Handicapping the NHL awards

The NHL announced the finalists for their annual awards today. Some usual suspects, some new faces, and a first-ever tie in the nomination voting.

First, for the statistical awards:
Art Ross (total points): Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh (120 points)
"Rocket" Richard (goals): Vincent LeCavalier, Tampa (52 goals)
William Jennings (team goals against): Nicklas Backstrom and Manny Fernandez, Minnesota Wild (183 GA)
President's Trophy (best regular season record): Buffalo Sabres (53-22-7, 113 points)

Now, for the voted awards:
Calder (Rookie of the year)

  • Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh
  • Jordan Staal, Pittsburgh
  • Paul Stastny, Colorado

Staal earned his place on this list with his solid 2-way play and exceptional penalty killing, leading the league with 7 short-handed goals. But this award is Evgeni Malkin's to lose. Stastny had a rookie-record 20 game points streak, and he needed that just to get close to Malkin's lead in points among rookies.

Snubbed: Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles. A combination of injuries and Stastny's streak bumped the young Slovenian from the finalists.

Frank J. Selke (Best defensive forward)

  • Rod Brind'Amour, Carolina
  • Sami Pahlsson, Anaheim
  • Jay Pandolfo, New Jersey

Brind'Amour is a safe pick, and the defending winner. Pandolfo may lose votes because of New Jersey's system, but Devils have won in the past, so don't count him out. Pahlsson, like most west coast players, has flown under the radar, but that's true of most Selke candidates, anyway. John Tortorella's mantra may be "Safe Is Death", but Lightning players don't vote for this award. Call it for Rod Brind'Amour.

Snubbed: Jordan Staal, Pittsburgh. This is one of the toughest awards for a rookie to get nominated for, so it's no surprise that Staal missed the cut.

Hart (MVP)

  • Martin Brodeur, New Jersey
  • Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh
  • Roberto Luongo, Vancouver

It's difficult for goalies to win the Hart in general. It's even tougher when two nominated goalies split the vote. Add Sidney Crosby to the nomination list, and… well, Brodeur and Luongo don't stand a chance.

Snubbed: Vincent LeCavalier, Tampa. Once, everybody laughed when a Lightning exec called Vinny "the Michael Jordan of hockey." Maybe it's still hyperbole, but LeCavalier, with sidekick Martin St. Louis, carried the Lightning this year.

Jack Adams (Coach of the year)

  • Lindy Ruff, Buffalo
  • Michel Therrien, Pittsburgh
  • Alain Vigneault, Vancouver

Ruff is the defending winner here, and raised the Sabres' game this year, leading them to the best record in the league. Under Vigneault, the Canucks had the best second-half record in the league. Therrien's Penguins had the 4th best season-to-season improvement in NHL history, gaining 47 points over 2005-2006. Ruff and Vigneault are strong candidates, but Michel Therrien, Bellowing Moose be damned, is going to win this award, having done a masterful job of managing lines and motivating young players to exceed all expectations in Pittsburgh.

Snubbed: Claude Julien, New Jersey. That's right, a coach that got fired 5 days before the end of the regular season. That firing had nothing to do with Julien's performance, and everything to do with Lou Lamoriello's ever-expanding delusions of grandeur.

James Norris (Best defenseman)

  • Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit
  • Scott Niedermayer, Anaheim
  • Chris Pronger, Anaheim

Holy usual suspects, Batman! A most unimaginative list, this one. I'll go with Nicklas Lidstrom, if only because the Ducks players will split their votes.

Snubbed: Marek Malik, NY Rangers. +32? On that defense?

Lady Byng (Sportsmanship)

  • Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit
  • Joe Sakic, Colorado
  • Martin St. Louis, Tampa

Ah, the old "Hit Em With Your Purse" Award, where nominations go to guys with lots of points, but few penalty minutes. Usually hard to read, because there's not a lot to set the nominees apart, and this year is no different. I'll go with experience and say Joe Sakic.

Not Snubbed: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh. If he didn't have such overwhelming talent, he'd be a sober Theo Fleury.

Lester B. Pearson (Players' Association MVP)

  • Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh
  • Vincent LeCavalier, Tampa
  • Roberto Luongo, Vancouver

The players like to vote for guys with overwhelming talent. Witness last year, where Joe Thornton won the Hart, but the players selected Jaromir Jagr. I think there's a consensus this year: Sidney Crosby.

Snubbed: Chris Drury, Buffalo. Hard to believe that Lindy Ruff is the only man on the Sabres' payroll to be nominated for anything, given their tremendous performance this season. Drury consistently performs at a high level, and is well-respected around the league. What's a Little League World Series champion gotta do to get some respect around here?

Georges Vezina (Best goaltender)

  • Martin Brodeur, New Jersey
  • Miikka Kiprusoff, Calgary
  • Henrik Lundqvist, NY Rangers
  • Roberto Luongo, Vancouver

For the first time since this voting system was put into place, there was a tie for third, leading to four candidates. King Henrik was solid, and Kipper carried the Flames at times this season, but this will come down to Brodeur and Luongo. Brodeur was out of his mind this season, but I don't think he's going to win it. Roberto Luongo had toiled behind poor defenses in the hockey backwater of Sunrise, FL for years. With the Canucks, he had a chance to prove his mettle in the Canadian spotlight, and he seized that opportunity. Getting shelled almost as often as he did with the Panthers, Luongo posted stellar numbers. The knock on Brodeur is that New Jersey's defensive system has as much to do with his numbers as his own skill. It's hardly fair, but it may just keep him from besting Luongo this year.

Snubbed: Ryan Miller, Buffalo; Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Anaheim. Gee, you'd think goaltending would have something to do with finishing the regular season with 110+ points.

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