Okay, here is one 2012 NHL Awards ballot for the trophies voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association. (Again, would like to thank the membership for my inclusion. Very appreciative of the opportunity).
HART TROPHY: Evgeni Malkin. Runners up: Jonathan Quick, Henrik Lundqvist, Mike Smith and Steven Stamkos. Physically painful not to vote for: Jason Spezza and Claude Giroux.
Of the five awards the PHWA is responsible for, this was the easiest choice. Malkin's been the NHL's most dominant player all season. As for the runners up, this is such a goaltending-dominant league now. If you don't have it, you've got no chance.
As great as Lundqvist is, he had more of a margin of error than Quick, who stood behind the worst offence of any post-season qualifier. At the trade deadline, the Kings were on pace to score fewer times than any playoff team in 40 years. They finished 29th overall in goals. (GMs vote for the Vezina).
Doesn't sound like Smith will appear on many ballots, but he clinched a spot on this one last week. The Coyotes won their first-ever division title because he was unbeatable as Phoenix played arguably its worst three-game stretch of the season. Chose Stamkos over Spezza because 60 goals are incredibly impressive, but, geez, it was hard to leave Spezza off the ballot, not to mention Giroux.
NORRIS TROPHY: Erik Karlsson. Runners up: Shea Weber, Zdeno Chara, Alex Pietrangelo, Ryan Suter. Physically painful not to vote for: Nicklas Lidstrom, Dan Girardi. Also considered: Brian Campbell.
If I was starting an NHL team and had to pick a defenceman, Karlsson would finish fourth, at best. That will change as he gets older, but right now, he's behind Weber, Chara and Suter and we can all debate from there. But this award is about this season, and Karlsson is the guy.
By now, you know the numbers. He was the league's highest-scoring defenceman, by 25 points. (That's the largest margin since 1989, when Paul Coffey smashed Steve Duchesne by 38.) But this is not just about offence, no matter what people may think. We see a lot of the Senators at HNIC, and, last year, when we were doing games, opposing coaches and players had the same message: "They can't get the puck out of their zone."
Ottawa's transition game was horrid. Karlsson almost single-handedly changed things. While Paul MacLean did adjust the team's schemes, Karlsson's ability to pass and carry it out of trouble was the biggest factor in that improvement. The Senators don't sniff the playoffs without his ability in this area.
That, in addition to his offensive totals, is why he gets this vote.
The Norris choices were the hardest, by far. Girardi had such a superb season. And, how on earth do you leave Lidstrom, the greatest defenceman of his generation, off the ballot? (It's funny, asked a coach I really respect about not voting for Detroit's captain. Was really struggling about it. His response: "If you're not going to pick him to win, don't vote for him at all. He's either the winner, or not on the ballot.")
CALDER TROPHY: Gabriel Landeskog. Runners up: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Adam Henrique, Justin Faulk, Sean Couturier. Physically painful not to vote for: Matt Read. Also considered: Carl Hagelin, Jared Cowen, Jake Gardiner, Marco Scandella.
Oilers fans make a very legitimate argument. Why should Landeskog win over Nugent-Hopkins when "The Nuge" had the same number of points in 20 fewer games? It's a fair question, and here's the answer: To play 82 games as an 18- or 19-year-old should not be a negative. In fact, it's an extremely impressive accomplishment.
Landeskog was the only under-20 to appear in all 82. Only one other such player saw action in more than 70 games - Couturier, with 77. (Erik Gudbranson played 72, but turned 20 during the season.) Landeskog didn't exactly shy away from physical contact, either. Only Alexei Emelin had more hits among rookies. And, according to people who watch the Avalanche more than I do, he was consistently their best forward in the late-season charge.
RNH and Henrique are self-explanatory. Faulk led all rookies in time-on-ice/game. Chose Couturier over Read because of how much Peter Laviolette trusted the centre against good players in critical defensive situations. He was a plus-18 despite starting only 40 per cent of the time in the offensive zone. Not too shabby.
SELKE TROPHY: David Backes. Runners up: Ryan Callahan, Mike Fisher, Patrice Bergeron, Claude Giroux. Also considered: Pavel Datsyuk, Brooks Laich, Joe Pavelski, Brandon Sutter.
The Blues are the NHL's best defensive team, and Backes symbolizes why. He is a snarling, cursing, nasty competitor who treats every goal against as a personal insult. He understands how to play all the different forward roles in the St. Louis system. According to the website behindthenet.ca, no forward in the league faced harder opposition this season than Backes.
Don't know if there's much else to say about this category. Backes/Callahan could have gone either way.
LADY BYNG TROPHY: Patrice Bergeron. Runners up: Daniel Alfredsson, Patrik Elias, Matt Moulson, Jordan Eberle. Also considered: Brian Campbell, Loui Eriksson, Ryan O'Reilly, Jason Pominville, Martin St. Louis, Logan Couture, Phil Kessell.
The first guy I thought of for this award was Stamkos. He was a five-star Vegas lock for this vote until I noticed he had 66 penalty minutes. You look at that and say, "is that too high? At what point are you no longer considered gentlemanly?" The record for most PIMs by a Lady Byng winner is 40. Frank Nighbor did it in 1926, then Billy Burch tied it in 1927.
Picking Stamkos when no winner in the 87-year history of the award is in the same penalty-minute area code is grounds for a revocation of voting privileges. So, he was out.
There are a lot of very deserving candidates. Bergeron was the choice, because of his greater defensive responsibilities. He isn't a guy who starts a lot in the offensive zone (can you tell I've become a zone-start geek?) and gets the Bruins' toughest matchups.
Where do most penalties occur? In your own zone when you're in trouble. Bergeron had 20 minutes all year.
After that, went for the geezers (Alfredsson and Elias) over the kids (Moulson and Eberle, who had 16 PIM between them). After all, it's a skater's league, and the younger guys should have an advantage.
NHL all-star teams
CENTRE: Malkin, Stamkos, Giroux.
RIGHT WING: Ilya Kovalchuk, James Neal, Marian Gaborik.
You may have heard there was an issue with Giroux being listed as a right winger (even though he plays centre) and Neal a left winger (even though he plays right). Well, Tom Gulitti of The Record pointed out that Kovalchuk is also improperly positioned. He's been on the right side all year, so he's getting this first-team spot. Of course, this throws the other wing into total chaos.
LEFT WING: Ray Whitney, Scott Hartnell, Joffrey Lupul.
Whitney had an incredible last two months and Hartnell was marginally less impressive. The third-teamer was a struggle, with a few good, but imperfect, candidates. Toronto already began its swoon by the time Lupul went down, but, if he stays healthy, he finishes fifth or sixth in scoring. Plus, his injury ended any chance of saving Toronto's season.
DEFENCE: Karlsson and Weber; Chara and Pietrangelo; Suter and Girardi.
GOALTENDER: Quick, Lundqvist, Mike Smith.
NHL all-rookie team
FORWARD: (No positions necessary): Landeskog, Nugent-Hopkins, Henrique.
DEFENCE: Faulk, Jake Gardiner.
GOAL: Jhonas Enroth.
Undoubtedly, there will be unanimous agreement with these selections.
NOTE: I'm going to write something more "playoff-y" later, so no real matchup stuff here.
1. The coach who suggested not voting for Lidstrom if I wasn't picking him to win added he believes Alex Edler doesn't get enough credit for being a franchise cornerstone NHL defenceman.
2. The PHWA also votes for the Masterton. Plenty of excellent candidates. My choice is Max Pacioretty. He's younger (23) than what you'd generally look at, but, in his own way, did a lot for hockey over the last calendar year. You remember the total hysteria and insanity of his injury? It could have been devastating for the NHL. But it wasn't, because, after his initial disappointment, Pacioretty refused to allow that. He wouldn't dwell on it, determined to be noticed as a good player, not a guy who suffered a serious injury. The one-year anniversary of the Chara hit came not with a bang, but a whimper. That was Pacioretty's way, and the league is very lucky he chose that route.
3. Team broadcasters pick the Adams winner. Sounds like it's going to come down to Ken Hitchcock and Paul MacLean, both very deserving. Don't know if he's even eligible, but the best coaching job in the NHL this season may be Sean Burke's. It was Burke who recommended the Coyotes sign Smith after losing Ilya Bryzgalov. Smith was coming off an absolute nightmare of a season. Burke obviously knew what he was doing.
4. Hitchcock's good with the goalies, too. Didn't count Ed Belfour because he's in a different class, but since he got to Philadelphia, Roman Cechmanek (2002-03), Robert Esche (03-04), Fredrik Norrena (06-07), Pascal Leclaire (07-08), Steve Mason (08-09), Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak (this year) have had their best statistical seasons.
5. Biggest on-ice adjustment MacLean made? Asking his defencemen (other than Karlsson) to try and make plays. Ottawa was a real get-it-off-the-glass-and-out team. He wanted puck possession and challenged them to make good passes, even up the middle.
6. Found it uncomfortable watching Tom Renney's end-of-season presser on Monday. If the Oilers are going to fire Renney, they should let him know -- and quickly -- instead of making him publicly twist in the wind. Toronto made Mike Murphy wait two months before firing him in 1998, which bordered on cruel and unusual punishment. Everybody understands that coaches get canned. But there's got to be some sense of fairness. (Same thing goes for Brent Sutter in Calgary).
7. Steve Tambellini said Wednesday that he would think for a bit before deciding on Tom Renney's future. There is precedence for this. He did the same thing with Pat Quinn a couple of years ago...then decided to switch coaches.
8. There's been a lot written/said about how Dave Tippett could join Ryan Suter and Zach Parise as one of the NHL's hottest free agents, depending on what happens with Phoenix. Didn't realize that Tippett has one more year left on his contract, which could complicate things. But, if the team moves and he doesn't go with it, he vaults to No. 1 on a lot coaching vacancy lists. If the Coyotes stay, bet on an extension.
9. Tippett isn't the only current coach who teams will wait on. Depending on playoff results, there are some other respected guys who may become available. Couple of years ago, young AHL coaches were all the rage. And, there are some who will get consideration (Dallas Eakins, Todd Nelson, Jon Cooper). But, will the success this year of Ken Hitchcock, Paul MacLean and Kirk Muller make NHL experience a more important asset? That would be good news for Mike Sullivan, Craig MacTavish, Bob Hartley, Jim Playfair and Peter Horachek. (Gerard Gallant could be a possibility, too).
10. Now, Montreal is a different situation because of the language issue. Hartley makes a lot of sense, but there would be surprise if the Canadiens didn't approach Patrick Roy after the QMJHL Remparts' season is over. What is interesting, though, is how many people think they should badger Jacques Lemaire until he gets them to stop by accepting the job.
11. The Canadiens haven't confirmed the report that Serge Savard will be named vice-president of hockey operations. If true, you wonder about the dynamic that will create in Montreal's front-office. One GM pointed out that Bill Torrey and Dale Tallon work very well together in Florida. But Tallon has that VP title, while Torrey is alternate governor.
12. The exit interviews in Buffalo were unusually revealing. There are some interesting decisions to make there. Lindy Ruff doesn't like the mix and Derek Roy (who was available this year) didn't hide his disdain for that opinion. Couldn't help but read that and wonder if Ruff wanted a change, but he just signed a big contract. Coach's salaries aren't disclosed, but, if he's not the highest-paid bench boss in the league, he's close.
13. Last time I spoke to George McPhee was before the trade deadline. He ended the conversation with, "Say a prayer for the Capitals." Clearly, someone did.
14. ESPN's Scott Burnside with a really good story on the "hatred" for the Penguins. The fact is this: The Penguins enter these playoffs as the Stanley Cup favourite. In no league is playoff gamesmanship more ingrained than the NHL. It's lonely at the top.
15. Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson wants to see the draft lottery expanded, so that teams have more of a chance to move up, even those picking 10-14. "More volatility," he said. It would certainly add interest. In the NBA version, every team has a chance to win. (NHL: only top five.) The percentages are miniscule, as 10th-worst has a 1.1 per cent chance while closest non-playoff team is at 0.5. The biggest long shot to win? The 2008 Chicago Bulls, who were 9th-worst (1.7 per cent).
16. You've heard both Stamkos and Guy Boucher talk about how Tampa's sniper learned to score from different and more difficult areas. Thanks to Neil Greenberg, contributing writer to Washington Post and ESPN Insider, you can see that difference. Here are Stamkos' shot/goal charts from 2009-10 (51 goals), 2010-11 (45) and this season's 60-goaler. You can see how much more effort he's making in-close.
17. Sports Illustrated's Michael Farber wrote a piece about the Blues that quoted John Davidson as saying they hired Hitchcock to find out if the players they drafted were "capable of carrying a team." Thought a lot about that watching Colorado down the stretch. The team is staying with Joe Sacco and you wonder what that means for Matt Duchene.
18. Duchene was benched March 22 (played only 7:21 vs. Phoenix) then saw almost 15 minutes two nights later. But then his time-on-ice falls off a cliff. Average for the final five games: 11:40. You can sense an uneasy relationship between he and Sacco. The Avalanche dealt Chris Stewart out of nowhere. If they think Sacco is the right coach, what do they think about Duchene?
19. Jets coach Claude Noel on the thing he'll remember most about Year 1: "You'd go on the road to Calgary, Edmonton or Vancouver and it was unbelievable. There'd be 4,000-5,000 Jets jerseys. You'd be thinking, 'Holy %&$#!' Sometimes, the other teams would be pissed off there were so many people cheering us in their buildings."
20. One media-relations person from another team said Winnipeg was the only city in the league where autograph hounds went to the restaurants, not the hotels.
21. Noel said the needed change is for the Jets to become harder to play against. A lot of coaches define that toughness in a team's road record, and they were 27th away from MTS. It will also be interesting to see if Mark Scheifele is ready in the fall, because size down the middle is what they need, but they don't want to rush him.
22. One opposing coach said Zach Bogosian took huge steps this year. "He used to have tunnel vision, only seeing what was in front of him, especially in the offensive zone," he said. "Much improved now. If only he could stay healthy."
23. Too bad Travis Hamonic couldn't go to the worlds. Was looking forward to getting a better look at him. Like Bogosian, took big steps. Tended to back away from opponents coming over the blue-line, because he "didn't trust his own ability," said one teammate. That's changed now.
24. Interesting how low penalty totals can be looked at in different ways. The Oilers were undoubtedly happy with Jordan Eberle: 34 goals, just 10 PIMs. But Magnus Paajarvi, who bounced up and down to the AHL, is seen differently with two minors in 41 games. "Sometimes, a low penalty total indicates the player is not engaged enough," said one scout. "You wouldn't say that about Eberle, but you would about Paajarvi.
25. In Toronto, ownership apology = team being worried it can't sell suites.
26. Brian Burke's season-ending presser: It didn't get a lot of attention, but thought a key moment was Burke recognizing there is no guarantee he will be able to bury contracts in the AHL next year. If he can't do that (or some reasonable facsimile thereof), his job becomes exponentially more difficult. Also wondered if the reality of where the team is might force him to change his stance on long-term deals, but he said no.
27. Burke is right about the Penguins winning the equivalent of a $970 million power ball draw with Sidney Crosby. Malkin was a no-brainer. But, a few teams scoffed at Marc-Andre Fleury ahead of Eric Staal or Nathan Horton. And Kris Letang went 62nd.
28. After this goal Jake Gardiner got a text from an aunt saying, "Paul Coffey couldn't do that." His response: "Yeah, sure."
29. Watched the video of Glendale mayor Elaine Scruggs melting down on Gary Bettman and the NHL. Just don't understand how a mayor would not know the parameters for managing a $25-million US escrow account. Bettman is a shark. He absolutely lives to beat you in negotiations. How can you not be prepared for that?
30. Verrrrry interesting video of Jim Treliving (from Dragon's Den) with George Stroumboulopoulos. His son, Brad, is the assistant GM in Phoenix, and, at the 8:55 mark, Jim starts tap-dancing. There was a rumour earlier this season that the senior Treliving was interested in this team. That was soundly denied when I followed up. And, he denied it again on his twitter page this week.
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