How Nicklas Backstrom’s Numbers Stack Up In MVP Race

Posted February 23, 2017

(Caps Outsider)

What makes an MVP? No two people may have the same exact definition of what qualifies a player to be the ‘most valuable’ in the league, but most can agree that being the best player on the top team usually puts you in the position to win it.

For the Washington Capitals, when they are in the position they are currently in, that usually means Alex Ovechkin getting the brunt of the MVP talks. As Isabelle Khurshudyan of the Washington Post put it, this isn’t the case anymore, as the man who has ridden shotgun to Ovechkin for most of his career, Nicklas Backstrom, is as good an MVP candidate as there is in the league.

Entering Friday night’s contest against the Edmonton Oilers, Backstrom sits fourth in the league in scoring, with 63 points. Just five points ahead of him sits the young phenom, Connor McDavid, who at 20 years old is pacing the league in scoring in what is really his first full season in the league.

Also in the MVP mix is Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks. Both of those players’ respective teams faced off against each other in the Stanley Cup Final.

With the league’s leading scorer set to match up with the Capitals in the Verizon Center on Friday night, here is an even deeper look at where Backstrom ranks with two of the best centers in the league, McDavid, and Crosby. Whoever emerges from the three, will probably take home the Hart Trophy.

Offensive Metrics

Category Connor McDavid Nicklas Backstrom Sidney Crosby
CF% 54.24% 51.43% 53.33%
SF/60 33.71 30.42 39.57
Team Sh% 9.58% 11.40% 9.18%
xGF/60 3.14 2.72 3.50
GF/60 3.24 3.37 3.58
SCF/60 12.82 9.21 9.21

*All stats based are score and venue adjusted, based on 5v5 play from Corsica.Hockey.

Playing with Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie has certainly helped Backstrom in the Sh% department. Oshie is enjoying a career year, and who is to say Backstrom isn’t a direct result of that?

Most of Backstrom’s numbers, though behind, still matchup with both McDavid and Crosby. Backstrom isn’t scoring as much, but they are certainly taking advantage of each opportunity given to them.

Defensive Metrics

Category McDavid Backstrom Crosby
SA/60 28.47 27.74 31.24
SV% 92.64% 93.05% 92.27%
xGA/60 2.47 2.55 2.79
GA/60 2.10 1.97 2.43
SCA/60 7.89 9.05 9.21


This is where Backstrom makes his bones when it comes to his case against McDavid and Crosby. Playing with Ovechkin and Oshie might lead some to believe that Backstrom’s main contributions will come offensively.

Possibly the only place that Backstrom remains ‘underrated’ is his play in the defensive zone. The numbers don’t lie, when it comes to suppressing shots, goals, and chances, Backstrom takes the cake. All though he has received votes for the Selke Trophy, given to the top defensive forward in the league, on several occasions, just how good Backstrom has been in his own zone goes unnoticed. Not hard considering how many points he is scoring, and who he plays with.

Individual Production

Category McDavid Backstrom Crosby
G/60 0.81 0.92 1.48
A/60 1.86 1.76 1.40
P/60 2.66 2.68 2.88
Primary P/60 2.17 1.91 2.65
PP Primary P/60* 2.56 3.18 4.54

* PP Primary P/60 are based on 5v4 play, from Corsica.Hockey.

Interesting how the points production is sorted out. Some categories Backstrom is better than one but comes up short of the other. Backstrom ranks second out of three in each of the listed stats, except for Primary P/60.

Backstrom is once again one of the leaders in any assist category you can throw out there and is even scoring at a higher pace than most other years.

In The End

If the Capitals win the President’s Trophy, it will be hard to say that Backstrom doesn’t deserve to at least be a finalist, and could be the favorite to win. It’s not a guarantee, the last two times they have finished with the best record were years that Ovechkin did not win the Hart.

A Stanley Cup victory would be a more rewarding validation than a Hart, but as it should have been for years, there is no hiding the fact that Backstrom is one of the best centers in the game. The numbers just keep showing it.