Our writers' Stanley Cup and award picks for 2006-07
Posted: Wednesday October 4, 2006 12:43PM; Updated: Thursday October 5, 2006 5:23PM
The winner of the Stanley Cup will be ...
Defense may not win Cups in the go-go NHL, but you won't go far without it. From the blue line back, the Flames are stacked like nobody else. A woeful offense nixed their Cup dream last season, but the arrival of Alex Tanguay and maturation of Matthew Lombardi and Chuck Kobasew provide just enough to edge the Ducks in the Western finals. The fast, hungry Senators should break through, giving the NHL its first All-Canadian Cup finals since 1989.
It's a retro final harkening back to '89, when the Flames won their only Cup. Alex Tanguay provides enough oomph on offense to make the stout defense and stellar goaltending prevail. Montreal comes up short after a surprising season reminiscent of the 2005-06 Sabres with young Alex Perezhogin and Tomas Plekanec taking a big leap forward, and every move working as they did for Carolina, with Sergei Samsonov as Cory Stillman and Cristobal Huet conjuring Martin Gerber.
Assuming the goaltending holds (GM Brian Burke will not hesitate to fix it midseason if it's shaky), the Ducks have the studs on defense in Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger and a burgeoning group of young forwards (Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Penner, Dustin Penner) to capture their first Cup. But don't forget Ottawa. Throw out his first two playoff games last season, and Martin Gerber might be the answer to the Sens' problems in goal.
Alex Tanguay will help the NHL's best defensive team get stronger offensively. Jarome Iginla should be more comfortable with Darryl Sutter breathing down his neck less frequently from the GM perch. Don't forget that the Rangers sat atop the Atlantic for most of last season before their meltdown. The addition of veterans Brendan Shanahan, Aaron Ward and Matt Cullen, all Cup winners, should prevent another.
The Ducks are the trendy pick. But in spite of losing J.P. Dumont and Jay McKee and questions surrounding Tim Connolly, Buffalo still has three potent scoring lines. Couple that with the fact that Ryan Miller will soon take Martin Brodeur's seat as the top Eastern netminder, and you have the ingredients for a Cup. Sabres beat the Ducks in six.
Art Ross Trophy
Joe Thornton Remember the groove he got into? From Feb. 1 through the end of last season, a span of 33 contests, he finally discovered his inner Gretzky (57 points, 18 multipoint games). Add an emerging threat at left wing (Mark Bell) to reigning Richard Trophy-holder Jonathan Cheechoo on his line and Thornton is set to repeat.
Jason Spezza He stays healthy, amasses an NHL-best 28-106-134 point total and becomes the first 100-assist man since Wayne Gretzky hit the century mark in helpers in 1991-92 (122). Spezza benefits from having Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson as linemates and the trio continues to light it up on the power play.
Ilya Kovalchuk Give this man an erstwhile illegal stick and watch him go to town. If center Bobby Holik's skates aren't stuck in cement, Kovalchuk, playing with Marian Hossa, should light it up. If Washington's Alexander Ovechkin had better linemates, and the Caps a better power play, he would win it going away.
Dany Heatley The shifty line of Alfredsson, Spezza and Heatley will lead the NHL in holding penalties drawn. Heatley benefits from playing with two of the few forwards in the NHL who can keep up with him and match his creativity. Don't overlook Jaromir Jagr, skating with Brendan Shanahan on New York's power play. Ovechkin's poor supporting cast in Washington may keep him from winning the Hart or the Ross, but he might still lead the NHL in goals, so we'll award him Most Fun to Watch.
Sidney Crosby Last season's 102-point output was impressive, but he can/will only get better. Just think what his production might be if Evgeni Malkin is on his line from time to time. Mind-boggling. It'll be hard to hold off JThornton, Jagr and Heatley, but Sid the Kid is up for the challenge.
Alexander Ovechkin All things being equal, he should have been a finalist, at the least, as a rookie. With the freshman stigma gone, the hockey writers will be hard-pressed to overlook him. He'll lead the NHL in goals and highlights even if the Caps are out of it by the All-Star break.
Alexander Ovechkin He tops his fabulous rookie campaign with a sensational sophomore season, leaving voters no choice but to acknowledge his larger-than-life contribution to the outmanned Caps. His joy and consistency win everyone over. After all, if A-Rod could win an MVP while toiling for a terrible team in Texas, why not Ovechkin in D.C.?
Scott Niedermayer After a two-month adjustment period last season, Niedermayer was the NHL's dominant skater (with apologies to Thornton and Jagr). With Pronger easing some pressure, look for Niedermayer to continue his elite play.
Miikka Kiprusoff How can a goalie be the MVP in an era of heightened offense? Because Calgary still wins while thinking defense first, and that starts with Kiprusoff. Favorable system aside, he goes post-to-post the way a young Mike Richter used to, and his glove hand is quicker.
Dany Heatley Heater has taken full advantage of his new start in Ottawa and will take his game to the next level. What works against him is the fact that he has very talented teammates (Alfredsson, Spezza) who may steal some votes. Of course, Thornton had Patrick Marleau and Jonathan Cheechoo last season.
Scott Niedermayer With all due respect to Nick Lidstrom, Niedermayer was the game's best defender last season, but too few people saw him working his silky smooth magic in Anaheim. With Pronger riding shotgun and the Ducks pegged as legitimate Cup contenders, his superlative play won't fly under the radar again.
Zdeno Chara Chara's impact on the Bruins' blue line is substantial enough to warrant serious Hart consideration. He'll "settle" for the Norris as Pronger and Niedermayer split the vote and Lidstrom and Sergei Zubov have down years offensively.
Scott Niedermayer See my Hart Trophy pick. The presence of Pronger just makes it easier for the NHL's best-skating defenseman, a veteran who can dominate play with his legs as well as his brain.
Scott Niedermayer For years, Niedermayer wore a straitjacket in the Devils' system and skated on a Swiss-cheese rink. Give him Western ice, a team that wants him to fly when the mood strikes and Pronger to watch his back, and you'll see the great player he could have become five years ago. If he and Pronger play together for most of the season, they could put up plus-minus numbers like Mark Howe and Brad McCrimmon once did in Philadelphia.
Scott Niedermayer With Pronger in the mix, Niedermayer may build on last season's 63 points and 96 PIMs -- both career highs. He's 33 but seems to be getting better while finding a niche in Anaheim. Besides, who better to wrestle the award away from Lidstrom, who has won it four of the last five years?
Miikka Kiprusoff This is an individual trophy in name only, because in reality, the perception of a goalie's value is colored by the efforts of those who play in front of him. The heroics of Kiprusoff, already a superlative puck-stopper, will be polished to a bright sheen by the sturdy Flames defense.
Miikka Kiprusoff I agree with Monsieur Farber about Kiprusoff's team and puck-stopping skills. What makes Kiprusoff extraordinary is his footwork as it relates to lateral crease coverage. He is the best.
Miikka Kiprusoff Kiprusoff benefits (as does Martin Brodeur) from a team committed to defense, but he is also an extraordinary puck-stopper. If GM Darryl Sutter made dubious decisions about forwards last season, remember that he has locked up Kiprusoff, Robyn Regehr and Dion Phaneuf -- a superb defensive triumverate -- for a little more than $6 million.
Miikka Kiprusoff See my Hart Trophy pick.
Ryan Miller With a mobile, skilled defense and the No. 1 job all his, Miller will shine even brighter than last season (30-14 and 2.60 GAA). The 26-year-old, one of the best at making solid reads and controlling rebounds, made a name for himself in the postseason. And it never hurts to have an explosive offense working for you.
Mike Fisher No one wins this overnight. It takes years of establishing your rep for throwing a wet blanket on opposing forwards, and NHL-wide exposure from playing on a top-flight team like the Sens. Ultimately, it takes at least 20 goals, because the best defense (as far as Selke voters are concerned) is a good offense. Fisher is eminently worthy of the recognition.
John Madden Madden wins for the third time due to his increased shorthanded production. He flourishes under new coach Claude Julien and returns to being a solid plus-player.
Mike Fisher He's a superb two-way player, but his offense will earn this award, which has lost its way since the early days, when it was handed to true defensive forwards such as Bob Gainey and Guy Carbonneau. Fisher had 22 goals last season, three more than No. 1 center Jason Spezza. He could hit 30 in 2006-07.
Jay Pandolfo Voters may give it to linemate Madden because of his rep and shorthanded goals, but Madden lets his check escape too often when he's looking to counter-attack. Pandolfo won't put up the offensive numbers, a shortcoming that has cost many worthy candidates (see: Jan Erixon) consideration, but he takes fewer unnecessary chances, and that glue on Jagr's skates is actually Pandolfo's jersey.
Jere Lehtinen The Stars need the 33-year-old to again come up big. Lehtinen, who won the award in 2003, had 33 goals and 52 points last season. The scoring was nice, but Dallas needs the Finn to be more defense-minded if it expects to make the playoffs.
Evgeni Malkin If he'd emerged in last season's bumper rookie crop, the sublimely gifted Malkin would have stood shoulder to shoulder with Crosby and Ovechkin. His competition is talented (Phil Kessel and Hannu Toivonen in Boston, Patrick O'Sullivan in L.A., Matt Carle in San Jose) but it won't be close. Barring further injury -- the start of his season will be delayed by his nicked shoulder -- this award is Smooth Jimmy Apollo's Lock of the Year.
Patrick O'Sullivan If Malkin misses too much time, it will allow other fine rookies -- Alexander Radulov (Nashville), Guillaume Latendresse (Montreal), pivots Anze Kopitar and Patrick O'Sullivan (L.A.) -- to garner accolades they otherwise wouldn't. O'Sullivan ends up with the award by going 24-27-51, thanks to plenty of ice time and power-play duty.
Evgeni Malkin If Malkin's shoulder injury isn't too debilitating, this should be a lock. He hasn't been dominant in big games internationally as a junior or Olympian, but the Pens aren't going to play big games. The voters will look at the numbers, and the big, silky Beliveau-esque center should have plenty. Wait until he develops that Nicole Richie body.
Evgeni Malkin There are questions about his shoulder, but he is simply the most talented newcomer by a mile. Look for him and Crosby to give the Pens a devastating power play, and don't be surprised if the plan to have them center different lines gets fudged when the Pens play a lot of third-period catch-up.
Gilbert Brule Malkin is getting much of the pub -- with good reason. But Brule, 19, the sixth pick in 2005, hasn't had a chance to show what he can do. Injuries ruined his 2005-06, limiting him to seven games after he made the Jackets out of camp. Look for big things. His strong, aggressive game will be helped by a strong cast (Rick Nash, Anson Carter, Fredrik Modin, David Vyborny).