Every year, it seems, the NHL awards race gets closer and more interesting and 2009-10 will prove to be no exception, with no-sure-thing battles for all of the league's major hardware in every category - from the Hart for MVP to the underappreciated Lady Byng for sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct.
Members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association vote for five of the major awards; the broadcasters get to pick the Jack Adams for coach of the year and NHL general managers cast their ballots for the Vezina, awarded to the NHL's top goalies.
Once upon a time, the league distributed the coolest-looking paper ballots and there was something magical about filling them in and then signing them to make them official. Now, it's all done by e-mail. Ballots generally drop into your in-box this weekend and need to be completed between the close of play Sunday and the beginning of the playoffs next Wednesday.
So without any further adieu, the envelopes please:
Hart ("to the player adjudged to be most valuable to his team"): Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks. Runners-up: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins; Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals.
As always, the wording of the Hart trophy is critical. It doesn't necessarily go to the best player - that would be Ovechkin again, hands down - but to the player that a team cannot live without and prosper at the same level they usually do. Sadly for Ovechkin, the two-time winner of this award, Washington's development into a genuine powerhouse will undermine his candidacy. Because of injuries and suspensions, he missed a total of 10 games this season, but the club hardly registered his absence at all, managing a 7-2-1 record, which essentially matches their winning percentage with him in the line-up. Ovechkin is the best player on the best team and thus will garner lots of support on that basis alone. The Penguins relied far more heavily on Crosby this season, given how Evgeni Malkin struggled at different times with his form; as did Sergei Gonchar, their best blue liner and Marc-Andre Fleury, their goaltender. Crosby was a reliable fixture on a team where the rest of the talent had substandard years and the supporting cast was just that a supporting cast. Even as good as Crosby was, it is hard to imagine him being as valuable to Pittsburgh as Sedin was in Vancouver. Sedin kept the Canucks afloat during all the adversity that team faced - from the absence of his twin brother Daniel during a 16-game injury to the record pre- and post-Olympic road trip. Up until this season, Sedin was known as a durable and reliable performer, who'd grudgingly and gradually earned his stripes as a top-tier player. Nothing that he'd done in his past, however, suggested he could challenge the big boys - that is, until he did.
Norris ("to the defence player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-around ability in the position"): Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks. Runners-up: Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings; Mike Green, Washington Capitals.
A major changing of the guard here at a position dominated by the likes of Nicklas Lidstrom, Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger and Zdeno Chara for most of the last decade. All of the aforementioned three youngsters have had exceptional seasons; and there isn't much to choose from among them. For the second consecutive season, Green will lead all NHL defencemen in scoring after posting back-to-back 70-point seasons. He leads all defencemen in all the major statistical categories - goals, assists, points, power-play points and is second to his defence partner Jeff Schultz in the plus-minus rating - and at plus-35, has quieted most of the critics who say he cannot play in his own end. Doughty followed up an exceptional rookie season with even a stronger sophomore campaign and with apologies to Anze Kopitar or Jonathan Quick, is the primary reason why the Kings are in the playoffs for the first time in seven years. A dynamic two-way presence on the ice, Doughty's skill said is comparable to that of Ray Bourque's - and if his development continues on this curve, he could be the dominant defenceman of his generation. However, Keith added the one necessary dimension - an offensive bent - to what had been for a couple of years now a complete skill set. He plays the most minutes of any defenceman in the top-10 in scoring (26:38 per night) and is the primary reason the Blackhawks, despite their on-going issues in goal, remain one of the top defensive teams in the league. The Olympics were his coming out party, but his reliability over an 82-game period will ultimately get him the Norris.