NHL news and notes (cont.)
Jamming The Crease
With the regular season wrapping up this weekend, I thought this might be the ideal time to offer up my selections for this year's award winners.
HART TROPHY: Henrik Sedin
If this was simply the best player, you'd have to give it to Alex Ovechkin. And since some of the voters clearly blur the distinction best player and the player most valuable to his team, there's a very good chance that AO will skate away with the hardware. No problem in this corner if he does. Still, Sedin has been the player who best fit the definition, thanks in large part to the extended absence of his brother Daniel. Henrik not only helped the Canucks survive that loss, but elevated his game to a level that no one knew he had in him. He wasn't only elite, but it's impossible to imagine his team succeeding without him.
Runners-up: Ilya Bryzgalov, Alexander Ovechkin
VEZINA TROPHY: Ryan Miller
There's not much to separate Miller from Bryzgalov in terms of stats or impact, and the Olympics don't count, so I'm thinking this decision will swing in the favor of the Sabres' stopper by virtue of one factor: intimidation. As well as Bryzgalov played, he doesn't (yet) carry the one-game-winner-takes-all aura that defines Miller's game. Tuukka Rask didn't get in enough games to be a serious contender, but he laid the groundwork for a legitimate run next season. He's the real deal.
Runners-up: Ilya Bryzgalov, Tuukka Rask
CALDER TROPHY: Jimmy Howard
Matt Duchene looks to be a worthy successor to Joe Sakic's legacy in Colorado. Tyler Myers defied all expectations by not only stepping right into the Sabres lineup, but smashing the stereotype of the lengthy learning curve for defenders. It wouldn't be a surprise to see the agile behemoth in the running for the Norris Trophy next season. Still, I give the Calder to Howard for essentially coming out of nowhere to salvage the season for the injury-ravaged Red Wings. Just compare his numbers (2.31 GAA and .923 save percentage) to those that Chris Osgood (3.01, .887) put up last season playing behind a healthier group and you realize just how big an impact Howard has made on this franchise.
Runners-up: Tyler Myers, Matt Duchene
NORRIS TROPHY: Drew Doughty
This one might be the toughest to call. Mike Green led all defensemen in scoring for the second consecutive year and matured into a more reliable presence in his own zone. Duncan Keith, always dependable defensively, is on the verge of a 70-point season and proved to be Chicago's best player all season long. For my money, though, this has been Doughty's year. The MVP of the playoff-bound Kings (doesn't that take some getting used to?), he's simply the game's best general at both ends of the ice and adds a physical element that neither of the top contenders can match.
Runners-up: Duncan Keith, Mike Green
JACK ADAMS AWARD: Dave Tippett
When he was released by the Stars last summer, I wrote that some team would snatch him quickly and be very glad that they did. Hey, even I get one right now and then. Tippett walked into a nearly hopeless situation in Phoenix, joining a team during training camp that was embroiled in off-ice turmoil and managed to convince a bunch of pluggers that they could compete with the best in the league if only they'd adhere to his system. What followed was maybe the best coaching performance of the last decade, overshadowing another stalwart effort by Barry Trotz (maybe the league can add a career achievement award like they have at the Oscars) and some equally crafty work from Joe Sacco, who led a team most of us picked to finish last in the conference into an unlikely playoff berth.
Runners-up: Barry Trotz, Joe Sacco
LADY BYNG TROPHY: Martin St. Louis
A runner-up each of the past three seasons, St. Louis may be the closest thing to a sure bet this award season. With 92 points, he's on pace for a top-five finish in the scoring race and his second-best season ever, production-wise. He's also taken just six minors while playing a solid defensive game. He's due. Brad Richards can make nearly as good a case with his season, but St. Louis carries a sentimental edge.
Runners-up: Brad Richards, Pavel Datsyuk
SELKE TROPHY: Pavel Datsyuk
Not to get too caught up in stats, but Datsyuk has one that defines his excellence with his league-leading 125 takeaways. Ryan Kesler is second with 84, essentially one-third less. If just watching Datsyuk in action didn't convince you, that number should.
Runners-up: Ryan Kesler, Patrice Bergeron
Oil's well for the lottery...
With their last-place finish long locked up, it really doesn't matter much what the Edmonton Oilers do in their final two games against the Kings and the Ducks this weekend. But if they can eke out one more win on Tuesday, this season won't have been a complete loss.
Of course, their season will be over by that point, but the lottery to determine selection order at the entry draft looms. And that's one the Oilers really don't want to lose.
While the odds of retaining the first-overall pick are certainly in their favor -- a 25 percent chance to win it outright and a 48.2 percent chance in total -- there are no guarantees (try this simulator). In fact, since the lottery was put in place in 1995 to prevent tank jobs like the one Pittsburgh not so discretely pulled back in 1984 to secure the services of Mario Lemieux, there have been several instances of the bad luck continuing for the last-place squad. In the last decade alone, it's happened four times, more than enough to make Oilers fans sweat just a little.
In 2000, the 26th-place Islanders bucked the longest odds to move all the way from fifth to first overall. Not that it helped. They took Rick DiPietro instead of Marian Gaborik or Dany Heatley. In 2001, the Thrashers leapt from third to first and secured Ilya Kovalchuk.
Imagine the Capitals if they hadn't won the lottery in 2004? If they'd stayed in the third spot, they likely would have grabbed Cam Barker. Alexander Ovechkin would be wearing the black-and-gold of the Pittsburgh Penguins. And in 2007, the Flyers were all set to draft Patrick Kane before the luck of the draw sent the first overall pick to the Blackhawks.
The Oilers can't drop any lower than second, so it seems like they'll come up with an elite prospect no matter what. Much like in 2004 when Evgeni Malkin turned out to be a decent consolation prize, Edmonton can do no worse than the leftovers of either Tyler Seguin or Taylor Hall. But the team clearly has a reason to want to control their destiny.
Considering that their top prospects, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, are both wingers, a center like Seguin would fit their most compelling need and would likely be their choice if they win the lottery. But Hall, a dynamic scoring winger who offers the speed and competitive fire of former Oiler Glenn Anderson, wouldn't be too hard to swallow. Of course, if they win and feel the team with the second pick is desperate for Hall, maybe they trade down and add an asset along with their choice of players.
Whatever happens, it'll be compelling viewing and offer a bit of hope for a team that clearly needs some.
NHL Truth & Rumors