- Scott Burnside, NHL
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There are just a little more than two weeks left in the regular season, a good time to ponder who might contend for this season's individual hardware.
As a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, I will get to vote for real for some of these awards, at which time I might change my mind on some of the thoughts below.
But for now, after some consultation with colleagues Craig Custance and Katie Strang and others, here's how I view the main award winners and contenders:
Hart Trophy: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
The most compelling thing about the MVP race isn't who will win. Crosby has run away with the NHL scoring race and played at a level well above everyone else. It's the same thing he was doing last season before a puck to the jaw cost him the final month of the season and a slam-dunk win in the MVP race. This time he'll get it. The real question is which other players will get invited to Las Vegas as Hart finalists. For me, that's Claude Giroux and Ryan Getzlaf. Both stand out above the rest in terms of the impact their play had on their respective teams. There was love at one point for Phil Kessel, but his team's late-season crumble might hurt his chances, although if the Maple Leafs somehow sneak in and he's seen as a savior, there might be a chance. Alex Ovechkin is on his way to another Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL's top goal scorer, but his minus-31 (as of Friday morning) just can't mesh with Hart Trophy talk. I know he won't get any support at all, but I'd also like to mention that Joe Thornton is having yet another outstanding season, putting up big points, a great plus/minus and a great Relative Corsi. Seems like people forget this guy can still play. However, the Hart is not in doubt.
Norris Trophy: Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks
I can't remember the last time the Norris had so many qualified candidates. A number of high-end blueliners are having terrific seasons: Shea Weber, Duncan Keith, Zdeno Chara, P.K. Subban, Alex Pietrangelo, Erik Karlsson, Drew Doughty, Ryan McDonagh, Ryan Suter, Victor Hedman, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and on and on. Plenty of defensemen stepped up this season. Of the group I mentioned, Vlasic's Relative Corsi is the highest at 16.0. Hedman, Subban, Karlsson, Keith, Pietrangelo and Doughty are also among the top 20 among D-men (minimum 60 games played). Karlsson, Keith, Subban, Pietrangelo and Weber lead the way offensively in this group. Preds head coach Barry Trotz told me the other day he believes this is the best season of Weber's career. Pietrangelo and Chara are up there in shorthanded ice time, which is something I always value in Norris voting. We all know the pitfalls of the plus/minus, but for what it's worth, Vlasic, Chara, Keith, Pietrangelo and Dougthy are among the leaders, while Karlsson's minus-17 certainly stands out at the other end. At the end of the day, for me this comes down to Chara, Weber, Keith, Pietrangelo and Doughty (in no particular order). I think those are likely the five names I'll put down on my Norris ballot in two weeks. "It's Keith or Weber for me," one NHL head coach said via text Friday. I'll take Keith for now.
Vezina Trophy: Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins
I turned to a former NHL goalie and TSN pal Jamie McLennan for some help here, and "Noodles" does a marvelous job breaking down goalies. For starters, he doesn't believe the Vezina is up for argument at this point. "I don't think there's too much of a debate, I think Tuukka Rask is the guy," McLennan said. "Some people will say, 'Well, he's got the better team.' Why should that matter? He makes the big saves at the right time and always. He's very consistent. And the stats back it up. He deserves the Vezina this year, in my opinion, if I'm choosing today." The rest of the contenders? "An off-the-board guy for me is [Marc-Andre] Fleury. He doesn't get a lot of love, probably because of his last few playoffs, but he's been terrific all season," McLennan said. "They're a team that plays risk-reward -- he needs to make saves." Carey Price, Semyon Varlamov, Antti Niemi and Ben Bishop complete the list of six netminders on McLennan's Vezina watch list. "I'd be comfortable with any of these six guys making the final three candidates for the Vezina, but to me Rask has separated himself from that group," said McLennan. Fair enough.
Calder Trophy: Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
Much like the Hart, it feels like this one won't be close, with 18-year-old Nathan MacKinnon leading the rookie points race and doing so in electric fashion. And he doesn't turn 19 until Sept. 1! Still, it's been an impressive rookie crop, particularly on defense with the likes of Hampus Lindholm, Olli Maata, Seth Jones, Jacob Trouba, Danny DeKeyser, Ryan Murray and Torey Krug having strong seasons. Up front, Tampa teammates Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson have also shined. But to me, the group of five for the official ballot would be MacKinnon followed by Lindholm, Palat, Maata and Trouba. Lindholm and Maata are also backed by decent Relative Corsi stats for rookies. And if there were to be an upset of MacKinnon, my money would be on Lindholm, but I don't think the Calder is in question.
Jack Adams Award: Patrick Roy, Colorado Avalanche
I say every year that I'm glad I don't officially vote on this one, because I struggle every season to cut this list down to five names. My top contenders are Jon Cooper, Patrick Roy, Mike Babcock, Todd McLellan, Craig Berube and Bruce Boudreau. And I want to give honorable mention to Claude Julien, Ken Hitchcock, Joel Quenneville and Michel Therrien. Julien, Hitchcock and Quenneville won't get a sniff, because their teams were expected to be elite outfits, so that tends to temper support for coach of the year honors. Still, that shouldn't take away from the fact that they've been outstanding coaches.
Quenneville, in particular, had to fight the Cup hangover in Chicago and has passed the test with flying colors. I mention Therrien because he always seems to be under fire in Montreal, but there's a method to what he's doing and the Habs have had a fantastic, playoff-bound season and his work should mean something. I laud Boudreau, who inspired his team in camp by wanting to prove to people that losing in the first round last season didn't mean their first-place division finish was a fluke. His team really responded to him. McLellan never gets any Jack Adams support and it annoys me. The Sharks had injuries to Logan Couture, Raffi Torres, Tomas Hertl, Brent Burns, Brad Stuart et al, but McLellan kept his team near the top of the heap all season long. Speaking of massive injuries, how about Babcock's work in Detroit with seemingly half his lineup out most of the year, including his top two centers Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk? Berube replaced Peter Laviolette as head coach in Philadelphia early in the season and spearheaded an impressive turnaround that has the Flyers playoff-bound. The players also love playing for him. Cooper didn't have Steven Stamkos for a huge chunk of the season but kept his team in a playoff spot, not to mention the fact he had to deal with a team captain asking for a trade. Pretty impressive stuff by Cooper. Patrick Roy? Well, he took over a team that was 29th overall last season and authored a turnaround that will see the Avs top 100 points and sit the top six or seven in the standings all year long. And in his first year of NHL coaching to boot.
Frank J. Selke Trophy: Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
You can certainly point to the usual suspects here in Jonathan Toews (last season's winner), Patrice Bergeron (2012 winner) and Anze Kopitar (deserves to win one of these days). I would also throw in David Backes and Tomas Plekanec. In fact, Plekanec averages more shorthanded ice time per game than the others I've mentioned (Montreal has the third-best PK), while also matching up against the other team's most dangerous offensive players in five-on-five situations nearly every night. Backes simply shuts down the other team's top offensive player nearly every time out. Sean Couturier and Joe Pavelski are two other names to throw in this mix. At the end of the day, though, I feel like it's time to finally recognize Kopitar, a strong Corsi guy whose two-way game spearheads one of the NHL's best defensive teams.
With just over two weeks remaining in the NHL season, Pierre LeBrun looks at the front-runners for the NHL's individual awards.