probably not Crosby because I prefer a player who plays for most of the season and while Crosby’s injury was not at all his fault, a smaller number of games can throw “on pace for” point projections horribly out of whack.

Ovechkin re-ignited a struggling Washington powerplay this season and has come absolutely alive along with his club in the second half of the season. I was willing to write them off back in February when the Capitals started 5-10-1. They were last place in the East and seven points out of a playoff spot. At any time during the season, that’s a difficult gulf to climb. With 32 games to go last season, all seven of the teams who were more than seven points out of the final playoff spot didn’t make it. Four of them got Top Five picks.

Ovechkin leads the league with 31 goals. Regardless of defence or any sort of fancystats, ultimately I think the MVP awards ought to be given to the players who do the coolest shit, since we don’t watch a game to watch David Backes’ neutral zone play. We watch because of scoring chances and goals and awesome moments, and Ovechkin has provided more of those. He’s done it despite spending about a dozen games in the early going on the same line as either Joey Crabb or Jay Beagle, and after he got put back together with Nicklas Backstrom he’s gone without a significant threat on his other wing. He does a lot of stuff on his own.

However, I would like to quell some of the discussion about whether Ovechkin is “BACK” or not. Ovechkin finished 3rd, 14th and 5th in scoring in the years since 2007 he didn’t finish “first”. He was never a fallen superstar, he was a player a couple of years older than the current crop of NHL superstars suffering from bad shooting luck and not getting the same beneficial offensive deployment as his contemporaries. In the end, the expectations were too high.

It’s not about whether Ovechkin is “BACK”, it’s about what he’s doing right now. He never truly ‘left’, but his performance had been lagging for some years and his production fell with age. He was never a dominant two-way force, but he was always a very marketable star on an exciting team that got on national TV a bunch. The conversation about Washington is always about Ovechkin and will be until his long contract expires.

I’m going to approach this current hot streak of Ovechkin’s with the same caution and reservation about its implications as I did for his year-long cold streak. If Ovechkin doesn’t tally in his final game of the season, he’ll finish with 32 goals, the same number he had in his 79 games in 2010-2011. The “goals per 82 games” projection on those are 33 for 2011 and 56 for 2013. Chances are… he’s somewhere in between.

My other candidates would be John Tavares and Phil Kessel. In the immortal words of Bill Simmons, sorry Sid the Kid, you didn’t medal.

Comments (25)

  1. This is why the Hart trophy is the most overrated of all the post-season awards. Nevermind the fact Crosby was far and away the best player in hockey for 75% of the season, or that Ovechkin was awful the first 25%. It appears most of these voters develop amnesia and forget everything that happened prior to two weeks ago. If Crosby misses the first 12 games vs the last 12, he runs away with the award, and no one even debates it.

    He’s still 3rd in the points race!!!

    • Crosby is valuable, but not as much as Ovi. Pittsburg is doing just as fine without him in the line up. Would this be the case in Washington if Ovi was out?? Ovi wasn’t doing well at the beginning of the season, and Washington’s record was garbage. Ovi picks up his game and their record improves significantly to the point where they make the playoffs. Ovi is more valuable to his team than Crosby is to Pittsburgh.

      • Hey Steve, they lost two in a row didn’t they?

        You’re right though, the Iginla, Morrow, and Jokinen trades had no impact, I’m sure, yep..

      • Why does everyone say that Pittsburgh is fine without Sid? They’re 7-4-0 without him in the lineup. And that’s the lineup that includes all those great Trade Deadline acquisitions. Where would Pittsburgh be without Sid before they got Iginla, Morrow, Jokinen, and Murray? Probably scrapping it out for a playoff spot on Game #48.

    • I couldn’t have said it better myself. Thank you!!!

    • Exactly, well said. A+++++¥¥+

    • Agree, but funny thing to point out:

      “Nevermind the fact Crosby was far and away the best player in hockey for 75% of the season”

      So he was great for 75% of the season.

      “or that Ovechkin was awful the first 25%.”

      So he was great for 75% of the season, too?

      I think Ovechkin gets a little too much credit–Backstrom and Ribeiro set him up brilliantly again and again on the power play–and Crosby not enough.

  2. The only contention I have with your article is your contention that we’re “pissing away valuable time” instead of “pissing away outstanding time”

  3. While Ovechkin has had an amazing past few months, I consider him to be more the “Most Improved Player”, as opposed to “Most Outstanding Player”. I think consistencey is important in the Hart Trophy. So says a person who has absolutely no say in the matter, other than Let’s Go, Pens!

    Side bar: Ovechkin’s recapturing the rapture coincided with his pro-tennis playing girlfriend, fellow Russian Maria Kirilenko, spending time in the U.S. during the month of March. She must have given him one hell of a pep talk. Sadly, Maria K. will be spending the next few months in Europe. I hope that Alex O. continues to take whatever Maria said to heart. And yes, I own that horrible pun.

  4. I don’t think Toews or anyone else is saying winning the President’s Trophy is a bad thing, just that it’s not the be all end all.

    • Clearly there are plenty of examples of the President’s trophy not indicating future success in the playoffs. I understand why you would want to downplay the significance.

  5. A real blood & gore sports

  6. Most Outstanding Player? Give me a break. We already have not one, but TWO awards for forwards who do outstanding and interesting things. They’re called the Art Ross and the Rocket Richard. Why in the world would you want to reduce the Hart to ‘Rocket Richard-lite’? Sure, Ovie stunk up the ice for a third of the season so he’s not going to be the Richard winner, but let’s give him the Richard-lite for being exciting in the last half, or I’m sorry ‘outstanding’? I’m not buying that logic. If you want to exclude Crosby for not playing part of the season, you could exclude Ovechkin for the same reason (see also: his record in January and much of February). At least Crosby had the excuse of injury.

    The Hart is for Most Valuable Player for a reason. It’s precisely to reward those guys who mean a lot to their teams, often in ways that can’t be quantified by stats. Is Ovie valuable to his team? Sure! Is Bobrovsky also valuable to his team? Yup. Is Toews or Kane valuable to their team? Certainly. The Hart is fine as it is. It’s meant to be more complicated than “X got more goals in recent memory than Y”. That’s a feature, not a bug.

    • I agree about the award criteria, but maybe would still pick Ovechkin over Crosby this year if I had to choose between them. However, they’re not the only players in the league, so if I actually had a vote, I’d go for Bobrovsky if #lumbus makes it, Tavares if they don’t.

      (Meanwhile, Ovechkin IS going to win the Rocket Richard unless Stamkos scores all the goals ever in his very last game.)

    • Ovechkin is in the lead for the Richard right now. He leads Stamkos by 3 goals. Unless Stamkos has a 4 goal night, it’s Ovie’s.

  7. In every single sports league in the world outside of North America, the team that tops the league is considered the champion. The tournament portion of the season (which doesn’t necessarily come at the end) is a separate distinction. The fact that anyone places infinitely more emphasis on a tiny sample size where bounces and injuries are practically everything just shows how much people willingly suspend their disbelief to follow sports.

    It’s fine and all that we have a playoff-based format (there are geographical considerations and uneven scheduling that make regular season results slightly less meaningful), but to pretend that one distinction is 100% and the other is 0% (and therefore 29 of 30 teams are total failures every year), and that there is no such thing as various levels of achievement, is typical sports fan machismo that no one in their sane mind would ever apply to real life. “Second-best company in the world? We suck!!!!”

    • I’m not sure it’s really worth getting so worked up over this. Part of the reason sports are so compelling is the drama, and it unfolds a lot slower over an 82-game season than it does in the condensed Stanley Cup Finals. It’s silly of us to read too much into statistically smaller performances, but then again it’s silly of us to spend so much time following a league we don’t play in to begin with.

      “Suspension of disbelief” isn’t a bad thing, and as much as we try to quantify everything with stats there’s not really a single quantifiable measure to say, player xxx is straight up BETTER than player yyy when it’s two comparable superstars especially at different positions. But we’ll have a good time arguing anyway.

      In the country where I live the top football (soccer) league doesn’t have any sort of playoffs, and I find that dreadfully boring. The hockey league does have playoffs and the “Champion” for the season is the one who wins that, with a separate distinction for the regular season akin to the presidents trophy.

    • Not quite, check out Australian sports leagues, they all have Grand Champions crowned after a playoff. No one talks about the regular season champ. It is all about the playoffs in Australia.

      Not saying that is a better way to do it but I sure prefer the Champion crowned after a playoff. Just because you like the European football way of doing it doesn’t make it better.

  8. “a smaller number of games can throw “on pace for” point projections horribly out of whack”

    Um, he still has more points than Ovechkin.

  9. no one ever dreamed of winning the Presidents Trophy when they were a kid growing up. Thats why winning it doesn’t matter.

  10. Phil Kessel for the Hart? C’MON MAN!

  11. Ovie sucks Crosby gots it

  12. You have Kessel as an option for Hart? Are you serious? I know that you write for Leafsnation now, but that doesn’t mean that you have to drink the Kool-aid. Replace him with Bobrovsky.

  13. For discussion’s sake…

    “Regardless of defence or any sort of fancystats, ultimately I think the MVP awards ought to be given to the players who do the coolest shit, since we don’t watch a game to watch David Backes’ neutral zone play”.

    Isn’t the point of the award supposed to be that it ignores who does the coolest shit and actually spends some time and thought deciding who, in fact, was most valuable? I agree with your earlier statement that it might be easier to double up on the award and do one for forwards and one for defensemen, but I still think it’s worthwhile arguing over Backes’s contribution in the neutral zone. We have awards for most goals and most point, why is it considered not worth our time to look past the point sheet and debate who contributed the most value to their team league-wide, in ways that are maybe less easy to understand for the casual fan?

    I mean if we’re looking at cool shit only, then lets turn the Norris into “most points by defensemean” and do away with the Selke altogether.

    … a little bit of hyperbole i know.

  14. So.. No love for Marty St. Louis at all?

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