The NHL wrapped up two weeks of naming awards finalists, one by one, revealing its three nominees for the Hart Trophy Thursday afternoon in Henrik Sedin, Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. Since all of the finalists are out there, I thought it might be a good time to post who I voted for at the end of the regular season.
There are roughly 150 members of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association, and we all vote for five of the major awards: the Hart, the Norris, the Calder, the Lady Byng and the Selke. (The league's general managers vote on the Vezina and the broadcasters give out the Jack Adams.)
Writers also select the NHL all-star and all-rookie teams, so I've tacked mine on at the bottom.
Here's a quick runthrough of my ballot, as it was submitted, with some brief reasoning on my choices:
(1) NHL Trophies
HART TROPHY ("to the player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team") -- Five selections.
1. Henrik Sedin, Vancouver 2. Ryan Miller, Buffalo 3. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh 4. Alex Ovechkin, Washington 5. Ilya Bryzgalov, Phoenix
The finalists, as noted above, are Sedin, Crosby and Ovechkin, which I can certainly live with. The MVP choice this year was one of the closest calls we've seen in the NHL in a long time, and I imagine the voting will reflect that.
The fact that Sedin put up 112 points in what was a much stronger conference this season was why I put him first overall. Miller was a close second in my mind, but missed out on being a finalist due to the fact some voters feel goaltenders shouldn't win the Hart. (He's already a slam dunk for the Vezina.)
I had both Miller and Bryzgalov in the top five so that wasn't an issue on my end.
NORRIS TROPHY ("to the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position") -- Five selections.
1. Duncan Keith, Chicago 2. Nick Lidstrom, Detroit 3. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles 4. Mike Green, Washington 5. Zdeno Chara, Boston
An even more difficult choice than the Hart.
What made the Norris so hard to vote on this year was the fact you have a player like Mike Green who leads in many of the traditional stat categories (most goals, assists, points and second in plus-minus among defencemen) but is a flawed player in several ways. Some voters left him off their ballots altogether, others had him at No. 1.
My criteria for the Norris isn't so much about point production as it is about playing big minutes, facing the opponents' top lines and excelling in key situations on the power play and penalty kill. Keith would have been an easy choice by the Olympic break, but he had a really tough March and came back to the pack a little. Even so, I thought his terrific first five months was enough.
Lidstrom, meanwhile, wasn't a nominee, but should have been in my mind. He may be 40 years old, but he's still the guy carrying the load for the Red Wings, and he had another terrific season. Doughty's a player who'll win his fair share of these things down the line.
Green, well, he does some things exceptionally well and had another terrific regular season. You don't play 26 minutes a night on the best team in the league and finish plus-39 without being a good player, but his performance in the postseason may mean he never gets serious consideration for this award ever again.
I don't know who will win it this year, but I expect it to be another close vote.
CALDER TROPHY ("to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition") -- Five selections.
1. Tyler Myers, Buffalo 2. Jim Howard, Detroit 3. Tuukka Rask, Boston 4. Matt Duchene, Colorado 5. John Tavares, NY Islanders
Myers will likely win here, and with good reason: The 6-foot-8 blueliner had one of the best rookie seasons we've seen from a defenceman in a long, long time, playing a huge role when little was expected in his first season. He had 48 points, only seven shy of Duchene for the rookie scoring lead, was a plus player in big minutes for the Sabres and was a big reason his team had such a great season. He'll have quite a career.
Howard and Rask, meanwhile, put up terrific numbers: Both were top five in goals-against average and save percentage, and Rask could have been a serious contender for this award had he started more than 39 games.
Tavares was the hands down favourite to win coming into the season, but more and more, that's not the guy who is the league's rookie of the year, for whatever reason. Seven months ago, no one would have predicted Myers to win it; now everyone is.
And he will.
LADY BYNG TROPHY ("to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability") -- Five selections.
1. Nick Lidstrom, Detroit 2. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, San Jose 3. Tyler Myers, Buffalo 4. Rob Scuderi, Los Angeles 5. Andy Greene, New Jersey
This one I always find hard to get that jazzed about voting for.
What always ends up happening with the Byng is that the three highest scoring forwards who have low penalty minute totals are the finalists, the players all look like they couldn't care less who wins, the audience yawns... etc. It's unfortunate the award isn't redefined as solely a sportsmanship award with a new name, something dedicated to one of the retired greats and that has nothing to do with PIMs.
As for my votes: One thing I can never figure out is why defencemen never, ever are nominated for the Byng, so this year I went to the extreme of only nominating blueliners. Given the way he plays the game, Lidstrom should have a couple of these on his mantle already, while Vlasic, Myers, Scuderi and Greene all had great seasons, played great defence and did so while rarely stuffing a glove in a guy's face after the whistle.
SELKE TROPHY ("to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game") -- Five selections.
1. Jonathan Toews, Chicago 2. Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa 3. Travis Zajac, New Jersey 4. Ryan Kesler, Vancouver 5. Jordan Staal, Pittsburgh
I'm a proponent for some of the new advanced stats that are out there when it comes to measuring defensive play, something I used here to pick out some of the better defensive forwards in the league, statistically, this season. Plus-minus, as an offence- and team-influenced stat, simply does not do justice to what measures the best defensive players in the league. (Just look at Kesler's plus-minus.)
The five I went with are all key, big minute defensive stalwarts on their teams. All play a role on the penalty kill and all also face the other teams' top lines every night.
If I had to make a prediction, I think Kesler will win this year as there seems to be a lot of momentum around him after his play at the Olympics. Pavel Datsyuk and Staal are the other two finalists.
Below are my choices for the all-star and all-rookie teams, presented without comment. There are only two all-star teams, a first and a second team, but we were asked to pick three players at each position:
(2) NHL All-Star Team
CENTER -- Three selections.
1. Henrik Sedin, Vancouver 2. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh 3. Nicklas Backstrom, Washington
RIGHT WING -- Three selections.
1. Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay 2. Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa 3. Patrick Kane, Chicago
LEFT WING -- Three selections.
1. Alex Ovechkin, Washington 2. Daniel Sedin, Vancouver 3. Patrick Marleau, San Jose
DEFENSE -- SIX selections.
1. Duncan Keith, Chicago 2. Nick Lidstrom, Detroit 3. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles 4. Mike Green, Washington 5. Zdeno Chara, Boston 6. Chris Pronger, Philadelphia
GOALTENDER -- Three selections.
1. Ryan Miller, Buffalo 2. Ilya Bryzgalov, Phoenix 3. Craig Anderson, Colorado
(3) NHL All-Rookie Team
FORWARD -- Three selections, regardless of position.
1. Matt Duchene, Colorado 2. John Tavares, NY Islanders 3. Jamie Benn, Dallas
DEFENSE -- Two selections.
1. Tyler Myers, Buffalo 2. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay
GOAL -- One selection.
1. Jim Howard, Detroit