Penguins' Malkin MVP in every way
LAS VEGAS — From second-best to second to none.
Evgeni Malkin, drafted second behind Alexander Ovechkin and a career-long No. 2 behind Sidney Crosby with the Penguins, finally, formally took that next step to No. 1 by winning the NHL's Hart Trophy as most valuable player, presented Wednesday night at a gala show at the Wynn hotel.
It was a rout, to boot.
Malkin received 144 of a possible 149 first-place votes and was named on every ballot submitted by the Professional Hockey Writers Association. His 1,473 voting points dwarfed the 598 of Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos and the 556 of New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
“It's the best day of my life,” Malkin said. “A very special day. Very exciting and nervous.”
Earlier, Malkin won the Ted Lindsay Award, emblematic of the MVP as chosen by the NHL Players Association. He also was presented with the Art Ross Trophy he earned as the league's leading scorer.
Malkin thanked his famous-in-Pittsburgh parents Vladimir and Natalia as well as the Penguins and his coaches in Russia.
“I never even thought I'd be in the NHL, growing up in Russia,” Malkin said. “I can't believe I'm sitting here with three trophies.”
But Malkin's strongest expression of gratitude — including dedicating his Hart victory — was for Sergei Gonchar, the former Penguins defenseman now with Ottawa. Gonchar mentored Malkin in his early years in Pittsburgh, including having Malkin stay in his house.
“When I came I couldn't speak English. He helped me,” Malkin said. “Great guy. Unbelievable player. My best friend.”
Malkin, 25, came off reconstructive knee surgery to produce a career-high 50 goals and 109 points. He and others credited that to an unprecedented summer of conditioning in Moscow with Mike Kadar, the Penguins' strength coach.
“You could see it even when Geno was in rehab, how serious he was about coming back and doing something special,” said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, who attended last night's ceremony.
“I saw dedication. I saw a player who wanted to do it for his team.”
For the Penguins, this continued a two-decade string of dominating the major trophies. The Hart was the franchise's sixth, joining Mario Lemieux (1988, 1993, 1996), Jaromir Jagr (1999) and Crosby (2007).
No Penguins other than Malkin were trophy finalists. Jordan Staal finished sixth for the Selke Trophy (best defensive forward), Kris Letang ninth for the Norris Trophy (best defenseman) and Bylsma sixth for the Jack Adams Award (best coach) that he won last year.
One of Malkin's linemates, James Neal, made the NHL's first all-star team at right wing after breaking out for 40 goals.
“Geno was on the best line in hockey,” Bylsma said, also citing Chris Kunitz. “And Geno was the one who made it go.”
Malkin always has been content to share a team with Crosby, but he also has made clear in the past year — in word and deed — that he won't settle for No. 2.
“I love being with Sid and all our guys, but I hope this isn't my last,” Malkin said, still clinging the Hart. “I want to be the best player the next 10 years.”
Dejan Kovacevic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.