Winner: Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers. Runners-up: Brian Campbell, Florida Panthers; Jordan Eberle, Edmonton Oilers.
Is Giroux’s candidacy spoiled because of one major? It shouldn’t be. He was, in many people’s minds, the first half MVP, and has maintained a high standard of play, despite missing time with a concussion. Not since Red Kelly in the 1960s has a defenceman won the Byng and though Nicklas Lidstrom is a strong candidate every season, voters just cannot bring usually bring themselves to select a defenceman. But Campbell leads the league in minutes played and has just three minors this season, an extraordinarily difficult thing for a defenceman to do. Eberle, meanwhile, has flirted with the top-10 all year, despite being the only player in the top 30 in scoring to play fewer than 18 minutes per night. And he has just four minors to show for the season.
Frank J. Selke Trophy (“to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game”)
Winner: David Backes, St. Louis Blues. Runners-up: Patrice Bergeron (Boston Bruins), Ryan Callahan (New York Rangers).
Usually, the award that splits the vote across more players than any other, Backes looks like he’ll clobber the field this time around, the best defensive forward on the best defensive team in the league, a player who can play it any number of ways – tough, skilled, good in the face-off circle, a good penalty-killer, a favourite of defensively conscious coach Ken Hitchcock for all the obvious reasons. Bergeron had another quality season for the Bruins, but weren’t quite as consistent defensively this year as last, when Tim Thomas won the Vezina. And Callahan is the heart-and-soul leader of a Rangers’ team that has bought into John Tortorella’s manically sound defensive system in a big, meaningful way.
Vezina Trophy (“to the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at his position)
Winner: Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers. Runners-up: Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings; Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators.
Let’s start with who doesn’t make the cut – the top goaltending pair in the league, St. Louis’s Jaroslav Halak and Brian Eliott; the Penguins’ Marc-Andre Fleury (second in wins at 42); and the Coyotes’ Mike Smith, who has done an admirable job of replacing Ilya Bryzgalov. Lundqvist and Quick are the only two defined starters, with 60 or more appearances, who’ve kept their goals-against averages under 2.00 – microscopic numbers reminiscent of the dead-puck age. The Kings have been at the bottom of the NHL heap in terms of goal-scoring for most of the season, but Quick’s 10 shutouts, establishing a franchise record held for the past 35 years by Rogie Vachon, has them in contention for top spot in the Pacific. But Lundqvist has been all things to a New York team that relies on a young, inexperience, mostly no-name defence corps in front of him. Lundqvist has won 30 or more games for each of the seven years he’s been in the NHL, and never finished in the top two in Vezina voting. GMs can remedy that oversight this year.
Jack Adams Award (“to the NHL coach adjudged to have contributed the most to his team’s success.”)
Winner: Ken Hitchcock, St. Louis Blues. Runners-up: Dan Bylsma, Pittsburgh Penguins; Paul MacLean (Ottawa Senators).
First, some shout-outs to other viable candidates, beginning with Barry Trotz in Nashville, who despite having the youngest team in the NHL (and one of the lowest payrolls), perennially gets the Predators nicely into the playoff mix. Dallas’s rookie coach Glen Gulutzan did a nice job of keeping the rebuilding Stars in the race right up until the bitter end; while his counterpart with the Florida Panthers, Kevin Dineen, got the rebuilt Florida Panthers into the playoffs for the first time in forever. Nor should combative John Tortorella’s work with the Rangers be overlooked; or Peter Laviolette’s ability to steer the new-look Flyers safely into the playoff waters, despite off-season changes and the loss of key personnel such as Chris Pronger. All did great jobs. But it is hard to overlook MacLean’s work with the Senators, a team some thought might bring up the basement in the Eastern Conference, but qualified for the playoffs instead. Bylsma oversaw a Penguins’ team that challenged for first overall, despite the Crosby distraction, the Letang and Stall injuries, even Malkin’s absence for nine games. But Hitchcock took over a Blues’ team that was 6-7 and out of the playoffs and turned them into a team that was in contention for the President’s Trophy by season’s end, with a platoon in goal and his own share of concussed players (Alex Steen, David Perron, Andy McDonald). That a team few predicted would even make the playoffs may end up with the best regular-season record in the NHL will be hard for the broadcasters to overlook.