Where does Alex Ovechkin sit in MVP race?


GR8NESS: OVI’S CHASE FOR 700: As Alex Ovechkin approaches 700 career NHL goals, PHT is going to examine all aspects of his goal-scoring prowess. We’ll break down and provide context for his amazing stats, project if he can top Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894, and take a look at his most important goals.

Thursday night’s coverage (livestream link) of Capitals-Avalanche will be the second half of an NHL doubleheader on NBCSN, immediately following originally-scheduled coverage of Flyers-Panthers, which begins at 7 p.m. ET. Pre-game coverage at 6 p.m. ET with NHL Live.

When it comes to the 2019-20 NHL MVP race Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin has not yet received a ton of attention.

The discussion at this point is mostly centered around players like Nathan MacKinnon, Edmonton teammates Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, and Boston’s David Pastrnak.

As the season goes on, and assuming Ovechkin continues on his current path, that should begin to change.

At least if the voting follows the same trend it has in recent years.

Entering the Capitals’ game on Thursday against the Colorado Avalanche (9:30 p.m. ET NBCSN), Ovechkin is in the middle of a back-and-forth goal-scoring race with Pastrnak and Toronto’s Auston Matthews for the top spot.

As he continues his pursuit of 700 career goals (just two away), he is on track to score 50 goals for the ninth time in his career (which would tie an NHL record) and has a very real shot at his second 60-goal season.

He also has a very good chance of winning an NHL record ninth goal scoring crown.

That is where his name is going to get put into the MVP race.

The argument for him

Leading the league in goals isn’t always enough to win the award, but it is almost certainly enough to get a player near the top-five of the voting. Especially if they play on a good team, as Ovechkin currently is.

We can look at past voting results to get a sense for how Ovechkin’s season might be perceived when ballots are due at the end of the regular season.

Going back to the 1999-00 season, players that finished with at least a share of the NHL’s goal-scoring crown had an average finish of 6th in the Hart Trophy voting, while 12 of those players finished somewhere in the top-five. All but four finished inside the top-10. The only ones that finished outside of the top-10 were Ovechkin during the 2013-14 season (team missed playoffs), Jonathan Cheechoo in 2005-06 (his teammate and linemate, Joe Thornton, won) Rick Nash in 2003-04 (team missed playoffs), and Milan Hejduk in 2002-03.


Among players that won the goal scoring crown outright during that stretch, they averaged a top-five finish in the MVP voting.

The bottom line here is goals ultimately get noticed, and when you score the most goals for a good team that is going to put you in the discussion. The Capitals are leading the Metropolitan Division (again) and in contention for yet another Presidents’ Trophy, and Ovechkin has doubled up every other player on his team in goals and has scored 20 percent of the Capitals’ total goals.

The argument against him

What’s interesting about Ovechkin in that context, however, is he hasn’t always received quite as many votes as other top goal scorers in recent years.

Of the 17 players to win the goal-scoring crown outright since the start of the 1999-00 season, only six of them did not receive at least one first-place vote. Ovechkin represents three of those occasions, including three of the past four since the start of the 2005-06 (and each of the past two seasons).

The only other outright winners to not get at least one first-place vote were Cheechoo, Hejduk, and Pavel Bure. Ovechkin and Bure were the only players to not receive a first-or second-place vote, something that has happened to Ovechkin twice during that stretch (including this past season).

Bure played on a team that missed the playoffs, while Cheechoo and Hejduk were teammates of the winners that season (Thornton-Cheechoo; Hejduk-Peter Forsberg).

I think a lot of it comes down to the negative perception of Ovechkin’s game and playing style from critics that followed him around for a significant portion of his career.

When the Capitals did not win, it was always about Ovechkin not playing the right way, or being too one-dimensional, or not doing enough to lift his team whether it was fair or not.

The problem for Ovechkin this year is there are several players around the league that truly have been more impactful in all phases of the game, while Ovechkin’s biggest value right now is driven almost entirely by his ability to score goals.

In the end, it is probably going to play out for him the way it has in recent years: If he wins the goal crown outright he will probably get enough third, fourth, and fifth places votes to get a top-10 (maybe even top-five) finish in the Hart Trophy race, but ultimately end up behind some combination of MacKinnon and McDavid and another couple of contenders.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

“Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

“He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

“I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

“I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

“I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

“It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

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SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

“Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

“I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

“Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.