WASHINGTON (AP) -The Washington Capitals are so confident that Alex Ovechkin will win the NHL's MVP award that they've already scheduled a celebration party.
The Capitals, in fact, are in the hunt for a shelf-load of hardware at the league's annual awards dinner Thursday night in Toronto. The team has a chance to become the first in NHL history to take home MVP, rookie and coach honors in the same year.
``I'm hoping to make history,'' owner Ted Leonsis said Wednesday.
In more ways than one. Ovechkin is the odds-on favorite to take home both the Hart Trophy as well the Lester B. Pearson Award. The Hart winner is selected by hockey writers and goes to the player deemed most valuable to his team, while the Pearson is chosen by a vote of the players and goes to the league's ``outstanding player.''
Ovechkin has already collected the Rocket Richard Trophy for leading the league with 65 goals, as well as the Art Ross Trophy for his league-leading 112 points. No player has ever won the Hart, Pearson, Richard and Ross in the same year.
For good measure, Ovechkin also helped Russia win the gold medal at the world championship in Canada last month.
``Alex is living up to his expectations,'' said Leonsis, who signed his star forward to a 13-year, $124 million contract extension in January. ``What I'm most proud of with Alex is in midyear when we gave him the biggest contract in NHL history, he picked his game up.''
Ovechkin is such a shoo-in that the NHL appeared to scoop itself last week when the league's official online store briefly featured an Ovechkin T-shirt celebrating his MVP award. The league quickly took down the posting and said that T-shirts have been manufactured for all possible scenarios, which, in theory, means there also exists MVP memorabilia for the other two finalists, Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin and Calgary Flames superstar Jarome Iginla.
The Capitals, meanwhile, are throwing a party for Ovechkin at a posh restaurant in downtown Washington on Friday, a bold move given the superstitious nature of most sports types.
``Win, lose or draw he deserves to be feted,'' Leonsis said. ``It'll be a better party if he wins the MVP, but it'll still be a nice party.''
The Capitals also have high hopes for Bruce Boudreau, a finalist for the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year. Boudreau, in his first NHL coaching job, was hired after Glen Hanlon was dismissed on Thanksgiving Day and led the Capitals from last place in the Eastern Conference to the Southeast Division title.
Also nominated for the award are Mike Babcock of the Detroit Red Wings and Guy Carbonneau of the Montreal Canadiens.
Nicklas Backstrom is Washington's candidate for the Calder Trophy, given to the top rookie. Chicago Blackhawks teammates Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are the other finalists.
The fact that the Capitals will have a such a presence at the awards dinner is a testament to the rebuilding effort that began with a fire sale before the 2004-05 lockout. Leonsis endured three last-place finishes while waiting for young players such as Ovechkin to lead his team back to the postseason.
``There's a small glimmer of redemption,'' Leonsis said. ``We took a very controversial and difficult road to change. I did not think we had the players and the structure necessary to compete one day for a Cup. That was a very difficult set of decisions. We did stay with the strategy and we saw some payoff.''
Especially with Ovechkin, who has become a genuine superstar with a personality to match. On Wednesday night, he was throwing his own party in Toronto to celebrate the unveiling of his new clothing line - a much-anticipated moment, given the 22-year-old Russian's eclectic sense of fashion.
``I've asked Alex to save me one pair of bright red pants - which I'm sure will have holes in them,'' Leonsis said. ``If he wins MVP and I can fit in them, I'll wear them Friday night.''

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