The Hart Trophy is awarded every year by the NHL to the "player judged most valuable to his team". Today that can mean one of many things, but as more people (like your humble scribe) have the ability to spout off opinions on who should win this award, some of the standards have gotten ridiculous. So this sees the creation of the argument about Alex Ovechkin not deserving the Hart because "he plays in the Southeast Division". Is this because we all love Sidney Crosby so much, or do we just all emulate Don Cherry subconsciously? The answer: neither. Ovechkin deserves Hart consideration as much as Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Sergei Bobrovsky do. But saying that Ovechkin doesn't deserve Hart consideration because of his division makes no sense, and doesn't really capture the spirit of the award.
On March 17, the Capitals were 14th in the conference with 23 points, and looked all but dead. Before the Caps game against the Sabres that night, Ovechkin had 8 goals, and many were debating whether he even deserved the Caps captaincy at that stage. Since then? The Caps have lost twice in regulation and Ovechkin has scored 20 goals, lifting the Capitals from the Seth Jones sweepstakes to being a team no one wants to play in the postseason. What changed? It is true that Ovechkin has scored 11 of these goals against Southeast division foes in the 7 games against them. But after that win against the Sabres on March 17, Ovechkin went on a 9 game point streak that help the Caps go on the tear that they are still on. Without that, would the Capitals be anywhere near where they are now?
It's not Ovi's fault that the Southeast division is hot garbage, and that both Carolina and Tampa have failed to live up to preseason expectations, but he's done what he has to do to help the Caps win. He's scored 24 of his 28 goals in wins, and tallied 15 of 20 assists in wins as well. Since they've been winning a lot, those goals look a lot more influential. When Ovechkin seemed invisible, the Caps were one of the worst teams in the NHL. Now that he's back to his old self? The hottest team in the league that hasn't lost in the month of April.
My interpretation of "most valuable player" is the player that, without them, their team would be nowhere near as good. The Capitals found out that answer the hard way early in the season. No offense to Sidney Crosby, but the Penguins haven't really missed a beat since he was injured against the Islanders. Have they been the juggernaut that they were in March? No, and his presence not being there has hurt the Penguins, but they have gone 4-2 since his injury, and look to be humming along quite nicely towards the playoffs. It's no coincidence that when Ovechkin got hot, the Capitals did as well. The rise in play of Nick Backstrom and a better understanding of Adam Oates' system has helped, but no one else on that team is scoring those 20 goals that Ovechkin has in the last month.
Playing against bad teams certainly can help pad your stats (especially in the SE where most teams are defensively deficient), but disappearing in those games would be more worrying than disappearing mainly in the big games. And since every game for the Caps down this stretch has basically been a playoff game, Alex Ovechkin has played his best hockey at the right time. Sure those games have come against bad teams, but that isn't to say the urgency wasn't there. When the Capitals needed him most, Alex Ovechkin was there to help them win, and doesn't that earn him consideration for the Hart?
Yes the Southeast Division is bad, but when every game feels like a playoff game, it doesn't matter who you play.