I posted this fanpost over at From the Rink because I had some of these ideas bouncing around in my head the past couple of days. I'm re-posting it here because I'd love to get some feedback and see what you all think.
(For the record, DeltaOpp and DeltaSOT are metrics used at Puck Prospectus to evaluate player's performances. Here's where I found the data. This article is also inspired in part by Tom Awad's article on the same topic).
Quality of Teammates: The first aspect I want to analyze is the quality of teammates these three skaters spent the majority of their time with. Crosby centered a line with Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz, Henrik Sedin was between his brother Daniel and Alexander Burrows, and Ovechkin was flanked by Niklas Backstrom and Mike Knuble. I used Tom Awad's GVT ratings to analyze the quality of teammates that the Hart trophy candidates had on their line, and then took the average to get a single number for comparison's sake. For Pittsburgh, Kunitz finished the year with a 6.2 GVT and Guerin finished with a 2.8, for an average of 4.5. For Vancouver, Daniel Sedin finished with a 21.2 GVT, and Burrows finished with an 18.1 GVT, for an average of 19.7. For Washington, Backstrom finished with a 24.6 GVT and Knuble finished with a 12.7 GVT, for an average of 18.7. While Sedin and Ovechkin were playing with almost identical line mates, Crosby was toiling with only 1/5 the quality of the other two.
Quality of Competition: Henrik Sedin almost never gets matched up against quality opponents, as that role is reserved for the defensive line of Mason Raymond and Ryan Kesler. Therefore, his -0.1 DeltaOpp indicates average opponents at best. Ovechkin has a higher DeltaOpp than Sedin at 1.3, while Crosby blows the other two out of the water with a DeltaOpp of 2.7. This indicates that Crosby is going up against the opponent's top lines, and consistently producing at a rate almost equivalent to that of Sedin and Ovechkin.
Offense: Now that we have some perspective on the teammates and competition that the Hart candidates are equipped with, we can look at the offensive statistics that each one put up. Sedin finished the season with 112 points in 82 games, while Crosby and Ovechkin tied for second at 109 points in 81 and 72 games respectively. That's 1.37 points per game for Henrik, 1.35 for Crosby, and 1.51 for Ovechkin. With regards to the powerplay, Crosby and Sedin produce almost the same goals per 60 minutes, with Crosby at 1.6 and Sedin at 1.5. Ovechkin takes the cake on this account with 2.0 goals per 60 minutes, but it's important to remember that he's playing on a much more talented powerplay than either Sedin or Crosby. Also, as a minor note, though Ovechkin finished with only one less goal than Crosby, only one of Crosby's goals was an empty netter, while five of Ovechkin's were.
Another offensive consideration that should be taken into account is the quality of divisional opponents. This is significant because almost 30% of a team's games are played within their division. To get a rough estimation of the quality of each division, I added up the goals against for each other team in a Hart candidate's division. Crosby's division (Atlantic) allowed the fewest collective goals of the three, with 898. Sedin (Northwest) was next with 973 collective goals against, and Ovechkin's division was last with 1,016 goals against. It seems like Ovechkin plays in a weaker division than both Crosby and Sedin.
In conclusion, Crosby and Sedin put up almost identical offensive numbers, but Crosby gets the advantage because of the lack of quality line mates and better competition he played against. In terms of Ovechkin versus Crosby, Ovechkin's numbers look better outright, but when weighed against the data on line mates, competition, and divisional quality, they take on a less flattering appeal for Ovechkin.
Advantage: Draw between Ovechkin and Crosby
Defense: Defense is always tougher to measure than offensive capabilities. +/- alone is typically misleading, but fortunately, Gabriel Desjardins has compiled a lot of advanced +/- statistics that can paint a better picture. What I'm looking at is the difference between a player's +/-ON/60 (which is the player's +/- per 60 minutes of ice time) and +/-OFF/60 (which is a player's +/- per 60 minutes of time off the ice). For Crosby, the difference is 1.08, Sedin is at 1.95, and Ovechkin is at 2.08.
Included in defense is also a forward's penalty killing work. On this front, Ovechkin gets no points because he doesn't kill any penalties. In terms of Crosby and Sedin, both kill penalties for roughly the same amount of time per game, and both scored two short-handed goals on the year. Using another Puck Prospectus metric, DeltaSOT, Crosby led the league in 4-on-5 play this year with a 2.7, and Henrik was at 1.1. Of course, if both players killed penalties at the rate of their teammates (like Jordan Staal and Ryan Kesler) then the bigger sample would probably depress their numbers. Yet looking at what penalty killing stats we have for the three, Crosby is the best.
In conclusion, Ovechkin has the best adjusted plus minus of any of the three players, but he did this in a weaker division with great line mates and slightly above average competition. Sedin was almost as good, though he did this against the worst competition of any of the three candidates. Crosby put up good numbers, and had the best pk stats of the three. I'll give the slight nod to Ovechkin on this one.
Miscellaneous: In this section, I'm going to look at a couple of other statistics that I think are relevant to this analysis.
First, faceoffs. As a winger, Ovechkin doesn't take any faceoffs, but since Crosby and Sedin are both centermen, they take plenty of them. Crosby has taken the most draws in the NHL, and has the most wins with 1,001. In terms of percentage, Crosby won 55.9% of his draws, good for 11th in the league, and Henrik won 49.5%, good for 59th in the league. Crosby was also more consistent, winning 56% of his draws at home and 55% on the road, while Sedin won 53% of his draws at home but was a below average 46% on the road.
Next, I'm going to look at shootout numbers. While some may think the shootout is an assault on the purity of the sport, you're completely entitled to that opinion, but nevertheless, the shootout is still a significant part of the game right now because it can be the difference between 1 or 2 points (and for Philadelphia, the difference between the playoffs or not). For those with at least four shootout attempts, Sidney Crosby led the league in success rate, potting 8-of-10 opportunities. Ovechkin was 2-for-9 on the year, and Sedin did not take any shootout attempts.
Finally, a quick look at penalties taken and drawn. Crosby drew 27 penalties and took 21 on the year, with a +6 differential. Henrik took 18 and drew 23, with a +5 differential, and Ovechkin drew 24 and took 17, with a +7 differential. Ovechkin also had three game misconducts assessed against him.
Conclusion: Looking at all of the statistics, Crosby is the most deserving of the three Hart candidates. Given the vast gap between his line mates and those of Ovechkin and Sedin, as well as the difference in competition, it's incredible that he was able to put up comparable offensive numbers. That he did is a testament to his talent. He also succeeded in everything that he was asked to do, whether it was faceoffs, killing penalties, or scoring goals. Perhaps most significant for the MVP award, Crosby was involved in 42.4% of his team's goals this season. For Sedin, it was 41.1%, while Ovechkin was involved in only 34% of his team's scores. Simply put, Crosby deserves the Hart.