Countdown to playoffs: Final awards picks
Editor's note: The regular season wraps up Sunday, and ESPN.com's Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun look at the awards races, teams on the bubble and what they need to do to qualify for the postseason dance.
Scott Burnside: Well my friend, the drama is over in the Western Conference, as the Colorado Avalanche claimed the final playoff berth with a big win over Vancouver on Tuesday. Meanwhile, it's pretty much over in the Eastern Conference; the New York Rangers are the only team capable of dislodging the top eight, but they're hanging on by their fingertips.
So, let's talk a little awards, because I know you are more than a little confused when it comes to things like the rookie of the year race. I know you've been campaigning for Tyler Myers because, well, he's tall and he's a defenseman. Not to diminish the great season the Sabres' young defender has had, but how do you ignore Jimmy Howard's season-saving performance for the Red Wings? I know, I know ... he's not young enough for your liking (he just turned 26), but he's a rookie, so live with it. And his numbers for the NHL's hottest team are spectacular. He would be on my Vezina ballot for sure, and I think his numbers should make him a lock to win the Calder regardless of how tall (6-foot-7) or how young (20) Mr. Myers is.
Pierre LeBrun: Well, Scotty, it's sad to see you haven't beaten your crack habit. Myers leads all rookies who have played the full season with an average of 23:47 minutes per game, he's a plus-15 and, oh, his 47 points (11-36) are third only behind forwards Matt Duchene and John Tavares. As GMs and coaches will tell you, playing defense in the NHL as a rookie is the toughest task in the game. And Myers, like Drew Doughty last season, is doing it like he's a five-year pro. I whole-heartedly agree Howard deserves a Calder mention; he'll get my second vote out of five on the official NHL ballot this week. But Myers is the obvious choice for the Calder. Now that I straightened that out for you, let's jump to the Norris, a race Myers will jump into, perhaps as early as next season. But for this year, methinks the battle lies between Doughty, Mike Green, Duncan Keith, Chris Pronger, Nicklas Lidstrom, Dan Boyle and Shea Weber. What say you?
Burnside: Even though the Blackhawks wobbled a bit after the Olympics, they've righted the ship and Keith has been the straw that stirs the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup drink. He's so poised, so offensively dynamic (second to Green's point total among NHL defensemen) and does all the little things well, so I think he's an obvious, natural choice for the award this year. Poor Green seems destined to be a bridesmaid again, although I think his defensive game has improved without sacrificing any offensive production, which is pretty amazing. And yes, I like Weber and Doughty to round out my top four with Lidstrom edging back into contention thanks to a strong second half. But it's Keith for me. OK, how about your thoughts on the Vezina and the Jack Adams Award, even though we don't vote on them?
LeBrun: Well, the GMs won't have to think too hard when they hand in their votes on the Vezina by week's end. Ryan Miller will win in a landslide. It will be interesting to see who gets enough votes to join him as nominees. Ilya Bryzgalov, Miikka Kiprusoff, Jimmy Howard, Martin Brodeur and Jaroslav Halak all deserve consideration in my book. Speaking of landslides, I'm not sure how Dave Tippett doesn't obliterate the competition for the Jack Adams Award (voted on by the NHL broadcasters). Again, the nominees will be a close race behind him, with Barry Trotz, Bruce Boudreau, Joe Sacco and Mike Babcock among those deserving a look.
Burnside: First, I agree (shocking, no?) on the Vezina. Miller has been so good all season, although I don't think you can discount the work done by Bryzgalov in Phoenix. If he doesn't go, the Coyotes don't go; it's as simple as that. Miller has a higher profile, though, and will carry home the hardware. As for the MVP race, I know Ovechkin's production has slid somewhat, but factor in the fact he's played 10 fewer games than Sedin and was just a point back as of Wednesday morning and tied for the goal-scoring lead, I don't know how Ovechkin doesn't make it three in a row. Agree that Crosby has been magnificent, especially with Evgeni Malkin struggling to put up numbers comparable to last season; but Ovechkin remains, in my mind, the game's most dominant player and should end up with the Hart. Why do I have a feeling you're not going to agree with me?
LeBrun: I don't think Ovechkin should win this year, and that's a huge compliment to the powerhouse that is the Washington Capitals. The Presidents' Trophy winners went 7-2-1 without Ovechkin in the lineup this season. They also went 7-0-0 without Green on the ice. That speaks to the team's incredible depth. It also means, by definition, that Ovechkin no longer is as valuable to his team as he once was. And that's a good thing if you're a Caps fan.
But where would the Canucks be this season without Sedin, or the Pens without Crosby, or the Sabres without Miller? To me, flip a coin between those three for the Hart. They all equally deserve it. I don't like goalies winning the Hart (a personal pet peeve) because I believe the Vezina is the ultimate honor for a goalie. So, when I fill out my ballot this week, it'll be between Sedin and Crosby. I still haven't decided for sure, but I will tell you this: It greatly annoys me only four Hart Trophy winners since 1995 have come from the Western Conference. Fun as always, Scotty.