Take the NHL's best player out of the lineup in Pittsburgh and you get, well, the NHL's best player. When Crosby is missing, Geno The Giant emerges. Not that Malkin isn't formidable at any time -- it's hard to overlook his Conn Smythe Trophy in 2009 -- but he can capture a moment and seize the team, as the NHL scoring leader did in the absence of Crosby, center Jordan Staal and defenseman Kris Letang. Fifty goals is a nice round number.
Fifty goals, nine of them game-winners, a league-leading 109 points despite injuries to a pretty talented teammate named Crosby. It all adds up to a well-deserved Hart for Geno, the first of his career. Despite lots of double-teaming, he led the league with 339 shots on goal and his average ice time of 21:01 minutes per game was more than most top forwards. To take nothing away from Steven Stamkos, who was brilliant while scoring 60 goals, Malkin had a great individual season, but also made his teammates better and inspired them. He's the clear choice.
Erik Karlsson has surpassed Washington's Alex Ovechkin as The Most Thrilling Player, which, alas, is not an official award. Karlsson is the player you should most want to watch -- think Mike Green in his salad days -- but he is not a defenseman who dominates at both ends of the ice. (Tough to give the Norris to a defenseman who barely plays on the penalty kill.) Weber and Zdeno Chara are, however, that kind of defenseman. The one to watch is Alex Pietrangelo, who, like Kris Letang, will win a Norris within the next few years.
This was a tough one. Very tough indeed. How do I choose Weber and not Ottawa's Erik Karlsson, who posted 78 points and was plus-16 for a playoff team? Because sometimes it's not all about stats. Because Weber is a guy I'd want on the ice defensively in the big moments. Weber plays against opposing top lines more than Karlsson does, and spends a lot more time on the penalty kill, playing hard minutes. (Weber averaged 2.16 minutes of PK time this season, to 33 seconds for Karlsson). Finally, Weber isn't so bad on the offensive end, either. Like Karlsson, he scored 19 goals. He just didn't have as many helpers.
If Nugent-Hopkins had been healthy the entire season, his numbers (18 goals, 34 assists), which rivaled Landeskog's (22, 30) in 20 fewer games, would easily have swung the award. And while Nugent-Hopkins should end up having a greater impact during his career, Landeskog made a seamless transition to the NHL, playing in all situations and leading Colorado in goals. The scouts who labeled Landeskog the most NHL-ready player in the 2011 draft nailed this one.
Nugent-Hopkins played 20 fewer games than Landeskog's 82 and still put up the same number of points (52). That's where the favorable comparisons end for Nugent-Hopkins. Landeskog scored more goals, more power-play goals, more game-winning goals, was plus-20 (leading all rookie forwards) compared to minus-2 for RNH, and had 219 hits to RNH's 38. Landeskog also led all rookies in takeaways (58). He was the best all-around player in a good rookie crop that included Matt Read, Carl Hagelin and Adam Henrique.
I hate how an award designed to honor the best defensive forward has lost its way. Through the years, it has metamorphosed from best defensive forward to best two-way player. (When Jay Pandolfo didn't win it in New Jersey, the origins of the Selke were lost forever.) But in fairness to PHWA voters, the shift has occurred, in part, because some of the leading offensive forwards also excel on the other side of the puck. (Hello, Pavel Datsyuk.) Note that all five on the list below are centermen, a testament to the importance of face-offs. Since the Selke was introduced in 1978, only four wingers -- Bob Gainey, Craig Ramsay, Dirk Graham and Jere Lehtinen -- have won it.
The Bruin center had a tremendous season, not only putting up 64 points, but letting nothing interfere with his great play at the other end of the ice. He won 59.3 percent of his face-offs, blocked 67 shots, and averaged 1:48 minutes per game on the PK. Plus-minus can be a deceiving stat, but in Bergeron's case, his league-leading plus-36 was hard-won. David Backes of St. Louis is deserving of consideration, too, but Bergeron should be the one to receive the hardware in Las Vegas.
Mark me down for a defenseman every time, even if my prototype is not Brian Campbell, who had 53 points, six penalty minutes, and was minus-nine for a third-seeded playoff team that finished 14th overall and had a goal differential of minus-24. (
A gentleman who plays the game at a high level? Sounds like Teemu to me. He had a marvelous season at age 41, outscoring many players who are half his age. Selanne's return to Winnipeg this season showed the esteem that fans there still have for him, and it was one of the really touching moments of the season. Selanne just goes out every night and plays a clean, fast, skilled game and is revered by players, fans and media around the league for being one of its nicest guys.