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The numbers say NHL MVP is Ovechkin's to lose

While the chase for the playoffs sits at the forefront of most hockey fans' minds these days, it's also a good time to look ahead at likely winners for some of the major individual awards for this NHL season.

The Hart Trophy is awarded each year to "the player judged to be the most valuable to his team". This lends itself quite neatly to statistical analysis, as we can get a good handle on which players have, in total, boosted their team's Goals For and held down their Goals Against over the course of a season. Follow me after the jump for a look at your MVP candidates...

The idea here is to leverage the Rating statistics from Behind the Net, which sums up the net influence on Goals For & Against per 60 minutes of play, and convert those into counting stats based on the cumulative ice time and games played for each individual. For instance, Alex Ovechkin's presence in 5-on-5 action has resulted in a net of +35.7 goals for Washington, compared to how the Capitals fare when he is on the bench. His influence on the power play is almost as large (+31), and he is a pretty average PK man.

The Penalty +/- Impact reflects the influence on Goals For & Against from a player drawing or committing penalties, and thus creating PP or PK situations for his team. Using a previous estimate by Alan Ryder, each power play is worth 0.153 goals, reflecting the increased likelihood that your team is going to score (with a PK costing the same amount).

Sum up the 5-on-5, PP, PK and Penalty +/- columns, and you get a Total Impact that each player has had on Goals For & Against over the course of the season. Most MVP discussions focus solely on offensive contributions, and ignore the defensive side of the game.

Remember - these measures reflect the influence of a given player on the performance of his team. They are not meant to be used a direct comparison of players on different teams to say "who is better". It is, rather, "who is more valuable to his team". Yes, this analysis does leave goaltenders out of the equation, but we can argue over the Vezina another day.

Below the table I have a few comments about some of the individual players:

Player Pos Team 5-on-5 Impact PP Impact PK Impact Penalty +/- Impact Total
Alex Ovechkin LW WSH 35.7 31.0 -0.6 1.2 67.3
Nicklas Lidstrom D DET 26.4 11.9 16.3 -0.2 54.4
Zach Parise LW N.J 38.8 9.7 2.3 3.1 53.9
Matt Carle D PHI 28.9 6.1 7.9 -0.3 42.5
Chris Pronger D PHI 22.4 19.9 0.9 -1.5 41.7
Jonathan Toews C CHI 9.9 18.7 10.7 1.2 40.5
Nik Antropov LW ATL 29.7 10.3 -0.5 0.3 39.8
Marian Gaborik LW NYR 28.8 10.2 0.0 0.0 39.0
Dustin Penner LW EDM 29.8 7.5 1.0 0.8 39.0
Nicklas Backstrom C WSH 19.3 17.7 0.6 0.0 37.6
Travis Zajac C N.J 29.8 9.4 -2.0 -0.2 36.9
Henrik Sedin C VAN 38.5 -7.5 3.9 0.9 35.7
Brian Rafalski D DET 24.9 7.2 4.2 -0.8 35.6
Drew Doughty D L.A 16.3 15.9 2.8 0.0 35.0
Daniel Sedin LW VAN 36.9 -2.5 0.2 -0.9 33.7

Note: PP Impact reflects 5-on-4 play only, PK Impact reflects 4-on-5 only. Other odd-man situations aren't common enough to change these standings significantly.

Alex Ovechkin

#8 / Left Wing / Washington Capitals



Sep 17, 1985

2009 - Alex Ovechkin 61 44 52 96 41 81 11 0 5 0 314 14.0

His 5-on-5 Impact ranks among four elite players who are well ahead of the rest of the league, while his power play work is in a class by itself (his +31 PP Impact is followed distantly by Sergei Gonchar at +22.6). Even his two-game suspension this week shouldn't slow down his march to a repeat performance as Hart Trophy winner.

Nicklas Lidstrom

#5 / Defenseman / Detroit Red Wings



Apr 28, 1970

2009 - Nicklas Lidstrom 69 8 35 43 17 16 5 0 1 0 164 4.9

Given all the issues Detroit has had to struggle through this season, the Red Wings have had to rely on Lidstrom perhaps more than they ever have. His penalty killing work is particularly telling. When he's on the ice, the Red Wings give up 3.45 goals per 60 minutes, a rate that is better than the top overall PK teams in the league. When he's on the bench, the Wings give up 8.36 goals per 60 minutes, which would rank among the worst.

Zach Parise

#9 / Left Wing / New Jersey Devils



Jul 28, 1984

2009 - Zach Parise 67 32 36 68 21 28 8 1 4 0 288 11.1

Parise's 5-on-5 results are tops in the league, and he's also boosted by his ability to draw penalties, while not taking many himself.

Matt Carle & Chris Pronger: Since this defensive duo often plays together in Philadelphia, their results can be difficult to separate from each other, although Pronger stands out as the #2 defenseman in PP impact.

Henrik & Daniel Sedin: Somewhat surprisingly, the Canucks score about 2 more goals per 60 minutes of power play time when the Sedins aren't on the ice. At even strength, however, they are among the most dominant players in the game this season.