Thursday, March 23, 2006

MVP Race

Several bloggers are posting their MVP picks over the last day or two. One good example is from James Mirtle. I will step into the fray and explain how I see the MVP race right now.

First, lets attempt to define MVP. If it were possible to define a full hockey sabermetric system, then the MVP would be the player who had the highest sabermetric value that season. Arguments about how some player is more valuable because another player has a good teammate miss the point. The argument should be about who is the best player this season and not about which team stinks the most were it not for some player who allegedly saved them.

Among the forwards in the NHL, there are two who are far out ahead of the pack. Jaromir Jagr of the New York Rangers and Joe Thornton of the San Jose Sharks. I have been picking Jagr as MVP for most of the season. Jagr is the top scorer in the NHL. He leads the NHL in goals. He has been an important part of a resurgent team in New York that was expected to miss the playoffs, but have done well instead. Thornton came to a San Jose team that was expected to do well, but didn't at the beginning of the year and now they look like a playoff team. Of course neither player is soley responsible for the team's "turnaround" and it is nearly meaningless to try to argue one is more important than the other. Jagr is extremely dominant. Thornton is dominant too. The simplest statistical argument to separate them is Jagr has significantly more goals - and there is no individual player's statistic that correlates better with winning then scoring goals. There are other forwards having good years who may see some MVP votes, but they are also rans. They include Alexander Ovechkin, Daniel Alfredsson and Eric Staal. Ovechkin gets the most support from this group because he is the only significant player on an awful Washington team, but he has clearly not had as good a season as Jagr or Thornton.

Among defencemen, there are several candidates for the best defenceman in the NHL. I pick Nicklas Lidstrom as the best of them, but he isn't as dominant as Jagr or Thornton. Lidstrom could be a solid third nominee for the Hart trophy. Other top defencemen include Wade Redden, Zdeno Chara and Sergei Zubov. While it is true that defencemen don't win enough MVPs historically, I wouldn't argue one is deserving this year.

Goaltenders are in a position to dominate a game merely by their position. They can easily have a huge positive or negative effect in any game. The goalies cited as MVP candidates are Tomas Vokoun and Miikka Kiprusoff. They have played most of the games for their teams and put up very good numbers. There have been two other very good goalies in Henrik Lundqvist and Dominik Hasek who have slightly better saves percentages, but in about ten less games played. I don't think any one goalie stands out far in front of the other candidates, though I pick Vokoun as the current Vezina leader.

If the season ended right now, my Hart trophy votes would be 1) Jaromir Jagr 2) Joe Thornton 3) Nicklas Lidstrom. There is still plenty of time for things to change.

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