Wednesday, June 09, 2004


NHL Awards - An Outsider's Take

NNow that the real silverware (The Stanley Cup) has been handed out, it�s time to dish out some of the consolation prizes at the annual NHL Awards Show.

In all of my years as a hockey fan, I believe I�ve only watched 3 of these telecasts. Either due to lack of interest, or just other events going on (Like an exam I have tomorrow, so I�ll miss the show again), I just haven�t really watched the awards shows with any William Shatner-like regularity.

Of course, that won�t stop me from commenting on the awards and the potential winners themselves. As the �professional� hockey writers vote on most awards, many of their picks are heavily influenced by reputation, media hype, and just plain regional bias. The writers don�t tend to do a horrible job, but the most deserving candidates don�t always win the big prizes.

MVP (Hart Trophy): -
The problem with the Hart Trophy is that the wording �Most Valuable to their Team� causes a divergence on how people view and vote for the award:

1. �Take X player of his team, and what effect that would have� - Simply put, you compare the player in the context of the value to his own team, which then puts an unfair variable into the voting process. If you take very good player off of a poor team (Say Roberto Luongo in Florida), it will obviously have a bigger impact to that team than taking a very good player off of a team deep in talent (Say Nick Lidstrom in Detroit).
Thus, you punish certain players for simply playing on better teams, when the award should be based on the player�s own talents, not the situation he just happens to find himself in.

2. �The Best Player on the Best Team� - Some writers vote based on the premise that the MVP is the best player on the best team. Many writers and fans used this argument for Mike Modano, back when the Stars were President�s trophy winners. If you are the best player on the best team, then you are probably a really damn good player.
Once again, however, this rewards a player based on his situation, rather than on his own merits.

3. �The Most Outstanding Player/The Best Player� - The 3rd scenario is the one that I prefer. Honestly, I�d rather the reword the Hart trophy to state �The Most Outstanding Player�, rather than the �Most Valuable to his team�. This would eliminate quite a few voting problems, as there would not be interpretation issues.

It�s common sense, really; the most outstanding (best) player in the league will always be the most �Valuable� player. If you put Bobby Orr (in his prime) on any team in the league, he�ll be the most �Valuable� player in the league. A diamond is still more valuable than a ruby, no matter what jewellery box it�s in.

My pick: Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay - There is no doubt in my mind that Martin St. Louis (the new �Pavol Demitra�, think about it�) was the most outstanding player in the NHL this past season. He was excellent in every facet of the game (which can�t be said of Naslund), and I�m pretty sure he�ll win based on the media hype he generated during the regular season. Before ESPN fell in love with Jerome Iginla, they had a torrid affair with Mr. St. Louis.

Vezina (Top Goalie): -

Now, this award is voted on by the NHL General Managers, and not the mediots, which is probably why Jim �Net Detective� Carey won this award in 1995-96 despite having a very pedestrian Save Percentage of 90.6%.. I think he served me a latte at Starbucks the other day.

That the GM�s vote for this award is also why Martin �Golden Horseshoe up my arse� Brodeur continues to get more votes than he should for this award. If you look at his raw Save Percentage and Saves stats throughout the years, Martin is rarely among the league�s elite in those telling categories.

Instead, Martin racks up the glory stats in the �old-school� categories such as Wins (usually about 40 a year), Goals Against Average, and Shutouts.

Now, as any smart sports fan can tell you, WINS is/are truly a team statistic, and generally based on having great team-mates and run/goal/defensive support. Tim Cheveldae once racked up three straight 30-win seasons for the Red Wings, despite having the goaltending prowess of Martin Brochu.

Brodeur has proven himself to be a good goaltender behind great teams (Team Canada, especially), but has not carried the Devils in periods when they weren�t so stingy in front of him (2002-03, when the Devils missed the playoffs and the team played poorly in front of him). In my opinion, if you take Brodeur off of the Devils, he�d be exposed as a good, but not great goaltender to the general population.
Of course, Brodeur makes 100�s of flashy saves, and he�s a media darling, so most can�t see past his padded statistics. (/End rant)

My pick: Roberto Luongo, Florida - Not only does he have to make 35-40 saves a night, but he has to make 35-40 damn good saves a night. In today�s NHL of low shot totals (where 20 shots a game seems like a �high� number), Luongo somehow managed to break the NHL single season record for Saves in a season, thanks to a Panthers team that played defense as if it were the 1980�s.
Luongo excelled under these conditions and put up monster numbers, thanks to his incredible reflexes and anticipation. Luongo is certainly a worthy MVP candidate, also, and I don�t generally consider goalies for the Hart trophy unless they pull of Hasek-like feats of carrying their team.

Norris Trophy (Best Defenseman):

Chris Pronger really soured on me with his usual playoff nonsense. When push comes to shove, there are 3 star players you know you cannot count on in pressure situations: Todd Bertuzzi, Keith Tkachuk, and Chris Pronger. In crunch time, these 3 lugs can and will be easily bated into taking stupid penalties, and will cost their team thanks to a lack of discipline. The best players can shrug off extra attention, but these 3 cannot.

Still, this is an award based on the �Regular� season, and Pronger is a worthy pick because he carried a Blues team that was decimated by blueline injuries. Pronger had to put up with the losses of Jackman and Al MacInnis, plus put up with the bumbling play of Alexander Khavanov.

Scott Niedermayer has never put his the big offensive numbers that were expected out of the �Next Paul Coffee�, but last year was definitely his best overall season as he was excellent at both ends of the ice. With Stevens and Daneyko gone, Niedermayer had to carry a bigger load and did it without missing a beat.

Zdenko Chara - Based on pure defensive ability alone, Chara would win the Norris. Chara is simply a beast in his own zone, and is probably the one defenseman that truly gives NHL forwards nightmares. Chara supplemented his fine defense with 16 goals and 41 points. Chara has always had a very hard slapshot, but he took about 10 seconds to get his shots off due to a very long windup. Chara is no longer the awkward giraffe that he once was, and he is truly a worthy candidate.

Honestly, the writers can�t screw this one up. All top 3 candidates are equally deserve, in my eyes.

My pick: Zdeno Chara, Ottawa - He�s Slovak. I don�t need a better reason than that .

Calder (Top Rookie)

Trent Hunter should be a very distant 3rd place, as this is a race between Michael Ryder and Andrew Raycroft.

Ryder is a true surprise and a great story. When I went to a Hamilton Bulldogs game last year, it was Jason Ward that was the true star of that team, while Ryder was just up from the ECHL and playing a �solid� game. Ryder went from the ECHL to become a regular NHL point producer, which is a feather in the cap of the ECHL, which has become a legitimate development league these past few years.

My pick: Andrew Raycroft, Boston - You can easily say that Raycroft was more �Valuable� to his team than Ryder was, and his performance was more outstanding in comparison to the league average, which is why I give Andrew the edge.
Thankfully for Bruins fans, Raycroft played so well that they were forced to use him, rather than the retreat Felix �Pothole� Potvin.

Selke Trophy (Top Defensive Forward):

Back before trapping hockey and defense-at-all-costs hockey was in vogue, the Selke trophy was my favourite. Rick Meagher, Guy Carbonneau, and Bob Gainey were more of a rarity than anything; Playing exceptional defense in a game dominated by offense. Nowadays, it seems that most every forward is a �defensive� forward, and awarding defensive proficiency amongst forwards is like cheering for Microsoft.
I honestly don�t care who wins, but I think Michal Handzus should have once against been considered more highly than he was.

Jack Adams (Top Coach):

Isn�t it interesting that the top 3 vote getters were all coaching in the Semi-Finals and/or Finals in the Stanley Cup Playoffs?

My pick: John Tortotella, Tampa Bay - Either one of the 3 is deserving, but I like Tortarella because he had success with an exciting system of offensive hockey, rather than the drudge and dreck that Sutter and Wilson force upon the fans on a nightly basis.

Lady Byng (Sportsmanship and Skill):

I�ve got a whole separate rant about this award lined up whenever I get around to it. Let�s just say Martin St. Louis has this award wrapped up like a boa constrictor.

As long as Brodeur isn�t awarded the Vezina, I probably won�t be too up in arms over who ends up winning each award.

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Hmm.. so you'll pick a guy just for being Slovak, eh? I don't see Marian Gaborik on there anywhere. ;)

And yet, you'll still take Luongo despite his "illegal" pads?

I concur with your other choices. Good picks. Hockey Digest wanted the Adams to go to Hartley for just keeping the team together.

The team to watch out for next year?.... Columbus. Just like TB who was built on #1 pics,... Nash and Zheredev are going to own this league.
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