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Ovechkin Wins Third Hart

For the last four seasons, Caps captain Alex Ovechkin has been the only active NHL player with multiple Hart Trophy wins to his credit. For at least the next two seasons, he’ll the only active player with three Harts on his résumé.


Ovechkin has been voted the 2013 Hart Trophy, the NHL announced today. The prestigious Hart Trophy has been awarded annually since 1924 “to the player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team.” The Hart winner is determined by a vote from members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.


Ovechkin previously won the Hart Trophy in 2008 and 2009 and he was a runner-up for the trophy in 2010.


The 28-year-old Washington right wing also won the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy in 2013 and was a finalist for the Ted Lindsay Award. The Richard Trophy goes to the NHL player with the most goals each season; Ovechkin paced the circuit with 32 in 2012-13. The Lindsay Award is presented annually to “the most outstanding player,” as voted on by the players themselves.


Ovechkin has won the Richard Trophy three times now and is the only player to have won the Richard three times since the trophy’s inception in 1999. Ovechkin won the Lindsay Award three straight seasons from 2008-10; along with Guy Lafleur and Wayne Gretzky, he is one of three players to win three straight Lindsay Awards since the award’s inception in 1971.


After getting off to a sluggish start in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, Caps coach Adam Oates convinced Ovechkin to move from his customary left wing spot to a new right wing position. Shortly thereafter, Ovechkin went off on an offensive tear the likes of which he hadn’t put together since 2009-10.


The Capitals climbed on for the ride, brushing off a dismal 2-8-1 start to finish 27-18-3 and win the Southeast Division for the fifth time in the last six seasons.


One of Oates’ primary missions after he was hired last June was to restore Ovechkin to his previous elite status in the league. That mission has been accomplished, and both men deserve credit for the turnaround. Both the coach and the captain were patient in the wake of the change.


“It’s tough to change because of the system and the reads,” said Oates, shortly after the switch was made. “You’re so used to going to a certain spot and now all of a sudden there are times when you go to a different spot. That’s difficult, and his teammates have to read him on that. You get shots you haven’t gotten before. You’re not used to maybe ripping them the same way.”


Almost instantly after the position change, Ovechkin began to have the puck on his stick much more frequently. He started to get more shots toward the net, also almost instantly. The actual production was a bit slower in coming, but you could see the benefits of the change right away, and many figured a significant uptick in offensive output would follow. A hat trick against New Jersey in a Feb. 21 game at Verizon Center portended his torrid second half.


Ovechkin finished the season with 23 goals and 36 points in his last 23 games. Washington forged a 17-4-2 mark during that stretch.


At season’s end, Ovechkin led the NHL in goals, power play goals (16) and shots on goal (220). He finished with 27 power-play points, tied with teammate Mike Ribeiro for the league lead. And Ovechkin’s 56 points were good for third in the NHL’s scoring race.


With three Hart Trophy wins in a span of seven seasons, Ovechkin has the tightest cluster of Hart triumphs since Wayne Gretzky won the trophy nine times in a span of 10 seasons from 1980-89.


Only seven other players in NHL history have won as many as three Hart Trophies. That elite list of players is comprised of: Howie Morenz, Eddie Shore, Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, Bobby Clarke, Mario Lemieux and Gretzky. All seven are members of the Hockey Hall of Fame.