Around the League – Picking the winners

With just over two weeks remaining in the season, the push for the playoffs and home-ice advantage is on. The race for the playoffs isn’t that exciting unless you are a Flames fan and you died a slow death last night watching the Avs and Wings win.

The best races to watch during the final 18 days of the season will be for the NHL player awards. Is there a clear-cut Hart Trophy winner? Is Ryan Miller the obvious choice for the Vezina? Who is the best rookie?

The Frank. J. Selke Trophy: It was first handed out in 1978 and is supposed to go to the forward who excels in the defensive aspects of the game. Bob Gainey won it the first four years when it was awarded to a defensive specialist. That changed in 1993, when Doug Gilmour won it while recording 32 goals and 127 points.

Since Gilmour won it has been awarded to a mix of elite scorers, or decent scorers who were good defensively like Jere Lehtinen, Mike Peca and Kris Draper. Pavel Datsyuk has won it two years in a row, but there is no chance he’ll win this season.

MY PICK: I’ll go with the Ryan Kesler. Kesler was a finalist last year, and he is still decent defensively, although his 0 +/- rating might hurt him, but the fact he will have 70+ points will be enough to give him the nod. He is a pain to play against, and is versatile enough to play on a pure checking line, or shift his focus and play offensive.

Kesler’s teammate Henrik Sedin might be surprise finalist as well. Travis Zajak or Mike Richards are some other possibilities.

The Jack Adams Award: It’s only been around since 1974 and it goes to the coach who has contributed the most to his team’s success. Claude Julien won it last season, and there is no chance he ties Jacques Demers as the only coach to win it in consecutive seasons. Pat Burns is the only coach to win it three times.

MY PICK: This shouldn’t be close. It has to be Dave Tippett. He joined the Coyotes a week before the season started and led them to their first 100 point season in franchise history. The players have bought into his system, and Tippett is the only obvious choice in any of the awards.

The Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy: It goes to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perserverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. It is named in honour of Bill Masterton, who died January 15th, 1968 after being hurt in a game. It is interesting to note that a player can only win this award once in his career, and it is voted on by the Hockey Writers’ Association. Normally it goes to a player who returned to the game after a severe injury or illness. Steve Sullivan won it last season.

MY PICK: Fernando Pisani will have an outside shot. He came back from Colitis for the second time. Previous winners also included veterans who had great careers, so Scott Niedermayer might get the nod as well. If Teemu Selanne hadn’t won it already he’d be a good candidate this year as well.

James Norris Trophy: It is awarded to the D-man who shows the greatest ability in the position, both offensively and defensively. Red Kelly was the first recipient in 1953/54 and Bobby Orr has won it the most times, a record eight consecutive seasons. The big Z won it last year making him the 3rd Bruins’ D-man to win it, beating out Nick Lidstrom and Mike Green.

MY PICK: For the first time since 2000/2001 Nicklas Lidstrom won’t be a finalist. This is a battle between Mike Green and Duncan Keith. Keith is clearly the better all-round player, but Green’s defensive play has improved. Drew Doughty and Shea Weber are in the running to be finalists. I’d pick Keith, but my gut tells me that Green will win.

Calder Memorial Trophy: Goes to the league’s most outstanding rookie. Sergei Makarov won it in 1990 when he was 31 years old. After that debacle they changed the rule that you had to be 26 before Sept 15th of your rookie season in order to win, and you couldn’t have played 25 games in the previous year or six games in two previous seasons.

Steve Mason beat out Kris Versteeg and Bobby Ryan last year, but Mason has been the worst out of those three this year. It is a clear three horse race this year between Matt Duchene, John Tavares and Tyler Myers. Duchene has 23 goals and 50 points compared to Tavares’ 21 goals and 43 points. Both have ten PP goals, and have played the same amount of minutes, Duchene 17:39/game, Tavares 17:46/game. Duchene will finish ahead of Tavares in the voting.

MY PICK: Tyler Myers. Myers has 42 points and ten goals as a rookie defenceman. He is playing just under 24 minutes a night, the most of any Buffalo player, and he goes up against many of the top players every night. There has been lots of talk about Drew Doughty being the next dominant defenceman, but Myers should also be in the conversation. He and Doughty will both be locks on the Olympic team in 2014.

Vezina Trophy: It has been awarded to the league’s best goaltender since 1927. Up until the 1980/1981 season it went to the goaltender(s) on the team who allowed the fewest goals. That award now is called the Jennings Trophy, and the Vezina goes to the goalie that is voted the best by the 30 General Managers.

In the 27 years that the Vezina has been awarded to the best goalie, a western conference goalie has only won it four times. Ed Belfour won it twice in Chicago, Grant Fuhr won it 1988 with the Oilers and Mikka Kiprusoff won is 2006 with the Flames. Dominik Hasek won it six times; Martin Brodeur four and Patrick Roy won it three times with the Habs.

In January many people thought Ryan Miller was going to run away with this award, but that isn’t the case now. Miller has been very good for the Sabres, but how do you not look at Ilya Bryzgalov in Phoenix. Here’s a quick comparison:

  GP W L GAA SV% Shots
Miller 62 37 15 2.20 .929 1878
Bryzgalov 63 39 19 2.28 .921 1790

Right now Miller has a slight lead in GAA, SV% and faces 30.2 shots a game, while Bryzgalov faces 28.4. I think this will come down to the final two weeks. Both of them have earned 82 points for their teams, and it might come down to who has a better final stretch. Miller was the early leader, and his play in the Olympics might influence some votes, but this should be one of the closest votes in NHL history.

MY PICK: I’d go with Bryzgalov, but my gut says Miller will win because of his play in the Olympics, even though that should have no bearing on the voting.

Lady Bing Memorial Trophy: Surprisingly it is the 2nd oldest individual trophy in the NHL after Frank Nighbor first won it in 1925. Frank Boucher won it seven times in an eight year span and Lady Byng (Marie Evelyn Moreton) was so impressed that she gave him the original trophy and donated another one.

And for all the supposed whining Wayne Gretzky did he was awarded the Lady Byng five times. Currently Pavel Datsyuk owns this award winning it the past four seasons. It goes to the play that exhibits outstanding sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct and combines that with a high standard of play. Datsyuk has struggled this year offensively so he won’t win his fifth straight.

MY PICK: Marty St.Louis has been a finalist a few times, and he will win his first Lady Byng this year. He is currently 5th in scoring and has a paltry 12 penalty minutes. Brad Richards and Zach Parise will be the other finalists.

Hart Memorial Trophy: The most prestigious of the awards has been around the longest. Frank Nighbor was also the inaugural winner in 1924. It is awarded to the league’s most valuable player. Not “The player most valuable to his team”, which some people try to argue it should go to.

Interesting to note that Tommy Anderson and Al Rollins are the only two Hart trophy winners not in the Hall of Fame. You wonder if Eric Lindros and Joe Thornton will go in when they become eligible. I think Thornton will be in tough, unless he sheds his “doesn’t show up for the big game” label.

Wayne Gretzky won the award a record nine times, including eight consecutive seasons and he has won the MVP trophy more than any other player in the NFL, NBA or MLB. Gretzky and Mark Messier are the only players to win the Hart on two different teams. The voting is done by the Hockey Writer’s Association and this year the voting will be close.

There is no obvious choice.

Alex Ovechkin is the most electrifying player in the game, but has he been the best this year? Henrik Sedin will get a lot of votes, and I then Miller, Bryzgalov or Sidney Crosby will be the other finalist.

MY PICK: I’m not a fan of goalies, so I’m probably biased in not picking one of them. If I had to pay 500 bucks to see one player it would be Ovechkin. Sedin has had a great season and is deserving of being a finalist, but he doesn’t control a game like Ovechkin. I’d go with Ovechkin because he is the BEST player. I think the most valuable to his to argument is bogus. The wording of the award is to the league’s most valuable player, which I think means who is the best.

There are other awards. The Art Ross for leading scorer has been around since 1948, and I think Ovechkin will find a way to beat out H.Sedin down the stretch.

Ice woman of the week

Say hello to Judy. Judy is the head captain and 4th year veteran of the Florida Panthers Ice Dancers. She is a trained dancer and claims that her best quality is her sense of humour! She hates people that judge and are stuck up, loves the color blue, can’t get enough sushi and her favourite holiday is Christmas. How would you like getting her as a gift under the tree!


Random thoughts

  • The NHL drags their feet for years on coming up with a rule for headshots, but now they make a hasty decision to get the suspension consequences for head shots in starting tonight. They can’t change a rule mid-season, but they decided to amend one. I’m all for getting rid of head shots, but they better come up with a clear and obvious difference for what is a minor penalty and what is a major.
  • Like I wrote a few weeks ago, I don’t think the lengthy suspensions are the way to go. They are a good bonus, but if you make the penalty, a seven-minute major that will make more of an impact. The brain is the most important part of our body, so why not make a separate penalty just for head shots?
  • The Flames aren’t making the playoffs. If they go 7-2 down the stretch, Colorado can go 4-5 and still get in, because they have the tie-breaker. The Wings schedule is too easy. It will be very interesting to see what the Flames do this summer. Do they blow out both Sutter regimes? Can Brent coach and deal with his players the same way under another GM? Doubtful.
  • It is great to dream about it, but the Oilers won’t get the 1st and 2nd pick this summer. The way the Leafs are playing they could catch the Islanders and even the Lightning. But more importantly I don’t see why Peter Chiarelli would deal the 2nd pick. The Bruins could bring in Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin and shelter them with some proven players. There wouldn’t be a lot of pressure on the kid and he wouldn’t be the focal point of their offence. Never say never, but I think it is more a pipedream than reality to think Stu MacGregor won’t have to make a decision between Hall and Seguin.
  • The Canucks have two very good scoring lines, and a great goalie in Roberto Luongo but I can’t see their defence holding up in the playoffs. Their top four are decent with Christian Ehrhoff, Alex Edler, Sami Salo and Kevin Bieksa, but their 3rd pairing of Shane O’Brien, Aaron Rome or Andrew Alberts is a disaster. They can win a round, but I don’t see them going very far with the defence corps.

Leader through the season

Here are the top ten in pts, goals, assists and other stats.

45: Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby
43: Steven Stamkos
41: Patrick Marleau
39: Marian Gaborik
38: Dany Heatley
37: Ilya Kovalchuk
35: Zach Parise
34: Alexander Semin
33: Anze Kopitar, Alexandre Burrows and Jeff Carter

71: Henrik Sedin
65: Joe Thornton
61: Brad Richards
60: Nicklas Backstrom
59: Martin St. Louis
55: Paul Stastny
54: Mike Green
53: Ovechkin and Patrick Kane
52: Daniel Sedin and Duncan Keith

99: H. Sedin
98: Ovechkin
89: Crosby and Backstrom
85: St. Louis
84: Thornton and Stamkos
82: Brad Richards
81: Patrick Kane
79: Marian Gaborik

+37: Jeff Schultz
+35: H. Sedin
+34: Daniel Sedin
+33: Backstrom and Mike Green
+32: Alex Burrows
+28: Alex Semin
+26: Christian Ehrhoff
+23: Brian Rafalski and Mike Knuble

***Patrick O’Sullivan has a big lead for the green jacket sitting at -32. Shawn Horcoff has dropped to -28, while Rod Brind’Amour is -26 while former Oiler Steve Staios is making a late charge at -23.***

PP Goals:
17: Heatley
14: Anze Kopitar and Gaborik
13: Mike Richards
12: Crosby, Eric Stall, Marleau, Ryan Kesler and Kovalchuk

275: Cal Clutterbuck
273: Ryan Callahan
264: Dustin Brown
238: Stephane Robidas
234: Steve Ott
231: Brooks Orpik
222: David Backes
219: Chris Neil
215: Matt Greene
213: Brendan Morrow

310: Jeff Carter
309: Parise
274: Phil Kessel
266: Crosby, Henrik Zetterberg and Vincent Lecavalier
250: Marleau and Kovalchuk
249: Stamkos