Handicapping the NHL Awards
On Thursday evening (7 p.m. eastern, VERSUS), the NHL will hold its annual awards gala, as the game's top players gather in Las Vegas to look back and acknowledge the best of the best for the 2008-09 season. Coming off
Three Russian-born and trained players vying for the league's MVP honor give this category an intriguing twist. Malkin was magnificent in leading the NHL in scoring. Ovechkin was dynamic in lighting the lamp 56 times -- the only 50-goal scorer in the league this year. The wonderfully gifted Datsyuk showed his commitment with and without the puck by placing fourth in the league in scoring while also having the best road plus/minus rating, finishing third overall.
This is an interesting category in that if I ask myself who is better than Lidstrom, the NHL's reigning Norris-winner, my only answer is the Lidstrom of seasons past. Not that he faltered in 2008-09, but he did get off to a slower start than usual, yet still finished the second half in top form. He may suffer from comparison to his own past standards, opening the door for Chara to win his first Norris. Chara will benefit from being on a Boston Bruins team that had such a strong campaign. Meanwhile, Green's game is about skating and offense and to that end, he had a marvelous season.
Backstrom (37-24-8) played much of the season with hip pain (he needed surgery in April) and ranked third in goals-against (2.33), but the Wild failed to qualify for the playoffs. Mason was sensational as the Blue Jackets reached the postseason for the first time in their history, but only four rookies have won this award, the last being
This award is hard to peg. Is the priority a top scorer who is also defensively responsible -- like Datsyuk, the 2008 recipient? Or should more weight be given to an all-purpose performer like Richards, who led the NHL with seven-shorthanded goals, one of which came in a two-man down situation? Then you have a case like Kesler, a heart-and-soul type of player whose offense rose to match his work without the puck. What's the preference when measuring effectiveness? Tough call.
Versteeg raced out early with first-year offense (22 goals, 31 assists) for the Chicago Blackhawks that got everyone's attention. Mason took over the starting goaltending job in Columbus in November and led the league with 10 shutouts -- the first rookie to do so since
Julien and McLellan led their respective teams to the top of the league, with Julien's Bruins finishing atop the Eastern Conference and McLellan's Sharks winning the Presidents' Trophy. As impressive as their seasons were, nothing compares to the turnaround by Murray and the St. Louis Blues.
With a mostly young and developing roster and a lineup riddled by key injuries to stars like captain
No matter who ends up with the hardware, congratulations to all on making the 2008-09 season a memorable one.