Olympic Hockey 2014: Complete MVP Odds for Sochi

Steve Macfarlane@@MacfarlaneHKYFeatured ColumnistFebruary 12, 2014

Olympic Hockey 2014: Complete MVP Odds for Sochi

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    Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

    Sidney Crosby leads a loaded Canadian team looking to defend its gold medal from the 2010 Vancouver Games.

    Alex Ovechkin is the face of a Russian squad hungry to accomplish what Canada did four years ago and claim the title of Olympic champion on home soil.

    There's a good chance one of these two players—rivals since they entered the league in 2005-06—will lead their team to gold and earn the title of tournament MVP, but there are others in the mix.

    Ryan Miller, goaltender for the United States, won that distinction in 2010 by guiding his team to overtime in the final, and it's entirely possible another netminder will claim the title this year given how critical they are in single-elimination contests.

    The MVP will have to lead their team to meet or surpass expectations at the Olympics. He'll have to do more than just lead the way with points or save percentage. He'll have to make the players around him better and bring his team together.

    Who are we handicapping for the post-tournament vote for MVP? Read on to find out.

Tuukka Rask (Finland)

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press
    Odds: 25-1

    Why you should bet on him

    Everyone loves a long shot. If Finland manages to medal, it will likely be because Tuukka Rask steal it an elimination game or two.

    First, the Boston Bruins goaltender has to establish himself as the starter. We're counting on that to happen despite his lack of Olympic experience and the presence of a couple of other very good netminders in the San Jose Sharks' Antti Niemi and Dallas Stars' Kari Lehtonen.

    Once he's declared the go-to guy, he needs a little help from his teammates, a little luck and a lot of high-quality performances to get the Finns into medal contention and upset one of the Fave Four—Sweden, Canada, the U.S. and host Russia.

    Judging from how well he played under the pressure of the 2013 NHL playoffs, Rask is capable of it. After a first-round scare from the Toronto Maple Leafs, he rebounded to post a 14-8 record with three shutouts, a 1.88 goals-against average and .940 save percentage.

    This season, Rask's .928 save percentage is significantly better than both that of Niemi (.912) and Lehtonen (.916).

    Why you should save your money

    As mentioned, there's a chance he doesn't play in enough games to get serious consideration from the Sochi voters.

    And despite the fact that Finland has earned a medal in the last two Olympic hockey tournaments, the Finns are more of a reach this time around given the strength of some of the other squads.

Ilya Kovalchuk (Russia)

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    Jussi Nukari/Associated Press
    Odds: 20-1

    Why you should bet on him

    It looks like he'll be playing with Pavel Datsyuk in the middle and fellow KHL star Alexander Radulov, which means Ilya Kovalchuk could challenge for the goal-scoring title at the Sochi Games.

    He'll be on "home" ice and has plenty of motivation to prove he's still one of the best players in the world after leaving the NHL behind last summer to work closer to family in Russia with KHL club SKA Saint Petersburg.

    Kovalchuk has 40 points in 44 games this season and could get serious MVP consideration if he translates that kind of production to the Olympic tournament and Russia gets to the gold-medal game.

    He had a spectacular World Championship tournament last year, netting eight goals and 13 points in eight games.

    Why you should save your money

    If someone from Russia earns MVP honors, a more likely choice might be Alex Ovechkin or Evgeni Malkin, who have the potential to completely take over games, whereas Kovalchuk isn't seen as the same elite-level player.

    Maybe that's an assumption based on the fact he's no longer in the global spotlight of the NHL, but there are a lot of stars to choose from.

    His last Olympics didn't go so well, either. Kovalchuk had just one goal and three points in four games.

Henrik Zetterberg (Sweden)

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Odds: 18-1

    Why you should bet on him

    Sweden is one of the tournament favorites, and Henrik Zetterberg is one of its marquee players.

    The 33-year-old center has lost some of his supporting cast with Henrik Sedin and Johan Franzen bowing out due to injury, but there is still plenty of firepower with fellow Detroit Red Wings forwards Daniel Alfredsson and Gustav Nyquist joining Daniel Sedin, Nicklas Backstrom, Gabriel Landeskog and Alexander Steen, to name a few.

    He's an impressive leader and is someone goaltender Henrik Lundqvist sees as one of the main reasons Sweden will succeed in Sochi.

    Why you should save your money

    You may believe the Swedes are going to be in a much more difficult spot to win a medal with so many replacements brought in due to injury.

    You may also worry that Zetterberg's wonky back won't hold up throughout the tournament.

Zach Parise (United States)

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    Alex Livesey/Getty Images
    Odds: 15-1

    Why you should bet on him

    The Americans are eager to prove they belong when talking about the world's elite hockey programs, and Zach Parise is certainly their most well-rounded representative and arguably their hungriest competitor.

    There's a reason Team USA picked him as its captain. He paced the silver-medal-winning squad at the 2010 Vancouver Games with four goals and eight points, earning a spot on the all-tournament team chosen by international media at the end of the event.

    He scored the tying goal with less than 30 seconds on the clock in the gold-medal game against Canada, only to see victory slip through his fingers in overtime—and the sting is still there.

    Why you should save your money

    Parise could be used in more of a two-way role in Sochi, with the latest line combinations pairing him with St. Louis Blues center David Backes and New York Rangers captain Ryan Callahan.

    All three of those players can score, but with Joe Pavelski, Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk and Patrick Kane, Ryan Kesler and Max Pacioretty forming the more offensive-minded groupings, Parise and his linemates may be asked to be more physical and play a grinding game against their opponents.

    That kind of game is important, but for an award like this one, you need offensive numbers to impress the voters.

Jonathan Toews (Canada)

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    Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    Odds: 15-1

    Why you should bet on him

    Jonathan Toews was named best forward at the 2010 Vancouver Games and has only improved his overall game since then, helping the Chicago Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup that spring after the Olympics—earning the Conn Smythe Trophy in the process as playoff MVP—and then a second Cup last season.

    Toews has 20 points in 25 games for Team Canada at the Olympics and World Championships, but he also boasts some of the best unappreciated skills in the game, from faceoff wins to his defensive shutdown ability.

    Why you should save your money

    His offensive numbers won't be the best in the tournament, and not everyone appreciates the little things Toews does to help his team win. He could easily be outdone by one of his teammates or one of the top offerings from the other countries.

Evgeni Malkin (Russia)

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Odds: 12-1

    Why you should bet on him

    It looks like he'll be playing with Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin, which means a lot of points for setup specialist Evgeni Malkin.

    In two Olympic Games appearances, he has played 11 games, scored five goals and totaled 12 points. This time, he's playing on Russian soil in what is sure to be one of the best experiences of his life and career.

    Malkin is having a stellar season with the Pittsburgh Penguins so far with 58 points in 47 games. That total has him in the 10th spot among NHL point leaders, but his points-per-game average of 1.23 is third behind teammate Sidney Crosby and the injured Steven Stamkos.

    Why you should save your money

    The pressure could prove to be too much for Malkin. It would be surprising to see him wilt with the spotlight on him and his team considering his production in the NHL playoffs, but the Olympic Games on home soil is something he's never experienced before.

Patrick Kane (United States)

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Odds: 12-1

    Why you should bet on him

    Patrick Kane is coming off a Conn Smythe Trophy-winning performance in last spring's playoffs and is being reunited with 2010 Olympic Winter Games linemates Ryan Kesler and Dustin Brown, who had great chemistry in Vancouver.

    He also gained some experience on the bigger ice surface during the lockout, playing in Switzerland last season before the NHL returned.

    Why you should save your money

    It's going to be tough for the Americans to win their group with the host Russians as the favorites to come out on top. And if they don't get that fourth spot directly into the quarterfinals, the road becomes even more difficult. 

    He's a high-risk, high-reward kind of pick in Sochi.

Henrik Lundqvist (Sweden)

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Odds: 10-1

    Why you should bet on him

    Henrik Lundqvist might be the best bang for your buck here with Sweden expected to do well and the goaltender being the biggest key to its success.

    King Henrik has rounded into top form just in time for the Sochi Games, and although there have been some injuries to top Swedish players like Henrik Sedin and Johan Franzen, the replacements are pretty good as well, and Lundqvist is a big difference-maker.

    Remember, a goaltender named Ryan Miller was named MVP at the 2010 Games in Vancouver, and his team didn't even win the gold.

    Why you should save your money

    It's been nearly a decade since Lundqvist backstopped Sweden to a gold medal at the Turin Games in 2006, and he didn't have a great start to the NHL season before getting his game back on track in January.

Sidney Crosby (Canada)

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Odds: 6-1

    Why you should bet on him

    Does "Golden Goal" mean anything to you? Scoring the gold-medal-winning goal in overtime at the 2010 Vancouver Games was a huge moment in Sidney Crosby's life and the lives of passionate Canadian hockey fans.

    He's a clutch performer and arguably the best damn hockey player in the world. He's healthy and playing well, so there's no telling what he's capable of at his second Olympic Games. The sky is really the limit, and Canada is expected to go a long way in the tournament.

    Why you should save your money

    It's a tall task for teams to repeat as Olympic champions, and despite boasting the best-looking team on paper, the Canadians could fall short of making the final. It's doubtful the MVP will come from the bronze medalists or a team that doesn't earn a medal.

Alex Ovechkin (Russia)

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    Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    Odds: 5-1

    Why you should bet on him

    These are Alexander Ovechkin's Winter Games. He's been embracing the pressure leading up to the tournament and is thriving in the early spotlight with the international media flocking to him.

    What does this have to do with hockey and winning MVP honors? A confident and passionate Ovechkin is a recipe for success for a Russian team that has plenty of star power but just one "face" of these Games.

    Why you should save your money

    Despite all the talent up front, there are weaknesses on the back end that could lead to more disappointment for Russian hockey fans. And Ovechkin isn't exactly known for his stellar play in his own end, which could take away ballots from those who value a 200-foot game from their most valuable player votes.