MVP talks ought to include NHL’s Lidstrom

With the NHL?s regular season winding down, there are two clear choices for the league?s most valuable player award: Evgeni Malkin leads the league in overall scoring (104 points), while Alexander Ovechkin is tops in goals (50). Professional hockey writers who vote on the award might lose some sleep deciding between them, but the two Russians have clearly set themselves apart from all other forwards this season.

There are a few non-forwards who should draw votes?most especially Columbus Bluejackets goalie Steve Mason, who has come from nowhere to lead his team to the brink of its first-ever playoff appearance.

Oddly enough, there?s a chance the 20-year-old could pull more votes for league MVP than for the Vezina (the trophy for ?best goalie?) this year.

If a distortion in the space-time continuum forced the NHL to replay this season without Malkin, Ovechkin and Mason, there is little doubt that Columbus would fall the farthest in the standings. To me, that makes a Mason more valuable player than either of the other two, regardless of what the stats page on ESPN.com says.

Consider Joe Sakic’s season with Colorado: healthy last year, Sakic led one of the worst Avalanche squads ever assembled to the brink of a division title. This year, Sakic went down with an early-season back injury, and the Avs have been Western Conference cellar-dwellers since New Year?s.

Does that mean Sakic should have been given MVP consideration a year ago?

I?m not sure?but clearly, Colorado had more at stake with Sakic?s health than any other team had riding on one player. But that?s last year.

So, what player?s health has been more important to his team?s success than any other? Without help from the guys from Primer, there’s no chance of a certain answer, but I have an educated guess. It pains me to admit it, but I think the most valuable hockey player in the world is Detroit defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom.

Detroit is among the standings leaders, yet it seems unlikely to me that the Red Wings would even be a sure-fire playoff team without Lidstrom.

Yes, he’s getting old?but while his offensive output has slipped somewhat, Lidstrom’s ability to mop up mistakes remains sublime. He’s still the point-man on the league’s best power play, and has the fifth-highest point total among defensemen (13 goals, 37 assists).

More to the point, his value cannot be quantified with a few stats. No, his team would not go first-to-worst without its captain, but it is impossible to imagine the Red Wings playing their trademarked puck-possession style effectively without him. If Mephistopheles wanted to steal the Red Wings’ soul, he’d be offering a package of picks and prospects for Nicklas Lidstrom.

It might sound crazy, given the talented group of forwards Detroit possesses, but I think the Red Wings have as many as 15 wins riding on Lidstrom’s health. He’s the single biggest difference between Detroit and Dallas this year.

Not convinced? Losing Sergei Zubov for most of the season has been the single biggest reason Dallas dropped from 45 wins in ’07-’08 to somewhere around 36-38 wins this year. And Zubov can’t tie Lidstrom’s skates.

But the really interesting thing is, just as Mason might be a more valuable player than whoever wins the Vezina, Lidstrom might have a better case for the MVP than he does for the Norris (for best defenseman). But unless the inhabitants of Devidia II open a portal to the past and somehow wipe out all the scoring stats for this season, the MVP will almost certainly be Malkin or Ovechkin.

* * *

Two NBA notes: one, David Stern might as well just carve LeBron on the trophy right now. Only Kobe can challenge LeBron for MVP, but I don’t think Kobe?s case is strong. The Lakers are improved, and Pau Gasol et. al. have removed the hottest air from the argument for Kobe.

Two, if you haven?t seen a Miami Heat game, it?s remarkable how much better Mario Chalmers looks playing next to Dwayne Wade than Michael Beasley looks coming off the bench. Beasley?s day is dawning, but so far Chalmers (34th pick) has been far more valuable to the Heat than last year?s No. 2 overall entry draft choice.

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