Around the League – Picking 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

  • Stephen Webb

    Great article again Gregor. Good stuff on the background of the awards. I agree most valuable to your team is a dumb argument.

    Judy is awesome. Your research on women of the week is outstanding.

    And it looks like the Flames prowess for choking is moving to the Hitmen. Awesome to see.

  • 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.

    Shouldn't those two ideas mean the same thing? How do you measure the value of a player then if not by value to his team? Furthermore, is there another measure of value that matters?

    • Jason Gregor

      When Gretzky won eight years in a row, he had a great supporting cast. He was clearly the best player. Yes he was very valuable to the team, but considering they won a Cup without him, was he the most valuable to his team.

      How do you compare who is most valuable to his team? I think it is too hard to predict, unless we see how the team plays without set player. It is all speculation on how good or bad a team would be without their most valuable player.

      Celebrating the best player in the sport is good for the league in my opinion.

      • It seems to me equally speculative to try and determine who is the best player in the league.

        I would say it would be easier to determine who has the most impact for his team than to determine who has the most impact league wide.

        If a person is the best player in the league then he would by definition be the most valuable to his team, and vice versa, and at least the speculation which so concerns you would have a framework established to be used in making a selection.

        What is your framework for choosing the best player in the league? You haven't really said yet. You haven't even explained why the ideas are different, unless you are agreeing with the asinine suggestion made earlier that ticket sales is the criteria.

        Mostly I'm just having a hard time with how you seem to have decided that one method of selection requires speculation and the other doesn't.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    I wish they would've defined unsuspecting. I mean if someone cheap shots a guy in a game does he not suspect someone will try pay him back? How about guys with their head down?

  • Bucknuck

    Excellent article. I hadn't even thought of the awards so it is a nice departure from everything else that is hockey.

    For MVP the question could be: "If you could have one player added to your team from any other team in the league who would it be?" I bet you 90+% of people say Ovechkin or Crosby, so they should pick one of those two.

  • cambosmash

    Connection of this post to Edmonton:

    Al Rollins (1 of 2 Hart Trophy winners to not make the hall) backstopped the Edmonton Flyers to the Allan Cup in 1948 3 years before winning the Stanley cup with the Leafs and taking home the Vezina. The Allan Cup was a big deal for Edmonton at the time. Like a parade and Edmonton Flyers day big deal.

    • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

      Wow ,that is some flashback and history lesson. Back to the days at the old Edmonton Gardens and the Knot Hole Gang in the upper blues . Would be nice to see a column written on all the old teams that graced our fair city for a change of pace . We are rich in vibrant hockey history, but this year is one to forget .

  • I don't disagree with your assessment on any of the awards.

    There was some talk out of Calgary from one of the radio guys (Boomer?) that it was either D Sutter or Iginla who might be on the way out. It would be interesting to see if Iginla left town.

  • Hey, uhh, correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't the OHL have an incredibly stringent policy against hits to the head? How many guys were suspended this week alone for that type of hit?
    It's definitely a good thing to look at trying to eliminate injuries, and try and keep a lid on the Matt Cookes of the league, but I get the feeling that the people who are most in favor of this legislation have this grand idea that this type of play will cease to exist within the next couple seasons purely because there is a new rule, or new wording on an existing rule, or whatever.
    I think rushing this in like they are is only going to muddle the mess even more.

    • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

      Not sure how it muddles it that much, they needed something in as a temporary measure. They can adjust as need be.

      And if the results are that guys are playing with their heads down more and head injuries go up then you adjust the rule. After all it's only a temporary measure for now.

  • Crackenbury

    Hello Judy

    The NHL should take a page out the lacrosse rule book. As vicious and tough a game lacrosse is, head shots are completely off-limits. It doesn't matter whether the player ducks or you didn't mean to do it, it's an automatic penalty. It seems like a 'no brainer' to adopt the same for the NHL.

  • Propellor

    What everyone is missing in the headshot talk is the irony, if not hypocrisy, when you compare it to fighting.

    I don't see how checking a guy with his head down in the neutral zone is any more uncalled for than squaring-up and throwing haymakers directly the face.

    Why is contact to the head with the shoulder so much worse than contact with fists? The intent to make contact to the head with the latter is far more pronounced and consistent.

    I don't want to see Cooke, Downie and Richards seriously injure guys anymore than I can stand to see Boogard and Parros play in the big leagues.

    Don't get me wrong, I want a tough, hard checking, hard hitting game. But lets address it all with a mind to consistency.

    And save the 'self-policing' arguments. Thats not how it works, thats not how it should work. There are 2 refs and 2 linesman for that. I'm tired of every big clean hit being followed up by a fight. Give me a free flowing game with intense hitting, and cut out the circus crap. Thats why I love international play so much.

    • Jason Gregor

      I hope you aren't serious.

      In a fight both guys are willing. They look at one another and are prepared and expecting to take a shot.

      And do you think a punch generates as much for as a guy speeding through the zone and dropping and elbow or shoulder into the players head?

      Not close.

      And how many guys are sitting on the sidelines right now because they got a concussion in a fight? Ask Booth if he was worried about a concussion when he fought Mike Richards.

      Sorry man, you are way off in comparing the two.

    • Jason Gregor

      And save the 'self-policing' arguments. Thats not how it works, thats not how it should work. There are 2 refs and 2 linesman for that. I'm tired of every big clean hit being followed up by a fight. Give me a free flowing game with intense hitting, and cut out the circus crap. Thats why I love international play so much.

      And how many International games do you watch that don't include the World Juniors or Olympics? Those games have the best of the best, not the 700 players in the NHL.

      Go watch the SEL, KHL or Finnish Elite league and tell me you like that more than the NHL.

      Comparing the Olympics, World Championships and World Juniors to the NHL is ridiculous.

      • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

        Although I generally have the same standpoint on hitting and players policing themselves. Wisniewski sure picked a bad time to show how the players can police themselves.

    • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

      I ask you to do this on the weekend, go out with your friends and get into a couple fights that you should be able to do well at. Then see how you feel saturday. Saturday night ask your buddies put on elbow pads or shoulder pads, you know those hard plastic ones. Tell them to hit you when your not paying attention.

      On Monday tell us what the difference is.

      For a simple answer one scenario you are ready and willing the other you aren't.

    • Scuba Steve

      "What everyone is missing in the headshot talk is the irony, if not hypocrisy, when you compare it to fighting."

      Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure you get a major penalty for fighting. The headshot, up until now, wasn't a penalty, that's the reason why they put the rule in.

      That argument is like saying we shouldn't have gun control because knives can kill people too.

  • Shanye Gretz

    Why does the Jack Adams always go to the coach of the most improved team? Does a coach not contribute the most to his team's success if they are a winner too?

    If a team always finishes at the top of the standings year after year, does their coach not warrant an award?

  • Maggie the Monkey

    There is some room for debate about both Lindros and Thornton, but there is an active Hart winner who is all but guaranteed not to get into the Hall of Fame: Jose Theodore.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach


    Where would you place Jimmy Howard for the calder? 2.29GAA(5th) .924SPCT(5th) 30Wins(11th)

    Not taking anything away from Myers, but I would think Howard should make it a decent race down the stretch.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    I like the idea of a 7 minute penalty for head shots, but I would do it as 5 and 2, both majors, and both to be served at the same time. That way the other team would start on a 5 on 3 for 2 mins, then down to a 5 on 4. the reason I say they would both be majors is that if the PP team scored while 5 on 3, the penalized team would not get their player back.

    • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

      I just question why headshots all of sudden are deemed to be that 7 minute penalty. Doesn't it make it seem as if it is the most dangerous kind of penalty? And if that is what they are trying to say then don't they look for idiots for taking so long to make a penalty for the most dangerous hit.

      Treat headshots the same as every other penalty for now.

  • 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.

    Ummm… while I think the league could/should change the wording of the Hart Memorial Trophy, it IS indeed meant for "the player who was the most valuable to his team during the regular season", so why do you state otherwise? Or are you just overstating it as an opinion?

    Oh ya… silly Flames, trixxx are for kids…