This year, there are half-a-dozen legitimate defensible candidates for the Vezina, the Norris and the Jack Adams, a year in which there is little to separate the top goaltenders, defencemen and coaches. Voters are asked to select five and the NHL unveils the top three finalists during the Stanley Cup playoffs.
So without further preamble, a look at how the 2012 award season may unfold:
Hart Trophy (“to the player adjudged to be most valuable to his team”)
Winner: Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins. Runners-up: Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers; Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning.
Lundqvist is the most valuable player on the most surprising team in the NHL, the Rangers, who’ve crept up from a mediocre 93-point season a year ago to contending for the President’s Trophy as the No. 1 team in the league. Stamkos has a chance to be the first 60-goal scorer since Alex Ovechkin in 2007-08 and only the second since Jaromir Jagr did in 1995-96. The fact that no one in Tampa could stop the puck when it mattered could hardly be blamed on Stamkos. But Malkin soared during another year when the Penguins’ core players – from Sidney Crosby to Jordan Staal to Kris Letang and – all spent significant time on the sidelines. Malkin never seems to be the same force when Crosby’s in the lineup, but it says something about his ability to raise his game and be most valuable to his team when it matters most.
Norris Trophy (“to the defence player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-around ability at the position”)
Winner: Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators. Runners-up: Shea Weber, Nashville Predators; Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues.
Half-a-dozen other candidates all play defence probably better than Karlsson, but the award is for greatest all-around ability at the position and in 2011-12, making a good first pass, anchoring a power play, controlling the play whenever you’re on the ice is as – or more important – than the ability to clobber somebody in open ice. Karlsson’s offensive numbers – 78 points in 80 games, 25 more than the next-highest (Dustin Byfuglien and Brian Campbell) are just too significant to overlook. Weber has had another exceptional year for the Nashville Predators, but so has teammate Ryan Suter, and there isn’t much to choose from between the two. As for Pietrangelo, few outside of St. Louis know much about him, other than the fact that in the glittery defence draft class of 2008 – which included Drew Doughty at No. 2, Zach Bogosian at No. 3, Luke Schenn at No. 5 and Tyler Myers at No. 12 – Pietrangelo was the last to arrive on the scene. But since getting there, he has been a two-way force, big, strong, good defensively, probably the best player most hockey fans have never heard of – or much about.
Calder Memorial Trophy (“to the player selected as most proficient in his first year of competition”)
Winner: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers. Runners-up: Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche; Adam Henrique, New Jersey Devils.
Landeskog may be considered the favourite here because often voters like a candidate that finishes strongly (how Corey Perry overhauled Daniel Sedin, the most recent case in point). Landeskog is fun to watch too, carefully groomed by Colorado, a player that started the year on the third line, playing mostly with Daniel Winnik, and has gradually worked his way up the depth chart to the point where he is having more of an impact than Matt Duchene, who is two years older. But Nugent-Hopkins was far-and-away at the head of the rookie class for the first half of the season; missed some time with injury; and still tied for the lead in points with 52, despite playing 20 fewer games than Landeskog. That should count for something; he shouldn’t be penalized for being hurt. Henrique, who started the year in the minors, helped the Devils stay competitive through the early-season absence of Travis Zajac, but he is playing further down the depth chart now that Zajac is back.
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)