Friday, April 19, 2013
Never too early for LeBrun's awards
By Pierre LeBrun
In about a week, I will fill out my official NHL awards ballot as a member of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association.
The PHWA votes on the Hart Trophy as well as the Norris, Calder and Selke. The NHL’s 30 general managers vote on the Vezina Trophy, and the NHL Broadcasters’ Association votes on the Jack Adams Award.
I reserve the right, certainly, to change my mind on these picks between now and next week, but here’s where I stand:
The candidates: Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Jonathan Toews, Sergei Bobrovsky, John Tavares, Alex Ovechkin
I’m really torn on what to do about Crosby. He easily was the best player on the planet this season. He brought his game to a level no other player could match. And as late as a few days ago, I still thought I’d give him my first-place vote despite his late-season injury. But the fact he hasn’t played a game in April is beginning to weigh more in my thoughts. The Hart also isn’t for the most outstanding player or the most outstanding season, but rather the MVP. Take that player away from the team and argue what impact it would have.
Well, for Pittsburgh, whether it’s been without Evgeni Malkin or Crosby, the Eastern Conference powerhouse has just kept winning games...
Ovechkin’s late-season heroics certainly put him in serious contention. But if we’re going to potentially penalize Crosby’s chances because he missed the past month, how can we overlook Ovechkin for not showing up in the opening month? Just saying.
Getzlaf is completely flying under the radar, perhaps because he’s playing on the West Coast. But he’s fully deserving of being in the mix here.
For me, though, it comes down to Tavares or Toews for my first-place vote. Tavares has carried the Islanders on his back this season. Ask yourself: Where would the Isles be without him?
Having said that, how can you not reward Captain Serious in Chicago? The Blackhawks have been the most consistent powerhouse in the NHL this season, a wire-to-wire dominance fueled by the consistent work ethic and performance of their leader.
My pick: Toews
The candidates: P.K. Subban, Ryan Suter, Kris Letang, Niklas Kronwall, Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith, Francois Beauchemin, Oliver Ekman-Larsson
With Letang missing a dozen games -- a quarter of the shortened season -- this comes down to Subban or Suter.
Subban, who leads all defensemen in scoring, has been out of this world, playing like a man on a mission after returning from an early-season contract squabble. The Habs aren’t where they are without him.
Suter, though, is second in the NHL in average ice time (27:01), third in scoring among defensemen as of Friday morning, and overall has been a standout at both ends of the ice in his first season in Minnesota.
My pick: Suter
The candidates: Craig Anderson, Sergei Bobrovsky, Tuukka Rask, Henrik Lundqvist, Antti Niemi, Carey Price, James Reimer, Viktor Fasth, Marc-Andre Fleury
It will be interesting to see how the league’s GMs will vote on this. There are some newcomers to the Vezina race this season.
To me it comes down to Rask, Niemi and Bobrovsky, with the impressive Anderson having missed too many games to get in that final circle.
Rask has been rock solid in his first season as the No. 1 in Boston after taking over from Tim Thomas. You can’t ask for anything more from him.
Niemi isn't getting nearly enough credit around the league for what he’s done in San Jose. The Sharks have had trouble scoring goals, but he’s kept their season afloat with his best career season. He deserves serious, serious consideration.
But how do you not look at Bobrovsky? His .931 save percentage says it all. He’s carried the Blue Jackets into playoff contention.
My pick: "Bob"
JACK ADAMS AWARD
The candidates: Paul MacLean, Michel Therrien, Bruce Boudreau, Joel Quenneville, Todd Richards, Randy Carlyle, Adam Oates, Alain Vigneault, Dan Bylsma, Claude Julien
I say this every year, but I’m glad I don’t officially vote for this one. There are so many deserving candidates every season, and I didn’t even mention some others. The members of the NHL Broadcasters’ Association vote on this one, and good luck to them.
Therrien took last season's last-place Habs in the East to challenging for second in the conference this year. That’s hard to overlook. Carlyle made the Maple Leafs a playoff team, which few people predicted. Boudreau took the Ducks from near-the-basement in the West to second in the conference.
Quenneville and Bylsma likely will get penalized because their teams were expected to be dominant, but that’s unfair. They’re both superb coaches.
To me, though, I don’t know how MacLean doesn’t win this. Injuries to top players Erik Karlsson, Anderson, Jared Cowen, Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek should have been season killers. But Maclean and his staff kept it together, integrated a number of AHL call-ups into the Senators' system and against all odds stayed in a playoff spot. Simply remarkable.
My pick: MacLean
The candidates: Jonathan Huberdeau, Cory Conacher, Brendan Gallagher, Nail Yakupov, Brandon Saad, Alex Galchenyuk, Justin Schultz, Dougie Hamilton, Jonas Brodin
I predict the finalists on the official ballot will end up being Huberdeau, Gallagher and Saad.
I’m torn in the end between Huberdeau and Gallagher. The former has been electrifying for the Florida Panthers, his speed and vision and offensive creativity top-shelf.
Gallaher really grows on you for different reasons, going to the dirty areas and playing a veteran’s game. He’s been so clutch for the Habs.
Really torn here between these two but ...
My pick: Huberdeau
The candidates: Jay McClement, Frans Nielsen, Patrice Bergeron, Vernon Fiddler, Jonathan Toews, Craig Adams, Daniel Winnik, David Backes, Ryan Callahan, Pavel Datsyuk, Anze Kopitar
You can never go wrong here with Bergeron, Toews or Datsyuk, out-of-this-world stars who do it all at both ends of the ice. And I suspect Bergeron, deservingly, will win it again this year.
But I’m going to go against the grain here a little and voice my support for the Maple Leafs’ McClement.
For starters, part of me wishes this award would go back to non-superstar NHLers like in the old days, when the likes of Guy Carbonneau, Dave Poulin and Dirk Graham won.
Fact is, McClement’s case is a real strong one. He leads all NHL forwards in shorthanded ice time per game (3:39) and he’s the No. 1 reason for Toronto’s remarkable turnaround on the penalty kill, going from 28th last season to third overall this season.
If you really look at the spirit of why this award exists, and look at when Bob Gainey routinely won it, McClement deserves to win it.
My pick: McClement