Calder Memorial Trophy ("to the player selected as the most proficient in his first season in the NHL"): Tyler Myers, Buffalo Sabres. Runners-up: Matt Duchene, Colorado Avalanche; Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings.
An apples-to-oranges-to-peaches competition between a defenceman, a forward and a goaltender of varying ages and experiences. Howard helped to save the Red Wings' season, given that they chose not to re-sign Ty Conklin because they thought Chris Osgood would have a bounce-back season. When Osgood faltered again and stuck right up against the salary cap in a year when injuries decimated their team early, the Red Wings had little choice than to turn to Howard, who barely meets the age criteria for the award (since the 1990-91 season, a player is disqualified from Calder contention if he has celebrated his 26th birthday by Sept. 15 of the year in which he is eligible. Howard played three college seasons for the University of Maine and then four in the minors for AHL Grand Rapids. He is 26 now, having celebrated his birthday in March and is old enough to be - well not Duchene's father exactly, but his older brother for sure (the Colorado rookie was born almost seven years later, in January, 1991). Howard had exactly one NHL victory in nine appearances up until this season; this year, he has 35 wins, and is among the statistical leaders in GAA (2.31) and save percentage (.923). Duchene, meanwhile, overcame a slow first month in which his Colorado teammate Ryan O'Reilly received much of the attention to overtake No. 1 draft choice John Tavares for the overall rookie scoring lead. In a year when the Avalanche needed to replace the immortal Joe Sakic, Duchene gave every indication that he will be their leading man for years to come. For all that, what Myers has accomplished as a defenceman for the Sabres trumps them both. He is playing six minutes more, on average, than virtually every other top rookie candidate and looks as if he has the size (6-7, 204) and skill set to be this generation's Pronger. An exceptional breakthrough season for a player didn't celebrate his 20th birthday until February at a position - defence - that usually takes years to master.
Jack Adams award ("to the NHL coach adjudged to have contributed the most to his team's success): Dave Tippett, Phoenix Coyotes. Runners-up: Joe Sacco, Colorado Avalanche; Barry Trotz, Nashville Predators.
There are lots of possibilities for honorable mentions too, including Bruce Boudreau in Washington, who did an exceptional job of keeping all the Capitals' different pieces functioning through injury, illness and potential goalie controversies. Trotz remains the greatly underappreciated one-and-only coach in Predators' history, who keeps a team competitive despite limited talent and budget. Sacco performed a near miracle in Colorado, taking a team that pulled up the rear in the Western Conference last season and then lost its best player, Sakic to retirement and dumped its co-leading scorer, Ryan Smyth, for salary-cap reasons. There was no good reason to think Colorado would be anything but in the early stages of a painful rebuilding process. Instead, and thanks greatly to the work of goaltender Craig Anderson, the team got off to a fast start and then maintained a high level of play throughout the year. Colorado is already 25 points better than last season, with two games remaining, an exceptional year-over-year improvement with not a lot of appreciable, identifiable front-line NHL talent. For all that, Tippett's work with Phoenix - joining the team midway through camp and then navigating through all the off-ice issues relating to their ownership problems - represents one of the finest start-to-finish coaching jobs in league history. Phoenix won its 50th game of the season Thursday night; will establish a franchise record for points; and will host a home-playoff series in the far superior Western Conference - all this with a team made up largely of castoffs, players unwanted by other more well-heeled NHL teams. In the 30th anniversary year of the U.S. Olympic win in Lake Placid, you could legitimately channel Al Michaels by asking of the improvements made in the Arizona desert: Do you believe in miracles?