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Colorado Avalanche general manager Greg Sherman. (Associated Press)

Colorado Avalanche general manager Greg Sherman.

(Associated Press)

Oddball NHL awards votes hurt credibility of process Add to ...

In the end, many of the right players either won or were at least nominated.

Even if there are legitimate quibbles to be made here and there.

But when you look back over the full voting results for the NHL awards from the weekend, it’s not always pretty, as the totals shed light on some really bizarre ballots that were submitted.

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Here’s a run through of some of those choices, trophy by trophy:

GM of the Year

Ray Shero of the Pittsburgh Penguins took home the hardware, getting 14 of the 39 first-place votes and narrowly edging out Bob Murray of the Anaheim Ducks (94 points to 88).

Both teams had strong seasons and their GMs made bold moves so there’s some logic there. In all, however, 16 different GMs received votes, including four whose teams didn’t even make the playoffs.

That quartet included one who was fired a few weeks into the season (Scott Howson).

Toronto Maple Leafs GM Dave Nonis received two second place votes (the potential difference between Murray winning over Shero) despite making few significant roster changes from the lineup he inherited upon taking over right before the season started.

Even more curious, Greg Sherman, GM of the last place team in the West, picked up a third-place vote for helping steer his team into the basement.

Vezina Trophy (top goaltender)

Columbus Blue Jackets netminder Sergei Bobrovsky deservedly ran away with this one with 110 points and 17 of the 30 first-place votes, but again, some odd choices “earned” votes.

Ray Emery (only 19 starts) received a first-place vote – putting him ahead of Bobrovsky, Henrik Lundqvist and everyone else. Jonas Hiller (who lost his starting job for long stretches to Viktor Fasth) received a second-place vote, and Carey Price and Niklas Backstrom both got third-place votes despite well below average save percentages (.905 and .909).

Hart Trophy (league MVP)

Speaking of the big one, this was another instance where the vote was close enough that some of the weird choices could have made a tangible difference.

Alex Ovechkin beat out Sidney Crosby by only 32 points in one of the closest votes in history, meaning another half dozen votes one way or the other could have meant for a different winner.

Some of those went to what are decidedly complementary players – Chris Kunitz (five points) and Pascal Dupuis (one point) – or those having off seasons like Evgeni Nabokov (five points), Backstrom and Price (three each).

Anyone, anywhere, would be hard pressed to argue any of those five were among the top five most valuable players in the league this season.

Selke Trophy (top defensive forward)

The Selke is likely the most poorly voted on award every year, and some of the ballots this year were stranger than ever.

Noted defensive liability Patrick Kane got a second-place vote, putting him ahead of 547 other NHL forwards in defensive play.

So did John Tavares. Jiri Tlusty had multiple votes, as did Tyler Bozak. Players like Nazem Kadri, Steve Ott and Eric Fehr picked up singles.

In all, 53 different players received Selke votes, which is a testament to how difficult it is to pick out defensive performance in the game.

And, some of these oddball choices actually do play a defensive role on their teams, either killing penalties or winning faceoffs or what have you. Few, however, do so well enough to be considered some of the very, very best in the game, beating out big minute centres that face other top lines night after night.

Others, like Kadri, were clearly based on outdated and inaccurate measures like plus-minus that have as much to do with random variation and usage as anything.

With 179 voters on the award, these misses may not sound like much, but the fact was that Jonathan Toews won the award over a more deserving Patrice Bergeron by just 10 points, or the equivalent of the three throwaway votes Kane and Tlusty received.

Fifteen voters left Bergeron off altogether, despite the fact he blew away the competition in many measures of defensive play and was pegged as the winner in the analytics community.

A problem with the process

The Professional Hockey Writers’ Association – of which, it should be noted, I’m a member – takes a lot of flak for the awards votes every year, but the writers are hardly the only culprits here in this mess.

The GM of the Year award is actually voted on by the GMs themselves and a small undisclosed media panel, leaving open the door for all sorts of odd choices when you can simply write down the folks you’re chummy with around the league.

Then there’s the Vezina, which is also voted on by GMs, some of whom have been known to pick their own netminder(s) from time to time.

The league often gets lucky, as it mostly did this year, that none of the goofy stuff impacts the result too much. But that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t next year or the year after that.

And with the millions in bonuses attached to league end awards, they’re not exactly meaningless to the players or their teams, either.

There are two ways the league can go about fixing this. The best solution to it is to simply make every single one of the ballots public, regardless of who’s voting, in order to bring more transparency to the process.

(There has been talk recently that the PHWA may do just this at some point and several writers disclose their ballots on their own sites.)

The other option is to find a different set of voters, which is probably a decent idea in the case of something highly specialized like the Selke or where the groups picking the awards have an obvious bias (such as voting for players who play for their own teams).

Otherwise there are always going to be these complaints about the NHL’s awards process, and the complainers will be making what’s become an inarguable point.

Follow me on Twitter: @mirtle

 

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