Malkin has all the makings of MVP season

Kevin Hoffman/US Presswire

Evgeni Malkin was having an MVP-worthy season even before the return of Sidney Crosby.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are coming off their first loss since Feb. 19, which snapped their 11-game win streak, the longest win streak in the NHL this season.

And while Pittsburgh fans will get their first look at Sidney Crosby since Dec. 5, it’s Evgeni Malkin who has emerged as one of the top contenders to win the Hart Trophy – which Crosby won in 2007.

Malkin leads the NHL in points (88) and points per game (1.38), and his 41 goals trail only Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

But it’s what Malkin did without Crosby that might help bolster his MVP resume.

The Penguins gave up the division lead in the weeks after Crosby left the lineup in December and fell all the way out of the playoff-qualifying top eight. By the middle of January they were fourth in the Atlantic and 12 points behind New York. That’s when they reversed course with Malkin leading the way.

From Dec. 6 to March 14, the Penguins went 26-13-1, with Malkin tallying 29 goals and a league-leading 60 points. In 53 games Malkin has played this season without Crosby, he has 34 goals and averages 1.39 points per game. In 11 games with Crosby, Malkin averages 1.27 points per game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

After consecutive injury-marred seasons in 2009-10 and 2010-11, Malkin is back to performing at the level that made him an MVP candidate in 2008-09. Malkin has increased his goals, assists and points per game over the previous two seasons combined, and is +15 after spending the previous two years in negative territory.

Furthermore, after recording his worst point per game average (0.86) in 2010-11, Malkin has bounced back to his 2008-09 MVP candidate play and is on pace to match his career best 1.41 points per game, also set in 2008-09.

Best Goals Versus Threshold (GVT)
Among Skaters This Season

Tom Awad developed a metric called Goals Versus Threshold (GVT) that represents a player’s value above a “replacement” or “threshold” player in a term (runs for baseball or goals for hockey) fans are familiar with. Malkin is +27.4 this season, which is third best in the NHL and the only non-goalie who ranks in the top five.

A “threshold” or “replacement level” player would be defined as the top AHL/minor league player in the organization or the highest ranking free agent on the market in-season (not a prospect) and carries a GVT or RAR value of zero.

The GVT metric takes into account the offensive, defensive and shootout contributions of skaters and the goaltending and shootout performances of netminders.