Wednesday, November 24, 2010

First Quarter Awards

I hate predictions in sports because it is one field where you really never know what is going to happen.  A great player could have an off year or a bad player could have a career year, bounces go every which way, and surprises (both good and bad) pop up all over the place.

That is why I refrain from making pre-season predictions.  I do, however, want to take a look at who I would give the awards to should the season end today.  The quarter pole mark of the season gives a large enough time frame to judge performance so far, so these are who I would give the NHL Awards to based on the first quarter of work this season.

Calder Trophy: Jeff Skinner, Carolina Hurricanes

The seventh overall pick in the 2010 Draft took the league by storm right from the beginning.  He currently leads all rookies in scoring with 16 points, 4 ahead of those tied for second at 12.  He is third on the Hurricanes in scoring, and he has found a knack for timely goals.  He is thoroughly outplaying fellow 2010 draftees who were supposed to be more offensively potent than him; players like Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin.  People didn’t have high expectations for him in the beginning, but as the Hurricanes turn over from an old guard to a new, Skinner will be a big part of that rebuilding.  No rookie has had as big an impact on their team, and with no rookie outscoring him, he is the front-runner for the Calder so far this season.

Runner up: Michal Neuvirth, Washington Capitals

Norris Trophy: Mike Green, Washington Capitals

Before all of the “homer” accusations start flying, take a look at Green’s stats so far this year.  In 19 games this season, Green has scored 5 goals and 13 points, putting him on a 21-goal, 54-point pace for the season.  The 21 goals would surpass his total last year, even if the 54 points would be somewhat underwhelming from his previous two 70-point seasons.  What puts Green over the edge for the Norris this year is his strong defensive play.  He is currently a plus-6 playing in a shutdown role with defensive partner Jeff Schultz.  He has played considerably more time on the penalty kill and has been matched up against teams’ top lines.  Despite this, he is still on pace for a plus-25 season and is still producing offensively.  He has even added fighting to his repertoire with two bouts against Ilya Kovalchuk and Brandon Dubinsky.  The definition for the award is “best all-around at the position”, and Mike Green has developed into just that.

Runner Up: Niklas Lindstrom, Detroit Red Wings

Hart Trophy: Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightening

I know what you all are thinking; I’m just picking him because he is leading the league in goals and points. While that is true, that’s not why I’m picking him.  I’m picking him because the rise of the Tampa Bay Lightening is directly correlated with his development.  The team began to turn things around last season once Stamkos found his game.  The year before? Well then they finished the season low enough to win the 2009 2nd overall pick.  Stamkos is the single most dominant power play player in the league, and even though he does the same thing every time for the last two years, penalty kill units have been unable to stop him.  Bottom line: the Lightening are not where they are now without him.  His presence on the team has been more important than any other player’s presence on any other team, and that it what makes him MVP.

Runner Up: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

Vezina Trophy: Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins

I am not a big proponent of statistics.  I believe numbers lie more than people, and they don’t tell the whole story.  However, Thomas’ numbers are impossible to ignore.  He truly has been playing up to his 2009 Vezina winning form, leading the NHL in GAA (1.49), save percentage (.954), and is tied for the league lead in shutouts (4).  He has carried the often offensively-challenged Bruins to 11 wins.  Thomas stole his starting job back from Tuukka Rask, who stole it from Thomas last year when Thomas struggled out of the gate.  Thomas has returned to his form from 08-09, and there that earns him the Vezina so far this season.

Runner Up: Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings

Jack Adams: Davis Payne, St Louis Blues

This is partly for his work last year, but when Payne took over on January 2 of this year, the Blues had only 40 points through 40 games.  They would go on to finish 4th in the tough Central Division, but the culture around the team began to change.  This season, the Blues started off on a tear before cooling off a little.  However, even after the “cool off”, his team still sits 3 points out of first in the division and is looking at the fifth seed in the Western Conference.  With the addition of Jaroslav Halak and the maturation of the Blues’ young stars such as TJ Oshie, Patrik Berglund, and David Perron, Payne has developed a team with a strong work ethic and enough skill to out-fire the top teams in the league.  Their turnaround is impressive, Payne has them winning in a way that doesn’t give any sign of letting up.

Runner Up: Being that I can think of at least 4 coaches who will be fired by the end of the season, I don’t have a runner-up.

Who are your picks?

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