The question likely will be moot, but on the off chance it still applies, Alex Ovechkin is the Hart Trophy winner regardless of whether his team makes the playoffs.
Truth is, the Washington Capitals wouldn't be uttering the word, never mind be contemplating the playoffs if not for the brilliance of the 22-year-old forward.
He has been good, by and large, from start to finish and was outstanding this past month when they needed him most as the Capitals chased down a playoff spot, which they actually owned heading into last night's business. In March, he led all scorers with 26 points, was plus-17 and had points in 11 of the 14 games. In those games, the Capitals were 10-4-0.
Add two more goals on Thursday, giving him 65 on the season, a record for left wingers and, well, you get the picture. With 112 points to lead the league in scoring, Ovechkin has been involved in 46% of the Capitals goals. He also leads the NHL in power-play goals (22) and game-winning goals (11).
So you get the idea the team is lost without him, but the team also found its way with him.
It's too bad for Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin, who has been involved in 43% of the Penguins goals and was terrific in the absence of Sidney Crosby, and Calgary Flames' brilliant Jarome Iginla. Both have had MVP seasons themselves, but Ovechkin has just been a little better.
THE REAL DEAL
Speaking of the Penguins, although they have been fighting down to the wire with the Montreal Canadiens to determine first place in the East, factoring in health and circumstance they appear to be the best team in the conference. Think about it, Crosby and Malkin up front with Marian Hossa and Ryan Malone. They have what few teams have, especially in the East, and that is two lines that can score. A lot of teams simply don't have that kind of secondary scoring. The Pens also appear to have the grit and toughness required and have dealt well with injuries and adversity.
The key question for the Penguins is whether the defence and goaltending is good enough to go deep into the spring. Sergei Gonchar has been very good this season on a defence corps that is unheralded but has got the job done. Of the playoff-bound teams in the East, Pittsburgh is third best defensively. In goal, Marc-Andre Fleury gained some experience last spring and has been very good since returning from injury, but the next step is a big one.
Based on play over the past 20 games, you could make the case that the Edmonton Oilers are the second-best team in Canada, even though they are going to miss the playoffs. During that stretch, the Oilers were 14-5-1, despite missing a handful of good players, including Shawn Horcoff, Sheldon Souray and Ethan Moreau. It was quite a turnaround after a terrible start and, like we mentioned, they did it despite a ridiculous number of man games (347) lost to injury. Of course, without the injuries some of the kids wouldn't have received the opportunities they did.
According to Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren, coach John Stevens, who signed a contract extension earlier, will survive regardless of whether they make the playoffs ... Interesting stat: Flyers goalie Martin Biron is 2-6 in shootouts, having allowed 13 goals on 20 shots, a .350 save percentage. That ranked him 59th on a list of 61 goalies who have participated in shootouts this season ... It is understandable that folks in Ottawa would be disappointed and angry over the loss of captain Daniel Alfredsson to injury. He was felled by a hit from Toronto winger Mark Bell on Thursday night. The Senators felt the hit was late, from the blind side and more elbow than shoulder. Some folks around the league say it is not much different than the hit Senators winger Chris Neil laid on the Sabres' Chris Drury last season, or the one on Neil laid on Jeremy Reich a week ago. From afar, the Bell hit appeared to be more shoulder, but he definitely hit a vulnerable player, which is something the league doesn't like ... As good as the San Jose Sharks have been since the trade deadline, with just one loss in regulation, there is a long trail of broken playoff hearts, meaning they still have to prove their worth when it matters most ... In the end, the Vancouver Canucks simply didn't have enough viable scoring options to compete and succeed. It was reflected on the power play and the scoreboard. Having said that, it was two blown 2-0 leads, against Colorado and Calgary, down the stretch that did them in. Looking ahead, the Canucks will have an interesting decision to make with captain Markus Naslund, who is an unrestricted free agent this summer and made $6 million ... Memo to Leafs fans: If you are hoping for management to tear the team down to the foundation and build through the draft, then prepare for many more nights, and many more years, like the groaner Thursday.