TAMPA — Is he offended or just bored with the debate?
It's difficult to tell with Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin, whose astounding season has sparked a back-and-forth about whether a player from a nonplayoff team should be league MVP.
"First of all,'' Ovechkin said Wednesday, "the season is not over yet.''
It might be soon as Washington, with five games left, including tonight against the Lightning at the St. Pete Times Forum, is fighting for a playoff spot.
If the Capitals fall short, the debate will intensify: Should Ovechkin, who leads the league with 61 goals, 107 points, 21 power-play goals and 10 winners, be MVP over players such as Flames captain Jarome Iginla, Devils goalie Martin Brodeur and Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, all of whom lead playoff teams?
"You don't have to listen to people,'' he said. "You just have to play how you play and be yourself. If I don't win it, I don't win it. Right now, it's all about the team. It's all about winning.''
But coach Bruce Boudreau said Ovechkin is more tuned in.
"There's a lot of talk in the paper about Alex not being worthy of the MVP unless we make the playoffs," he said. "He's taken a personal affront to that and is saying, 'If that's your attitude, I'm going to do whatever it takes.' "
Only four players from nonplayoff teams have won the Hart Trophy, the MVP award voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association. The last was Mario Lemieux in 1988.
Ovechkin, 22, is making a good case. He is the first 60-goal scorer since Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr in 1995-96. He needs three goals to pass Luc Robitaille for most in a season by a left wing.
In 34 games since signing a 13-year, $124-million deal, Ovechkin has 29 goals and 26 assists. In 20 games in which he scored since Jan. 1, the Capitals are 16-3-1.
And at 6 feet 2, 217 pounds, he is not subtle.
"Players are scared of him,'' said Tampa Bay's Jeff Halpern, Ovechkin's former teammate. "People don't want to hit him. If you're trying to stop someone from scoring and you're scared to bump into him because you don't want to end up on the highlights getting run over by him, it makes him pretty hard to defend.''
Add that Washington has one other 20-goal scorer (Alexander Semin with 23) and Ovechkin has scored or assisted on 48.6 percent of his team's 220 goals and, well, you get the idea.
Goaltender Olaf Kolzig said watching Ovechkin convinced him an MVP does not have to come from a playoff team.
"I'm leaning towards the player that means the most to his team and where that team would be without him in the lineup,'' Kolzig said. "I believe we'd be worse off than most teams if we didn't have Alex.''
No debate there.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.