By Dan Rubin
The NHL’s official final act of the 2010-2011 season will be to hand out its awards amidst the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas. It’s the last day where the league celebrates the season it had, and it closes the book on a magical ride resulting in one team’s hoisting of the Stanley Cup. With news the NHL salary cap and salary floor are both increasing due to increased visibility, ratings, and revenue, there has never been a better time to be a player in the NHL. When free agency begins on July 1, there will be a crop of young stars waiting to make splashes in the new league, but first, we take a look and predict the winners of the major awards to be handed out on June 22, from The Strip.
Hart Memorial Trophy (League MVP):
Nominees: Corey Perry (Anaheim); Daniel Sedin (Vancouver); Martin St. Louis (Tampa Bay)
Who Should Win: Perry. Perry posted 50 goals and 48 assists for a Ducks team that finished second in the Pacific Division. He was the only 50-goal scorer in the league this year, a plateau that is impressive unto itself. He also scored a full 18 points more than the team’s second-leading scorer (Teemu Selanne), and he had 16 goals more than the next highest goal scorer (Bobby Ryan). Compare that to Sedin, who had the same amount of goals as Ryan Kesler for the Canucks and Martin St. Louis, who led his team in points by only eight and had a season’s plus/minus of zero. If both Sedin and St. Louis are taken out of the equation, their teams probably have similar seasons to the ones they had. Taking Perry out of the equation puts Anaheim down the barrel of the division and possibly out of the playoffs.
Who Will Win: Sedin. Perry’s plus/minus pales in comparison to Sedin, who posted a whopping +30. Even though he was exposed in the playoffs, Perry doesn’t nearly have the name recognition. And even though he scored more goals than Sedin, the Canuck had a 104-point season that included 63 assists. Overall, Sedin had the better numbers, even if he was on a better team. Plus, the face of the league needs to be recognizable, and voters know that. Daniel Sedin is a much more recognizable name and face than Corey Perry.
Vezina Trophy (Best Goalkeeper)
Nominees: Roberto Luongo (Vancouver); Pekka Rinne (Nashville); Tim Thomas (Boston)
Who Should Win: Thomas. Tim Thomas had the kind of season that goaltenders dream about when they start learning the position. Before a midseason swoon of sorts, Thomas had a goals against average under 2.00, which is the hockey equivalent of an ERA of the same number. He nearly lost less than 10 games, and his save percentage was a whopping 94%. In his 55 starts, he made 1700 saves and posted nine shutouts. He did this coming off of offseason hip surgery with a hotshot youngster by the name of Tuukka Rask behind him. Before the season, people called for him to be traded. By the time the playoffs ended, he had one of the best seasons ever. That places him over Luongo, who lost the Vezina by laying massive eggs against Chicago and Boston in the playoffs, and Rinne, who led the Predators into the playoffs but just wasn’t good enough to get over certain humps. This is the final stamp on a season in which Tim Thomas made himself into a legend in New England, and, taking my “homerism” out of the equation, he redefined the goalie position.
Who Will Win: Thomas. This shouldn’t even be put to a vote, so give that man his trophy.
James Norris Memorial Trophy (Best Defenseman)
Nominees: Zdeno Chara (Boston); Nicklas Lidstrom (Detroit); Shea Weber (Nasvhille)
Who Should Win: Chara. I’m a huge fan of the plus/minus stat. And this time, Chara’s plus/minus is the difference between statistics between all three finalists. Lidstrom and Weber both scored 16 goals apiece to Chara’s 14, but Lidstrom posted a 62-point season. But here’s my problem – if Lidstrom was on the ice for 62 point, with 16 goals and 46 assists, how bad was his defensive skills if he posts a -2? That means he allowed 64 goals while on the ice (by my count), and this award goes to best all around defenseman. Chara has a +33, which is astronomical. Weber falls victim to the fact that Lidstrom was so much better offensively, and Chara was so much better overall.
Who Will Win: Lidstrom. The man’s in his 40s, vying for his 20th season upcoming and still puts up 62 points. That’s more impressive than Chara, who had the benefit of playing alongside Dennis Seidenberg for most of the season. Plus Chara is in the prime of his career versus Lidstrom, and many voters may vote with their heart. I think it’s a toss-up, but Lidstrom gets the edge because he put up more points than many forwards in this league.
Calder Memorial Trophy (Rookie of the Year)
Nominees: Logan Couture (San Jose); Michael Grabner (New York Islanders); Jeff Skinner (Carolina)
Who Should Win: Tyler Seguin.
Oh wait, I can’t vote for him?
Ok… I’ll try this again.
Skinner should win this, potting 31 goals and 32 assists for the Carolina Hurricanes. The kid was a total machine, justifying every penny of the three-year, $2.7 million entry-level contract he got as the 7th pick overall. At age 19, he’s better than both Taylor Hall and Seguin, the two highly touted rookies of the same age who were picked first and second last year. Skinner made the All-Star Team this year, the first time an 18-year old kid made since Steve Yzerman. To me that’s more impressive than the 23-year old Grabner, who was drafted by Vancouver, but didn’t play in enough games to warrant “rookie” status. He played in bits and pieces of seasons since being drafted in 2006 and being traded to the Panthers this year. Florida waived him, New York picked him up, and the rest is history. But, to me that makes him a journeyman, not a true rookie. Couture trails in third to me, even though he has the best plus/minus. He has 32 goals but only 24 assists, which puts him behind Skinner.
Who Will Win: Skinner. He’s the cornerstone that Carolina needs to build around in order for the Canes to win the Cup a second time.
Lady Byng Memorial Trophy (Player With Best Sportsmanship…aka – Nobody on Montreal Gets This)
Nominees: Loui Eriksson (Dallas); Nicklas Lidstrom (Detroit); Martin St. Louis (Tampa Bay)
Who Should Win: Eriksson. Would you ever believe that Loui Eriksson notched only eight minutes of penalty time? That means he was penalized four times over 79 games. Not four times a game – four times total. Compare that to his teammate Steve Ott, who was venturing towards 200 minutes. St. Louis had 12 minutes, and Lidstrom had 20. That’s still really impressive when you consider how physical the game can get, but it’s still extremely impressive to see Eriksson’s number. I still can’t get over that. I know players that get four penalties in one period, and I’m pretty sure their last name might end with Subban.
Who Will Win: I want to say Lidstrom because of his name recognition and, again, because of the age factor. But Eriksson deserves this trophy, hands down.
Frank J. Selke Trophy (Best Defensive Forward)
Nominees: Ryan Kesler (Vancouver); Pavel Datsyuk (Detroit); Jonathan Toews (Chicago)
Who Should Win: Kesler. Ryan Kesler might be the best defensive forward I’ve seen in years. He’s got the frame to play the all-around game, and he’s just great at getting back. He’s a 6-2 forward with speed and a nose for the puck. He also had the all-important plus/minus of 24, even though he did have 41 goals and 32 assists to offset any defensive lapses. But I just like his grittiness compared to Toews and Datsyuk. Datsyuk benefits from having a solid defensive unit, and Toews plays for a Chicago team that has both Brent Seabrook and Brian Campbell. Name one defenseman on Vancouver that’s any good…. Exactly.
Who Will Win: Kesler. The man’s a defensive machine. And he’s one of the few guys on the Canucks roster that is willing to go hard into the corner and take a shot. Granted, he took too many of them down the stretch and it slowed him considerably, but he is the prototype for scouting forwards these days. Teams that want a solid, all-around player who can excel on both ends of the puck look for a Kesler.
Jack Adams Award (Coach of the Year)
Nominees: Alain Vigneault (Vancouver); Dan Bylsma (Pittsburgh); Barry Trotz (Nashville)
Who Should Win: Trotz. Vigneault’s chances at this took a massive hit during the NHL Playoffs, when he single-handedly cried his way through the playoffs. Rather than grab his team of divers and embellishers by the horns and make them play Canuck hockey, he encouraged it with whining. That “sandbagged” a guy who managed his team’s egos to the President’s Trophy. Bylsma gets credit for managing a team that was sacked by injuries to its best players. As the injuries piled up, it would’ve been easy for Pittsburgh to pack it in, especially when Sidney Crosby failed to come back. But instead the team managed to gain the 4th seed in the playoffs, dropping to Tampa Bay in the first round.
But Trotz gets all the credit in the world for leading Nashville to playoff success and possibly saving the franchise. The Predators have been lagging in attendance numbers, and they’re one of the franchises rumored to be leaving for greener waters (Kansas City, Seattle, and Quebec City are landing spots). A bad season could have exiled them into NHL purgatory and possibly to another city. Instead, he was able to build the team style around Pekka Rinne, playing a defensive style that nearly led them past eventual Campbell Bowl winner Vancouver. If Nashville is ever successful enough to stay in the city and become a major player, it’s because he coached the team that saved the franchise.
Who Will Win: Bylsma. It’s impossible to overlook the [49-25-8] record of that team with that many injuries. And the Predators are a good enough team to succeed without Trotz – it should be impossible for the Penguins to win 50 games without Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.
And Now…Some quick hits for the rest…
Bill Masterson Trophy – Daymond Langkow (Calgary Flames)
Ted Lindsay Award (Most Outstanding Player) – Steven Stamkos (Tampa Bay Lightning)
Bridgestone Messier Leadership Award – Nicklas Lidstrom (Detroit Red Wings)