NHL players will have a tough choice among Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Martin St. Louis. (AP Photos)
By Sarah Kwak
There was little surprise in the NHL Players' Association's announcement of the finalists for the 2013 Ted Lindsay Award, given to the "most outstanding player," as voted by the players themselves. Penguins center Sidney Crosby, Capitals right wing Alex Ovechkin, and Lightning right wing Martin St. Louis, all previous winners of this award, made strong cases at various points of the season, and each achieved remarkable milestones even with the short schedule.
Crosby scored at a rate of 1.56 points per game, a pace that only he, Jaromir Jagr, Eric Lindros and Mario Lemieux have bettered since 1995. A position switch from left wing at the start of the season revived Ovechkin's stagnant offensive production, and at right wing, the Great 8 exploded with 23 goals in his final 23 games. From March 14 to the end of the regular season, Ovechkin scored nearly twice as often as the next highest scorers (23-12) and regained his title as league's most fearsome sniper, winning his third Rocket Richard Trophy. And then there's St. Louis, who at age 37, outscored both Crosby and Ovechkin -- not to mention the rest of the league. Playing against some kids who are half his age, the 14-year vet scored 60 points in just 48 games, a career-high per game pace.
So with such impressive cases for each, how does one begin to rate which performance is the most outstanding?
Well, there is the pure numbers route. St. Louis finished with the most points (60), but Crosby missed the last month of the season after breaking his jaw and Ovechkin essentially missed the first two months while relearning the game from a different position. So while St. Louis perhaps had the most consistent season, his age is probably his most impressive number. Ovechkin's streak of 23 goals in 23 games is worthy of consideration, but 10 of those goals came on the power play and 16 were against non-playoff teams. Crosby's scoring pace, however, puts him in rarefied company in NHL history and almost no company this season. With 56 points by the end of March, he sat atop the scoring chart until the very last week of the season, when St. Louis and Lightning teammate Steve Stamkos finally eked by. Even from the press box for the last month, Crosby was the player to chase this entire season.
But if the numbers don't mean everything -- and in reality, they probably shouldn't -- let's examine the context of these three players' seasons and teams. St. Louis' 60 was outstanding for a 37-year-old winger, but he achieved it playing alongside Steven Stamkos, who finished with the second-most points in the league. Though the Lightning center got no Lindsay recognition this year, make no mistake, Stamkos is one of the most outstanding players in the league, and St. Louis certainly benefits from skating with a former No. 1 overall draft pick who has top-notch scoring precision and work ethic.
Crosby missed 14 games after he took a puck to his jaw, but during his absence, the Penguins went on to run away with the Eastern Conference title, and his linemates, Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz, combined for 20 points while Crosby was out. The captain is known to make those around him better, but the Pens are, inherently, a pretty good team -- and one that got even better with its stretch drive trades for Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow and Douglas Murray. If this were a question of value, of how much his presence helped the team, well, Crosby might not be the right choice.
If it's about value, then perhaps the award should go to Ovechkin, who seems to single-handedly move the Capitals. Once Washington's captain began to find his game and his confidence, so did the team. Though there are others that deserve some credit for the Caps' turnaround -- head coach Adam Oates comes to mind, as does defenseman Mike Green and center Nicklas Backstrom -- it all still revolves around Ovie.
But the Lindsay, unlike the Hart, isn't about how much a team and its successes depend on a single player. It's about outstanding performances. Ovechkin's goal-scoring spree was exciting, but Crosby's season -- up until that puck broke his jaw -- was more impressive. To stand out so blatantly as the very best on a team that includes former Lindsay winner Evgeni Malkin and Jarome Iginla, is why there's no question that Crosby should win the Lindsay.