"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.