If I’m not mistaken, we hit the exact midpoint of the 2009/2010 NHL season with one of the games played on Saturday. Therefore, my midseason NHL awards are a few days overdue. I apologize.
I’m confident you will forgive me when you see the airtight and hyperlogical cases I make for each of my selections. I’ve included my picks for the first half of the season as well as a prediction of who will be named the real winners this summer.
Norris Trophy (best defenseman)
Top 3 candidates: Dan Boyle (SJ), Mike Green (Was), Duncan Keith (Chi)
Midseason winner: Keith
Predicted real winner: Keith
It seems odd to be discussing the Norris trophy without mentioning 6-time winner Nicklas Lidstrom…so…there, now we’ve mentioned him. This is a particularly deep category this season and the midseason honour could have gone to any one of my three candidates (as well as Drew Doughty, Chris Pronger or Zdeno Chara). I chose Keith because he is third in scoring by defensemen (37 points), eighth in +/- (+13), sixth in shots (106) and third in TOI (26:38). He is Mr. Everything for the Blackhawks, who just so happen to be the best team in hockey.
Vezina Trophy (best goaltender)
Top 3 candidates: Ryan Miller (Buf), Miika Kiprusoff (Cal), Ilya Bryzgalov (Pho)
Midseason winner: Miller
Predicted real winner: Kiprusoff
It’s hard to keep Martin Brodeur out of the top 3, but the fact is that Miller, Kipper and Ilya have all seen more rubber than Brodeur has this season and still managed to put up at least slightly better Save percentages and Goals Against Averages. Miller gets the nod for the midseason honour because his 2.05 GAA and .934 SV% lead all goalies with more than 30 starts. He is the heart and soul of the Sabres and his consistency this season has been remarkable; he has allowed four or more goals in a game exactly three times this season. THREE! He gives the Sabres a chance to win every single night.
That said, I think that Kipper will snatch the award away from Miller by season’s end, whether he deserves it or not. Voters still get too caught up in win totals, and since Kipper plays for a better team he will likely catch and pass MillerTime in that category. Also, if Miller comes back to earth at all, he and Kipper’s peripheral stats will be almost identical.
Selke Trophy (best defensive forward)
Top 3 candidates: Ryan Kesler (Van), Patrick Marleau (SJ), Jordan Staal (Pit)
Midseason winner: Marleau
Predicted real winner: Staal
I’ll bet you are more than a little surprised to see Marleau’s name there, aren’t you? Allow me to make the case for a man who I believe is the single most underrated player in hockey.
Statistically, Marleau belongs because he is a robust +17 (fourth in NHL), plays more than 39 % of San Jose’s 3rd-overall penalty kill, is 53 % on faceoffs and is still managing more than a point per game (44 points in 43 games). Aside from statistics, he makes four or five hustle plays to prevent opposing scoring chances every single time I watch the Sharks. Nobody backchecks harder and nobody is better at picking up a man in the neutral zone on a backcheck.
Sadly, Marleau is never mentioned as a candidate for this award. Guys like Staal, Kesler, Mike Fisher and Patrice Bergeron get all the pub as far as defensive forwards. And to be fair, Staal does play 49 % of Pittsburgh’s 7th-ranked PK, but he is only a +8 and not nearly the overall force that Marleau is.
Calder Trophy (best rookie)
Top 3 candidates: Tyler Myers (Buf), John Tavares (NYI), Jimmy Howard (Det)
Midseason winner: Myers
Predicted real winner: Myers
No rookie has had more responsibility thrust upon him than the 19-year-old Myers. He is a +9 with 23 points while playing more than 23 minutes a game. The physical force is almost sure to be a Norris winner someday.
Howard is flying under the radar this year, but in 24 starts for the Wings the youngster is 14-9-2 with a .923 SV% and 2.23 GAA. He’s added one shutout for good measure.
Jack Adams Award (best coach)
Top 3 candidates: Joel Quenneville (Chi), Lindy Ruff (Buf), Dave Tippett (Pho)
Midseason winner: Quenneville
Predicted real winner: Quenneville
Let me just say that I think the Adams award is a waste of time. Of the last 12 winners, only 4 (the most recent 4) are still with the team they coached to the award. Two winners (Bill Barber 00/01 and Bob Francis 01/02) are no longer head coaches in the NHL. Frankly, I don’t know what happened to them. So what is the criteria for this award exactly? If it were simply awarded to the league’s best coach, either Ruff, Mike Babcock or Todd McLellan would win every year. But it’s no fun to give the award to a coach with a stacked roster, so the winner usually ends up being someone who is perceived to have gotten a roster to overachieve. That would lead one to vote for Tippett. However, the Hawks have been the best team in hockey this year and are well ahead of last year’s 104-point pace, so Quenneville is my pick.
Hart Memorial Trophy (MVP of the league)
Top 3 candidates: Henrik Sedin (Van), Alex Ovechkin (Was), Ryan Miller (Buf)
Midseason winner: Sedin
Predicted real winner: Sidney Crosby (Pit)
With his brother Daniel out of Vancouver’s lineup for 18 games Henrik more than picked up the slack. He leads the NHL in points (58), is a +16 and plays nearly 20 minutes per game. Moreover, he has carried an undermanned and undertalented Canucks squad to a 26-16-1 record, good for 6th in the very tough Western Conference. In comparing him to fellow forwards Ovechkin and Crosby, Henrik stands out in a few key stats.
Sedin has turned the puck over a mere 25 times (compared to 38 for Ovie and a whopping 52 for Sid the Kid), he has more multi-point games than either Sid or Ovie (18 to 13 and 16, respectively) and is a much more efficient scorer (22.2 shooting percentage compared to Sid’s 15.09 and Ovie’s 14.92). Most importantly, he plays with much less talent than either of the other two forwards, especially when Daniel was missing.
I gave Miller the third nomination over Crosby because no one has been more important to their team so far this season than the Buffalo netminder. As for the real winner this summer, I expect Sedin’s numbers to level out a bit as Daniel continues to shake the rust off. I also expect the voters will be slightly bored of voting for Ovie and will perpetuate the incessant slurp-fest of Sidney Crosby that has overwhelmed Canadian hockey broadcasts since the Nova Scotian entered the league.
Lastly, my predictions for the playoffs are as follows:
2. San Jose
7. Los Angeles
1. New Jersey
8. New York Rangers
Conference Finals: San Jose over Chicago; Washington over Boston
Finals: San Jose over Washington