Sidney Crosby entered the NHL in 2005 and almost right from the start, has been considered the NHL’s best player. He had 102 points as an NHL rookie; 120 as an NHL sophomore and has this past season, zoomed by the 500 games played mark with over 700 scoring points – great in any era, exceptional in these low-scoring times.
And yet, through injury and circumstance, though he is in his ninth NHL season, he has only won the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player just once – and that happened way back in the 2006-07 season. Injuries derailed some of those seasons and odd voting patterns undermined him in others.
For some reason, in an era where analytics reign, someone is always trying to make the case for unheralded, off-the-charts candidate, or goes the other way and takes the path of least reason and gives it to Alexander Ovechkin because he scores a lot of goals. Frequently, Crosby’s candidacy gets tripped up by the specific wording of the Hart Trophy – awarded annually to the player “adjudged to be most valuable to his team.”
Crosby has been undermined by the fact that ever since his second year, he plays with Evgeni Malkin, also one of the NHL’s top talents. If a team has two Grade-A stars (such as the Chicago Blackhawks with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane), it immediately seems to disqualify both players from the Hart trophy race because it is difficult to decide which is most valuable to his own individual team, let alone the most valuable player in the league itself.
Happily, this should be a year when the voters can block out all the background noise and assess Crosby’s season for the extraordinary things he accomplished. It was a year when so many of the Penguins’ key players were stuck in the medical room. Malkin, James Neal, Kris Letang, plus Crosby’s usual linemate Pascal Dupuis, have all missed significant time this season.
Through it all, Pittsburgh has posted one of the best records in the league and Crosby is running away – literally running away – with the scoring title. Of course, he was running away with the scoring race last year when a broken jaw sidelined him for 12 games at the end of the season. Even though it took the eventual scoring champion, Martin St. Louis, more than three weeks to reel Crosby in, for whatever reason, that cost him the trophy. The race shouldn’t even be close this season.
Here is our annual look at how the major trophy races should unfold.
Hart Memorial Trophy
To the player adjudged to be most valuable to his own team.
Winner: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins. Runners-up: Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks, John Tavares, New York Islanders.
James Norris Memorial Trophy
To the defence player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability.
Winner: Shea Weber, Nashville Predators. Runners-up: Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks, Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins.
There are a lot of honourable mentions beyond the front runners. Drew Doughty in Los Angeles and Ryan Suter in Minnesota are catalysts on their respective teams and primary reasons they’re in the playoffs. Chara has had another exceptional year in leading the Bruins to the best record in hockey and Keith has done it all for the Blackhawks. He eats up big minutes and he’s contributed more offensively than in the past couple of years. But on a Nashville Predators team that has never fully recovered from Suter’s loss, Weber has done it all. Offensively, he’s passed the 20-goal plateau and he helps the power play go. Defensively, he’s a scary big-bodied presence. He has twice been the first runner-up for this award – in 2011 and 2012. This year, he should be in the winner’s circle.
To the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at his position.
Winner: Sergei Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche. Runners-ups: Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins, Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens.Rask has the Bruins in contention for the Jennings Trophy again this year, but it helps to play behind a defensively sound team. Price has had another terrific year in the Montreal pressure cooker, but Varlamov is the single biggest reason that the Avalanche has completed a near historical turnaround – from 29th overall last year to competing with Boston, Anaheim and St. Louis for first overall. Colorado’s starting six on defence regularly consists of Erik Johnson, Andre Benoit, Nick Holden, Jan Hedja, Cory Sarich and Nate Guenin. The Avs should take home a lot of hardware this season, and Varlamov’s contributions cannot be overlooked
Calder Memorial Trophy
To the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition.
Winner: Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche. Runners-up: Jacob Trouba, Winnipeg Jets, Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay Lightning.Many of the awards this year are close and nuanced, but MacKinnon has made the rookie of the year an open-and-shut case and probably the only suspense will be whether he wins it unanimously or not. Coach Patrick Roy started him on the third line to temper expectations and allowed MacKinnon to adjust to the NHL slowly. In the first half, MacKinnon played on average 16:05 per game. Roy upped that in the second half, so that his average is now 17:15 – and as injuries took Paul Stastny, Alex Tanguay, P.A. Parenteau and now Matt Duchene out of the top six, MacKinnon got a chance to play more minutes in the second half. Palat has been a real find for the Lightning and his emergence was one of the reasons (along with Jonathan Drouin in the pipeline) they felt they could trade Martin St. Louis at the deadline. A number of excellent young defenders entered the NHL this season as well, among them Hampus Lindholm (Anaheim), Danny DeKeyser (Detroit) and Seth Jones (Nashville). But when healthy, nobody had the impact of Trouba, whose presence in part allowed the Jets to switch Dustin Byfuglien to forward back in January.
Jack Adams Award
To the coach adjudged to have contributed most to his team’s success.
Winner: Patrick Roy, Colorado Avalanche, Runners-up: Mike Babcock, Detroit Red Wings, Bruce Boudreau, Anaheim Ducks.Annually one of the most difficult to sort out because so many coaches did admirable jobs, from the ones who presided over unexpected turnarounds (Roy, Jon Cooper, Tampa) to the ones that kept good teams competitive again (Todd McLellan, San Jose; Claude Julien, Boston) to the ones who squeezed the most out of the talent at hand (Todd Richards, Columbus; Bob Hartley, Calgary). Boudreau helped the Ducks win the tough Pacific for the second year in a row, while Babcock extended the Red Wings’ playoff streak to 23 consecutive seasons, despite playing a heavily influenced Grand Rapids for much of the season after injuries felled the likes of Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen. But Roy went into Colorado with his trademark swagger, backed up by some coaching chops learned in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Colorado had young talent to be sure, but as many teams can tell you (Edmonton, Florida, others), turning all that young talent into a winning and cohesive NHL team is harder than it looks. Roy made it look comparatively easy.
Frank J. Selke Trophy
To the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game.
Winner: Anze Kopitar (Los Angeles Kings). Runners-up: Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks; Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins.
There are three exceptional Selke candidates this season. Toews won it last year, Bergeron the year before, while Kopitar remains one of the NHL’s best-kept secrets, one of the few times that mostly ridiculous notion of an anti-West Coast bias may hold true. Kings coach Darryl Sutter never ever lavishes praise on his own players, but he makes an exception for Kopitar, noting that he is the best centre he’s ever coached. Sutter’s respect for Kopitar isn’t because of his point-per-game scoring pace on the NHL’s best defensive team. It’s because Kopitar does all the things in the defensive zone Sutter believes are part of a winning program. He wins face-offs, kills penalties and is so defensively sound that even going up against the top centres of the opposing team most nights, he is a plus-13 player. Toews and Bergeron are of course exceptional, too, for virtually all the same reasons cited above. Any of the three would be a worthy choice.
Lady Byng Memorial Trophy
To the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.Winner: Ryan O’Reilly, Colorado Avalanche. Runners-up: Patrick Marleau, San Jose Sharks. Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks.
Let’s just make it a complete Colorado sweep. O’Reilly leads the Avalanche forwards in playing time at just under 20 minutes per night and had 62 points in 77 games. He didn’t take a minor penalty until the 71st game of the season, when he was dinged two minutes for playing with a broken stick. As of Friday, that was it for him. Seven of the last eight Byng trophies went to either Martin St. Louis or Pavel Datsyuk, but neither has had a season up to their usual standards. Kane, by contrast, was playing great before he got injured and Marleau has been a big reason why the Sharks have quietly put up another quality 100-point season, with a strong two-way game.