Happy April Fools' Day, the time you try to convince your hockey-loving co-workers that the NHL has decided to widen the nets and that the Stanley Cup finals will be played entirely outdoors. With only two weeks left in the regular season, it is also time to consider our picks for the league's major awards. Our list includes deserving players as well as some who have looked, well, somewhat foolish.
The outlook on Crosby winning an award always come with the qualifier "if he's healthy." Well, he's been healthy. At the Sochi Olympics, he scored a terrific breakaway goal in the gold medal game -- no overtime heroics needed -- and he's on his way to another scoring title ... and his second MVP honor.
Anaheim's captain does almost everything, from hitting to scoring to leading by example. Consistently a very good player, he's having his best season for a team that has a chance to win the Stanley Cup, and stands second to Crosby with 83 points in the race for the Art Ross Trophy
Toronto opened its vault last summer to sign Clarkson to a seven-year contract at $5.25 million per season, and as the Maple Leafs try to pull out of an eight-game losing skid, they really should consider asking for a refund. The man who scored 30 goals in his last full season with the Devils, and 15 during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign, has just four in 54 games; only one since Dec. 21. Clarkson turned 30 the day before April Fools', but the joke has been on his team.
With a 34-14-5 record, Rask has the lowest goals-against average (2.02) and the highest save percentage (.933) of any goalie with at least 30 games played. Boston has an excellent, balanced team, but the recent winning streak -- and the march to a possible Presidents' Trophy -- would not have happened without Rask's fine play.
Where would Tampa Bay be without Bishop? The Bolts' turnaround from last season has been remarkable. If you compare his numbers (36-12-7; 2.18 GAA; .926 save pct.) with the best the Lighting had to offer last season -- Anders Lindback (10-10-1; 2.90; .902) -- Bishop must be in the Vezina conversation.
April Fools' pick: James Reimer, Maple Leafs
Let's be clear, here. This is not meant to be a dump-on-Reimer rant. He could still be a top flight NHL goalie, but he desperately needs to get out of Toronto and start fresh. He's on the fans' hit list for the Leafs' collapse in last season's playoffs, and while Jonathan Bernier was on the injury shelf this season, it didn't help matters when he gave up a bunch of softies during the club's free fall from the postseason picture.
The 18-year-old center has been as good as advertised during his debut campaign, leading all NHL rookies with 23 goals, including eight on the power play, and 56 points. Imagine what Colorado's improving team can look forward to as the kid from Halifax gets better.
Under the radar: Torey Krug, Bruins
Boston got a look at the stylish blueliner during last year's playoffs when he was pressed into service after injuries depleted the Bruins' defense corps. The 22-year-old has 14 goals and 37 points, but is especially adept on the power play, moving the puck quickly and making smart decisions before the opposition has time to react. That has allowed Boston to reduce, if just slightly, the minutes played by overworked captain Zdeno Chara.
April Fools' pick: Teemu Selanne, Ducks
Rather than pick on a struggling first-year player who still has time to turn his game around, let's acknowledge the man who is playing the game with the gusto and enthusiasm of a rookie -- all while making his farewell tour of the league. Just to watch the 43-year old at work during the Olympics in Sochi, where he helped Finland win the bronze medal while earning tournament MVP honors, gave you even greater appreciation for the NHL's ageless wonder.
He's gotten into the habit of winning in the NHL and at the Olympics, and he plays with diligence at both ends of the ice. The Senators' Erik Karlsson will easily finish with the most points of any backliner this season, but Keith excels in so many situations. For that reason alone, the defending Cup champs cannot be counted out.
Only the Predators' Ryan Suter sees the ice more often than Pietrangelo (32.1 minutes per game), and he's +23 on a team that's chasing the Presidents' Trophy because of its ability to shut down high-scoring lines. Few players have improved as consistently, and have been as good across the board, for a Cup contending team.
April Fools' pick: Alex Edler, Canucks
At times, Edler and his coach, John Tortorella, have been like oil and water. Edler has been parked at the end of the bench several times this season, not skating for a team that was supposed to be a contender. His -30 rating, the worst among NHL defensemen, has contributed to Vancouver's free fall.
Likely winner: Patrice Bergeron, Bruins
Sure Jonathan Toews and Pavel Datsyuk will get votes, but just look at the season Boston is having. Bergeron wins face-offs, hounds opposing scorers and comes through with big goals, as he did in last year's playoffs. He's a logical pick, and with his +36 rating, he's also a good one.
The lack of West Coast winners of this award has little to do with an aversion to defense in one conference. It is simply a matter of public attention for an award that requires years of good PR and paying dues in order to merit a selection. Kopitar is so good offensively that few people realize how well he performs in his own end of the ice.
April Fools' pick: Alex Ovechkin
Okay, once in a while, Alex, go as hard after a puck in your own end as you do in the other one. Among forwards, Ovi has a league-worst -34 rating. How can that happen to a man who was +45 as recently as 2009-10? He's scored 48 goals, so imagine just how defensively indifferent he's had to be in order to dig such a huge hole.
Lady Byng Trophy
Likely winner: Rob Scuderi, Penguins
How in the world does a defenseman play 23 shift per game for 46 games and not draw a penalty? Some would say that a 35-year old with 169 PIM on his NHL career resume simply isn't being aggressive enough, but Scuderi spent only four minutes in the box while with the Kings last season.
Under the Radar: Ryan O'Reilly, Avalanche
Forget for a second that O'Reilly has scored 26 goals, which, by itself, tells you how involved he is in every play. Here's his most remarkable numerical combination: he leads the NHL in takeaways with 76. That's a player who puts himself in position to take a penalty if a swipe of the stick goes wrong by even an inch or two. Yet O'Reilly has a drawn total of just two PIM for the entire season. That's Byng-worthy stuff.
April Fools' pick: James Neal, Penguins
Neal's indifference toward the safety of his opponents got so bad this season that former NHL referee Paul Stewart singled him out, telling HockeyBuzz: "James Neal is not my type of hockey player. He has been involved in multiple incidents, showing reckless disregard for his fellow players." Neal's three suspensions as well as his penchant for diving also did not escape Stewart's notice.
Likely winner: Patrick Roy, Avalanche
Roy did things the right way, taking his time coaching at other levels and turning down a chance to return to the NHL when he didn't feel he was ready. Granted, he's had some pretty good young talent to work with, but he's also led Colorado back to a place of prominence in his first season.
Under the radar: Mike Babcock, Red Wings
After all this time? Yes. For all Babcock did during Detroit's run of success, and during the Ducks' trip to the Cup finals in 2003, he has never been named coach of the year. But with the injuries in Detroit this season, he's kept the Wings in the hunt for their 23rd straight playoff appearance. That, alone, is Adams material.
April Fools' pick: John Tortorella, Canucks
Torts was brought in to get this team over the hump. Yes, Vancouver could win Presidents' trophies, but the Canucks needed a taskmaster to steel them for the rigors of the playoffs, when the hardware that really matters is at stake. So much for that idea. Tortorella's demanding approach had run its course in New York after five seasons. He needed just one to flop in Vancouver.
GM of the year
Likely winner: Peter Chiarelli, Bruins
Count the ways that this man has made the right moves in Boston. With young defensemen Torey Krug, Matt Bartkowski and Dougie Hamilton blossoming, Chiarelli made the tough call to let go of popular Andrew Ference. He went after Jarome Iginla anew and watched him fit in after Nathan Horton skipped town for mostly non-hockey reasons. The GM showed patience with improving Chris Kelly after the role-plying center had a poor 2013 season. He made the most of having to move Tyler Seguin to Dallas. And he found backup Chad Johnson, who has merely gone 17-3-1 for the Bruins this season. Well done.
Under the radar: Steve Yzerman, Lightning
Given Tampa Bay's improvement, this choice may not be much of a surprise, but Yzerman has actually been putting his club in position to make this run for a while. Though it may have been hard to let go of cornerstones Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis, the addition of Ryan Callahan has given the Bolts some chutzpah and net presence, and Yzerman had enough cap room to enable the deal with the Rangers that made his team younger and feistier. With Ben Bishop in net, Tampa Bay could be strong in some key positions for a while, and there was enough depth there so that when sniper Steven Stamkos went down with a broken leg, the club kept winning.
April Fools' pick: Garth Snow, Islanders
Hey, if you're wondering how to buy high and sell low, just check out Snow's manual under the heading of Thomas Vanek.