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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

NHL Awards Predictions

It's the end of the NHL regular season, it's the time of year when hockey writers, general managers and players write their ballots for the shiny trophies to be handed out in June.  The finalists for these awards will be announced during the playoffs, and here are my predictions for those awards, ranked in expected order of finish. 

The Vezina Trophy is an annual award given to the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at this position as voted by the general managers of all NHL clubs.

Predicted finalists:

1. Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres
2. Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils
3. Ilya Bryzgalov, Phoenix Coyotes

Ryan Miller has been dominant at his position and is the major reason the offense-starved Sabres won their division.  His stats are 69 Games Played (GP), a 41-18-8 record, a 2.22 Goals Against Average (GAA) a .929 Save Percentage (Sv%) and 5 Shutouts (SO).  He ranks 4th in wins, 2nd in GAA and Sv%. Most importantly, perhaps, is that Miller's Sabres barely missed the playoffs last season while he missed time and the trapping New Jersey Devils made their backup goalie look good while Brodeur was out.

Four-time Vezina winner Martin Brodeur played the most games (77) this season and his team allowed the fewest goals in the league, giving him his 5th William Jennings Trophy.  He comes in at 3rd place with a 2.24 GAA, but only 13th place with a .916 Sv%, despite 9 shutouts and a record-breaking year that makes him the best regular season goalie in league history in most major categories.

Ilya Bryzgalov will get votes for a strong season that saw him drag a franchise most left for dead to the playoffs.  That and finishing 3rd place in the league in wins (42), 6th in GAA (2.29), and 9th in Sv% (.920), plus 8 shutouts behind a no-name team will make him a darkhorse candidate to win the award. 

The Lady Byng Memorial Trophy is an annual award given to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability. The winner is selected in a poll of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association.
Predicted finalists:
1. Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Brad Richards, Dallas Stars
3. Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks

This award is fairly easy to predict, it is usually awarded to the player with the best combination of most points and fewest penalty minutes.

Martin St. Louis scored 29 goals and 94 points with 12 Penalty Minutes (PIM) in 82 games.

Brad Richards scored 24 goals and 91 points with 18 PIM in 80 games.

Patrick Kane scored 30 goals and 88 points with 20 PIM in 82 games.

I expect the winner of the last 4 awards, Pavel Datsyuk, to finish in the top 5 in the voting after scoring 27 goals and 70 points with 18 PIM in 82 games. 

The Calder Memorial Trophy is an annual award given to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the National Hockey League. The winner is selected in a poll of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association.  Players are only eligible if they are 26 years old or younger by September 15 of their rookie season and cannot have played any more than 25 games previously in any single season, nor have played in more than six games in two separate preceding seasons in any major professional league.

Predicted finalists:
1. Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings
2. Tyler Myers, Buffalo Sabres
3. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins

This award is hard to predict this year because it is all defensemen and goalies who have dominated the rookie race.  Goalie Jimmy Howard should take the cake for playing 63 games with a 37-15-10 record, a 2.26 GAA and a .924 Sv% with 3 shutouts.

What makes this especially difficult is the other big rookie goalie, Rask, led the league (all goalies, not just rookies) in GAA (1.97) and Sv% (.931).  He only played 45 games, but his 22-12-5 record and 5 shutouts on an offense-starved team may have him rank higher than third in the voting.

Tyler Myers should slide right in the middle there as the 6'8 defenseman played a leading role with the Sabres, leading all rookies in average ice time with 23:44 a night without missing a game.  He led all rookies with 37 assists and finished third with 48 points, and he led rookie defensemen in all offensive categories and finished second in Plus/Minus (+/-) with a +13.

All three are very strong candidates and while I am confident all three will be finalists, I am not confident in the order of finish.  This could be a very close race. 

The James Norris Memorial Trophy is an annual award given to the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position. The winner is selected in a poll of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association.
Predicted finalists:
1. Mike Green, Washington Capitals
2. Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks
3. Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings

Mike Green again finished as a better than point-per-game defenseman this season with 76 points in 75 games to lead the league.  He lead all defensemen in goals (19) assists (57) and powerplay goals (10), powerplay assists (25) and powerplay points (35).  He also finished second among NHL defensemen with a +39, second only to his defense partner.  He finished 9th in average ice-time per game (25:41) and led his team, averaging 2:09 while shorthanded and 5:03 on the powerplay (3rd among defensemen).  He also had 133 Hits, 105 Blocked Shots (BkS), and tied for 12th among defensemen with 44 Takeaways (TkA).  He had a similar season last year and was barely edged out by a regular contender, he has no such competition this year.

Duncan Keith finished 2nd in the league in average ice time per game (26:35) in all 82 games and finished second among defensemen in assists (55) and points (69).  He also finished with a +21 rating, 45 TkA, 46 Hits, and 143 BkS.  He is gaining in popularity, and his Blackhawks did very well this year.

Nick Lidstrom is still Nick Lidstrom, 9 goals, 49 points, +22 in 25:25 of ice per game in every game, and just 24 PIM.  Oh, and he's 39 years old.  The six-time winner still has his all-around game and should still get enough votes to finish in the top-3, again. 

The Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy is an annual award under the trusteeship of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association and is given to the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey. 
Predicted Winner:
Jose Theodore, Washington Capitals

Honorable Mention:
Jonas Gustavsson, Toronto Maple Leafs

This award usually goes to a cancer survivor, but without one of those this season, goalie Jose Theodore has the most compelling case for the award.  In a previous post on February 3rd, I explained his case for the award.  Theodore is a true competitor, having won the Vezina and Hart Trophies in 2002, but he faced a battle he just couldn't win last summer when he lost his infant son to complications from a premature birth.  With much less time spent conditioning in the summer than he would have liked, Theodore stumbled out of the gate, showing a clear lack of focus and struggling with routine plays.  With the leeway from the team to handle his affairs, Theodore found his solace at the rink and persevered.  He strung together a 20-0-3 unbeaten streak lasting three months and finished the season with 30 wins.  While he is the starting goalie for the Stanley Cup favorites, his most lasting mark on the world could be his foundation, Saves for Kids, to donate money to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the National Children's Medical Center.

Goalie Jonas Gustavsson of the Toronto Maple Leafs has been struggling with a heart condition all season but has kept playing.  It has to be a scary proposition to have heart issues, but his love for the game makes him a strong candidate for the award. 

The Frank J. Selke Trophy is an annual award given to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game. The winner is selected in a poll of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association.
Predicted finalists:
1. Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings
2. Chris Drury, New York Rangers
3. Jordan Staal, Pittsburgh Penguins

I reluctantly make picks for this award, even though it gives me heartburn to pick certain players.  It has been popular for sportswriters to pick "2-way" forwards, forwards who have great offense and defense, even though the archetype for this award was Bob Gainey, a shutdown forward who'd score 15 goals and 40 points a season and the award description says nothing about offense.  That being said, this award can be very difficult to predict.  These three forwards excel in the defensive aspects of the game, but this award could easily go to someone else.

Pavel Datsyuk has won the last two awards in large part on the strength of his takeaways and faceoff prowess.  Nothing has changed this year, Datsyuk is 12th in the league with a 55.1% faceoff win percentage and led the league by a wide margin with 132 takeaways (#2 had 83), compared to 73 giveaways.  With 89 hits and 33 blocked shots, Datsyuk might not be the most physical player.  His penalty killing role is not as great either, he spends 0:44 on the penalty kill per game, but his +17 rating is a good indicator of his value on the ice, and with only 18 PIM while leading Detroit forwards with 20:20 of ice time per game, he's on the ice a lot.  As a team, the Red Wings finished 7th in Goals Against and 10th on the penalty kill.

Chris Drury is a player who spends a great deal of time on the penalty kill, 3 minutes per game to be exact, to place him 1st among Rangers forwards and 9th in the league.  He has a shorthanded assist, too.  In 77 games, the Rangers captain has recorded 14 goals, 32 points, and a -10 rating on an offensively challenged team.  With only 31 penalty minutes while averaging 17:46 of ice per game, Drury is not hurting his team with bad penalties.  He is 21st in the league with a 52.9% faceoff win percentage and he leads all forwards with 97 Blocked Shots.  His 58-17 Takeaway to Giveaway ratio is also excellent and he has laid out a respectable 67 hits.  If not for the plus/minus and missing the playoffs, he could be considered a favorite for the award.  As a team, the Rangers finished 10th in Goals Against and 7th on the penalty kill.

Jordan Staal is perhaps the best #2 center in the league who plays on the third line.  With 21 goals and 49 points in 82 games, he certainly has the production to be a second-line center, especially when you consider that only one of those goals came on the powerplay.  He leads Penguins forwards with 3:20 of shorthanded ice time per game, which is 3rd in the league, and he has 2 goals and 3 points while down a man.  With 20 minor penalties and 57 PIM in 19:23 of ice time per game, he is not seriously hurting his team, either.  He has healthy numbers with 121 Hits, 41 blocked shots, and a 41-31 Takeaway to Giveaway ratio, but is only a 48.3% faceoff man.  He also leads the Penguins with a +19 rating.  As a team, the Penguins finished 20th in Goals Against and 9th on the penalty kill.

The Jack Adams Award is an annual award presented by the National Hockey League Broadcasters' Association to the NHL coach adjudged to have contributed the most to his team's success. The winner is selected in a poll among members of the NHL Broadcasters' Association.
Predicted finalists:
1. Dave Tippett, Phoenix Coyotes
2. Joe Sacco, Colorado Avalanche
3. Lindy Ruff, Buffalo Sabres

There should not be much mystery here, former Capital Dave Tippett took over for Wayne Gretzky at the beginning of the season, which is intimidating enough, but he took a no-name team most left to the vultures in the desert to 50 wins, 107 points, and home-ice advantage in the playoffs.  Phoenix had not made the playoffs since 2002. 

The second finalist is much like the first, rookie coach and former Capital Joe Sacco took over the Colorado Avalanche at the beginning of the season and most pundits expected the team to be too young to compete for the playoffs.  Sacco's team jumped out of the gate to an early division lead and played well enough down the stretch to make it into the last playoff spot.  If not for the weak ending and a carbon copy story in Phoenix, the award would be Sacco's. 

There is a significant drop-off after the first two finalists, picking a third coach was very hard.  I could have made it an all-Capital final with Chicago's Joel Quenneville, but I thought Lindy Ruff did a marvelous job winning the Northeast Division with a goalie and little offense.  While the scorers eventually turned on the jets late in the season, for a long time third and fourth liners were producing as much as the top line players. 

The Lester B. Pearson Award is presented annually to the "most outstanding player" in the NHL as voted by fellow members of the National Hockey League Players' Association.
Predicted Finalists:
1. Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
2. Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres
3. Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks

Most of these arguments will be echoed in the discussion for the Hart Memorial Trophy.

There are a cluster of players at the top this year, aided by Ovechkin missing 10 games, and the two suspensions may make his fellow players less likely to vote for him this season, but he is still the most outstanding player in the league.   With another 50 goal season he finished 3rd in the league, just 1 goal behind the co-leaders.  He also finished tied for second in the points race with 109 points, just 3 behind Sedin, but goals go a longer way than assists.  He was the best player on the best team, the highest scoring player on the highest scoring team, the top powerplay goal scorer (13) on the league's top powerplay, and scored the most game winning goals (7) on the winningest team.  He led the league in shots on goal again with 368.  Perhaps most importantly, he became the team captain in January and the team went 30-4-6 since, half the record of the NHL record-setting 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens who finished 60-8-12, the best season ever.   His offense did not come at the expense of defense, Ovie finished with a +45 rating, #2 in the league, and he finished 29th in the league with 185 hits.  He also blocked 20 shots and had a 66-76 Takeaway to Giveaway ratio. 

Ryan Miller is a rock-star this season leading an offensively-challenged team to a division title and he should be the Vezina Trophy winner.  He has amazing numbers and is an excellent team leader.  Without him, the Sabres do not even make the playoffs.

Henrik Sedin led the league in scoring and won the Art Ross Trophy with 112 points on 29 goals and 83 assists.  He did this without his twin brother and linemate for a quarter of the season.  While sportswriters may have trouble seeing Western Conference games, the players know what's going on.  He also finished 8th in the league with a +35. 

The Hart Memorial Trophy is an annual award given to the player judged to be the most valuable to his team. The winner is selected in a poll of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association.
Predicted Finalists:
1. Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
2. Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres
3. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

The reasons for the first two are enumerated above.  The reason for Crosby over Sedin is the Rocket Richard Trophy  he won, his 109 points, but also because Canadians vote on this and Crosby is Canadian while Sedin is not.  Sportswriters will have an Eastern bias, too.  Not that he's not deserving, Crosby was integral in his team's success this season, and they made the playoffs.  Crosby got the job done at both ends of the ice and won 55.9% of his faceoffs.  He is the team captain and he had to make do without several key players who were out with injury.

NHL All-Star Teams:

First Team:
C - Henrik Sedin, Vancouver
LW - Alexander Ovechkin, Washignton
RW - Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay
D - Mike Green, Washington
D - Duncan Keith, Chicago
G - Ryan Miller - Buffalo

Second Team:
C - Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh
LW - Patrick Marleau, San Jose
RW - Patrick Kane, Chicago
D - Nick Lidstrom, Detroit
D - Drew Doughty, Los Angeles
G - Martin Brodeur, New Jersey

F - John Tavares, New York Islanders
F - Matt Duchene, Colorado
F - Niclas Bergfors, New Jersey and Atlanta
D - Tyler Myers, Buffalo
D - Michael Del Zotto, New York Rangers
G - Jimmy Howard, Detroit

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