Screen Shots: Eastern Conference NMVPs - The Hockey News on Sports Illustrated

Screen Shots: Eastern Conference NMVPs

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The Hockey News

The Hockey News

Around this time of year, you hear lots of debate regarding which NHL player is most valuable to his team. But you never hear much about the players on each team who also would be missed mightily if they were employed elsewhere.

With that in mind, Screen Shots is happy to present the first (perhaps) annual NMVP – Next Most Valuable Player - Awards for each of the league’s 30 teams. (For the sake of space and scrolling, we’ll do the Eastern Conference this week and the West next Thursday, April 2.)

ATLANTA

MVP: Ilya Kovalchuk

NMVP Contenders: Todd White, Bryan Little, Tobias Enstrom

NMVP Winner: Bryan Little

Why? White is winding down a career year on offense, but that’s what should be expected when you play part of the season on the same line as Kovalchuk. Enstrom will be a mainstay on the Thrashers’ blueline for years to come – and his plus-6 rating on a defensively-deficient squad borders on miraculous – but without Little’s on-ice vision, creativity and 31 goals, Atlanta might have usurped the Islanders for the best shot at super-prospect John Tavares.

BOSTON

MVP: Zdeno Chara

NMVP Contenders: Tim Thomas, Marc Savard, David Krejci, Dennis Wideman

NMVP Winner: Tim Thomas

Why? Because Thomas, his .931 save percentage and 2.11 goals-against average (both league-bests) trumps Savard’s leadership and plus-24, Wideman’s smart defense and plus-32 and Krejci’s breakout season. That’s why.

BUFFALO

MVP: Thomas Vanek

NMVP Contenders: Ryan Miller, Jaroslav Spacek

NMVP Winner: Ryan Miller

Why? No Sabres defenseman eats up more minutes than Spacek, yet he also has the best plus-minus of any full-time Buffalo blueliner. However, after Miller was injured Feb. 21, the Sabres proceeded to lose nine of their next 13 games without him in net. If that’s not an indication of value to a team, I’m officially value-blind.

CAROLINA

MVP: Eric Staal

NMVP Contenders: Cam Ward, Ray Whitney, Erik Cole

NMVP Winner: Cam Ward

Why? Yes, Cole has 10 points in 11 games since Carolina GM Jim Rutherford repatriated him at the trade deadline – and the Canes have only lost three of 11 games with him in the lineup. And yes, Whitney’s offense has been crucial to this goal-challenged group. Still, nobody can deny Ward has been absolutely spectacular – especially during Carolina’s playoff push in March, where he’s gone 9-1-2 with a .935 save percentage.

FLORIDA

MVP: Tomas Vokoun

NMVP Contenders: David Booth, Stephen Weiss, Jay Bouwmeester

NMVP Winner: David Booth

Why? The Panthers might be lost without Weiss’ playmaking abilities and the major minutes Bouwmeester logs with maximum efficiency. But without Booth’s team-leading 26 goals – including a team-best nine goals on Florida’s wishy-washy power play – there’s no way this team is even on the periphery of the playoff race.

MONTREAL

MVP: Robert Lang

NMVP Contenders: Andrei Markov, ummm…

NMVP Winner: Andrei Markov

Why? Virtually the entire Canadiens roster has underachieved this season and the fact the Habs have lost all but nine of the 23 games they’ve played since Lang was injured makes him the easy pick as Montreal’s MVP. But who do you look at after that? Alex Kovalev? It is to laugh. The Kostitsyn Bros.? It is to wet one’s pants laughing. Therefore, Markov’s career-best 48 assists and 58 points (which ties his career mark for a single season) gives him the nod.

NEW JERSEY

MVP: Zach Parise

NMVP Contenders: Scott Clemmensen, Travis Zajac, Paul Martin

NMVP Winner: Scott Clemmensen

Why? Never before in the illustrious history of the NMVP award has it been bestowed upon a player currently riding buses in the American League. But, despite Martin’s steady hand on the Devils blueline and Zajac’s stellar offensive output, Clemmensen deserves all the accolades not given to the tremendously talented Parise – as well as a genuine shot with a different NHL team next season.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS

MVP: Mark Streit

NMVP Contenders: Doug Weight, Kyle Okposo

NMVP Winner: Kyle Okposo

Why? With all due respect to Weight and the experience he and the since-departed Bill Guerin brought to the Isles’ dressing room this year, Okposo represents the franchise’s brightest beam for a present and near-future that at best is semi-illuminated.

NEW YORK RANGERS

MVP: Henrik Lundqvist

NMVP Contenders: Nik Zherdev, Sean Avery

NMVP Winner: Sean Avery

Why? The Rangers have been one of the league’s most notorious Jekyll and Hyde teams this year and you could probably craft an argument as to why any player (other than the No. 1 goalie) on the Blueshirts’ roster doesn’t deserve the NMVP. By default, then, it has to go to the NHL’s biggest boogeyman. Besides, there’s not a small amount of irony in Avery getting an honor of being second, if you know what I mean. And I believe the smarter among you do.

OTTAWA

MVP: Daniel Alfredsson

NMVP Contenders: Brian Elliott, Filip Kuba

NMVP Winner: Filip Kuba

Why? I was quite tempted to rename this particular honor the NMVC (‘C’ for Coach) and instead award it to bench boss Cory Clouston in the Sens’ disastrous season. But the fact Kuba plays more minutes than any Sens skater and still is tied with Alfredsson for the best plus/minus (plus-10) on the team makes you understand why GM Bryan Murray signed the defenseman to a contract extension.

PHILADELPHIA

MVP: Mike Richards

NMVP Contenders: Jeff Carter, Simon Gagne, Kimmo Timonen

NMVP Winner: Kimmo Timonen

Why? The natural inclination is to give this NMVP to Carter, who has a team-leading 10 game-winning goals and 12 power play markers. Consideration also went to Gagne, who should be a frontrunner for the league’s best comeback player this year. That said, I’ve been a huge appreciator of Timonen’s many skills since he played in Nashville and he’s still one of the game’s most well-rounded and underappreciated blueliners.

PITTSBURGH

MVP: Evgeni Malkin

NMVP Contenders: Sidney Crosby, Sergei Gonchar

NMVP Winner: Sidney Crosby

Why? Hey, I’d love to try and tell you the Penguins’ struggles this year happened primarily because of the near season-long absence of Gonchar. But no matter how vociferous his haters happen to be, I can’t suggest No. 87 isn’t their NMVP. At least, not if someone placed me under oath.

TAMPA BAY

MVP: Martin St-Louis

NMVP Contenders: Vincent Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos

NMVP Winner: Steven Stamkos

Why? For as good as everyone knows Lecavalier is and will continue to be, the truth of the matter is he’ll likely finish this season with his lowest goal, assist and point totals in three years – and more importantly, he’s the odds-on favorite to be the best player traded this summer. Stamkos, on the other hand, got stronger as the Lightning’s circus of a season dragged on; he’ll be an integral part of any success this franchise has for the foreseeable future.

TORONTO

MVP: Ian White

NMVP Contenders: Alexei Ponikarovsky, Jason Blake, Luke Schenn

NMVP Winner: Luke Schenn

Why? Slim pickings here, huh? I feel pretty good about comparing White to a young Dan Boyle; it may have taken Toronto management the first month of the season to give the defenseman a chance, but he seized it with both hands and now averages more on-ice minutes than any other Maple Leafs skater. As for the NMVP – there’s only one untouchable on the roster and he brings home the prize.

WASHINGTON

MVP: Alex Ovechkin

NMVP Contenders: Mike Green, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin

NMVP Winner: Mike Green

Why? This NMVP race is the toughest one of all to decide. Semin would be a franchise player on any other team and Backstrom is fourth-best in the league – ahead of Joe Thornton – in assists this year. But can you think of another blueliner in the entire league who adds as much to his team’s attack as Green does for the Caps? Me neither.

Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.

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