Eric Duhatschek devotes his weekly notebook to the NHL's annual awards voting, which starts as soon as the regular season wraps up Sunday.
Controversy usually accompanies NHL awards balloting, especially in the years when there are no clear-cut favorites for the major hardware up for grabs. This year, the controversy started before the vote, and it involves the Professional Hockey Writers' Association, which casts ballots for five of the seven primary awards (Hart, Norris, Calder, Lady Byng and Selke). NHL broadcasters choose the Jack Adams (coaching) and general managers pick the Vezina (top goalie).
Last weekend, as ballots were distributed to 177 PHWA members (including TSN's Bob McKenzie and CBC's Elliiotte Friedman, who were newly admitted because of their online writing credentials), the New York Rangers' chapter determined they would boycott the voting as a show of support for Chris Botta, who'd been banned from covering New York Islanders' games earlier this year. Botta is a former senior member of the Islanders' public-relations staff and was blogging for AOL Fanhouse at the time the Islanders revoked his credentials. No amount of hard lobbying, coaxing and even a face-to-face meeting between commissioner Gary Bettman and PHWA president Kevin Allen could convince the NHL to step in and make the Islanders to overturn their decision.
In the end, the Islanders' and New Jersey Devils' chapters joined the boycott, as did the Columbus Blue Jackets' chapter in the Western Conference.
Some individual members of the association were also planning to withhold their votes in protest. In the end, it was expected that upwards of 120 ballots would be cast in total, which is still far greater voting body than decided these awards in the 1980s, when three members apiece of then 21 PHWA chapters voted.
How the boycott will affect the final outcome is anybody's guess at this stage. The possibility of a Western Conference bias has been raised, but it will be a difficult thing to prove no matter how it plays out, simply because the West was the far superior conference this season anyway. In the second-half absence of the Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby, who was on his way to a runaway Hart Trophy title until a concussion sidelined him for the second half, the favourites for a lot of these awards are playing in the Pacific time zone.
What an irony there - because usually the perception of bias goes the other way. The argument is, it is far more difficult for Lubomir Visnovsky to press his Norris Trophy case than for Zdena Chara because who stays up to watch the Anaheim Ducks play into the wee hours of the morning anyway?
This will be the third year of the NHL's three-year commitment to hold the awards in Las Vegas. In other years, it has been fairly easy to predict the majority of winners. This year, the suspense should be greater than ever.
And so, with that lengthy disclaimer out of the way, the envelopes please:
Hart (MVP): Daniel Sedin (Vancouver Canucks) Runners-up: Corey Perry (Anaheim Ducks), Pekka Rinne (Nashville Predators)
Perry's candidacy is reminiscent of the 2006 Hart race when Joe Thornton came from far off the pace in the final weeks, caught Jaromir Jagr atop the NHL scoring charts and ultimately prevailed in the MVP balloting because of his 11th-hour surge. It's the same scenario right now with Perry, who became the only NHLer to reach the 50-goal plateau in Wednesday's victory over the Sharks and has been on fire down the stretch, with 46 points since the All-Star break, a surge that helped push the Ducks squarely into the playoff picture. Perry's situation is also similar to what went on with Henrik Sedin last year, when he won the Hart. Sedin starred for the Canucks when brother Daniel missed 19 games with an injury, proving that he was not umbilically attached to his brother, but a great player in his own right. It was Perry's strong play during Ryan Getzlaf's 13-game absence with a mushed face that kept the Ducks alive in January, when it looked as if they could plunge out of contention. The wording of this award is always pivotal: It goes to the player "adjudged to be most valuable to his team." Philosophically, that could hurt Sedin, playing for a team as deep as Vancouver. Having said that, Daniel Sedin has also been the model of consistency, from the start of the season to the finish, which is also built into the Hart trophy philosophy; and he is a primary reason why they are the runaway President's Trophy winners. Perry's stock is soaring up the charts with a bullet; this could be one of the closest races since Jarome Iginla and Jose Theodore finished in a deadlock for the award back in 2002 and Theodore won on the tie-breaker.