As the regular season comes to a close, it’s time to look at the candidates for the annual awards. Here’s a look at each of the NHL’s major trophies, along with our choice for each honor…
Hart Trophy: Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks
Runners-Up: Sidney Crosby (Penguins) and Martin Brodeur (Devils)
Going into this season, there was good reason to wonder whether this year’s Canucks were any better than last year’s Panthers. Improbably, they’ve instead emerged as one of the Western Conference’s best teams, this despite the fact that their best skater (Markus Naslund) has had a disappointing year and their second- and third-best skaters from last season (Ed Jovanovski and Todd Bertuzzi) are playing elsewhere.
And all that talk about the Sedins “coming into their own” is only partly true. It’s important to remember that their quality ice time has increased dramatically and they’ve still only managed to score 70 points each playing on the first line and first power play units. Last year, they were seventh and ninth on the Canucks in power play ice time per game, this year they’re second and third. And yet their overall production will only go up by about 5-10 points each.
Meanwhile, Crosby and Brodeur (the only legitimate competition for Luongo) have far better supporting casts than Luongo. Crosby’s team, if kept together for the next 10 years, should win the Stanley Cup multiple times. And Brodeur’s club has 10 members on it from the 2003 Cup-winner. Luongo’s team? A somewhat stripped down version of last year’s group that missed the playoffs. Two 30-goal scorers gone (Bertuzzi and Anson Carter), and only Jan Bulis and Taylor Pyatt taking their place? Luongo should be a shoe-in for the Hart.
Vezina Trophy: Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks
Runners-Up: Martin Brodeur (Devils) and Niklas Backstrom (Wild)
The arguments for Luongo over Brodeur in the Hart Trophy race also apply here. And as for Backstrom, although he does lead all NHL goaltenders in save percentage (.927) and goals-against average (2.05), he has started only 32 games for the Wild. Meanwhile, Luongo has been an absolute workhorse, starting 70 of the Canucks’ 76 games.
Norris Trophy: Nicklas Lidstrom (Detroit Red Wings)
Runners-up: Scott Niedermayer (Ducks) and Sheldon Souray (Canadiens)
The debate essentially comes down to Lidstrom or Niedermayer. Souray’s 24 goals are a nice story, but his minus-23 rating disqualifies him immediately. And because Lidstrom didn’t have Pronger playing with him for 60-odd games (and still has a plus-28 lead over Niedermayer), he gets the big edge in this race for the Norris.
Calder Trophy: Niklas Backstrom (Minnesota Wild)
Runners-up: Evgeni Malkin (Penguins) and Paul Stastny (Avalanche)
Though a strong case can be made for both Malkin and Stastny, both of whom have enjoyed stellar rookie seasons, no first-year player has made more of a critical impact than Backstrom. Marian Gaborik’s presence no doubt makes a huge difference for the Wild, who are 30-7-6 with him in the lineup. But the play of Backstrom is the primary reason why the Wild have surged to within one point of the Northwest Division-leading Canucks. He has gone 17-3-3 in his last 23 games, and should without question be the Wild’s starter when the playoffs begin.
Jack Adams Trophy: Alain Vigneault (Vancouver Canucks)
Runners-Up: Barry Trotz (Predators) and Guy Carbonneau (Canadiens)
Vigneault’s getting a mediocre Canucks team to do what’s needed so that Luongo can win on a regular basis, whereas the coaches in Florida failed miserably with similarly talented teams. Most every other playoff team is where they should be, though a fair argument could certainly be made for Trotz in Nashville (my sentimental favorite), Therien in Pittsburgh, and Julien in New Jersey. But the arguments for Luongo also apply here, especially when comparing Vigneault against Trotz, who deserves so much more respect than he gets for the work he’s done for the Predators. Meanwhile, Carbonneau, burdened with quite likely the NHL’s toughest job, has handled the pressure extremely well, getting his team back into playoff position in the last two weeks despite facing no end of adversity.
Selke Trophy: Thomas Vanek (Buffalo Sabres)
Runners-Up: Sami Pahlsson (Ducks) and Jay Pandolfo (Devils)
Though he’s known primarily for his offensive exploits, Vanek has very few teammates with plus/minus ratings even half as good as his plus-40. Vanek’s play away from the puck has improved tremendously in his second season, and he’s become a player head coach Lindy Ruff can use in virtually any game situation. Out in Anaheim, the unheralded Sami Pahlsson is counted upon to neutralize the opposition’s top forward every night. And though his stats (even rating, 26 points) are nothing to write home about, he has without question been one of the Ducks’ most important contributors this season. And Pandolfo, a shutdown winger most comfortable alongside perennial Selke candidate John Madden, has somehow managed to spend only eight (!) minutes in the sin bin over the first 77 games, this despite his being called upon to match up against the likes of Jaromir Jagr on a nightly basis.