Good Old Boys
Two future Hallof Famers shake off the cobwebs, reclaim their elite status and get the nod forMVP and top defenseman
Swaddled in thecompany of six fellow Czechs and embraced unconditionally by Rangers coach TomRenney, the energized Jaromir Jagr reemerged not merely as the best player inthe NHL but also as one of the elite in history. The 34-year-old right wing setteam records for goals (53 through Sunday) and points (119) while surpassingJari Kurri as the most prolific European-born-and-trained NHL scorer (1,428career points). With the crackdown on obstruction, the 6'2", 234-pound Jagrproved virtually unstoppable when barging in from his power-play hangout at theright half-boards. Says teammate Martin Straka, "He's played as well as hedid in his 149-point season [1995-96, in Pittsburgh]." Jagr's a runawaytrain and SI's runaway winner as the NHL MVP over Sharks center Joe Thorntonand Senators right wing Daniel Alfredsson. Other award winners:
Nicklas Lidstrom, Red Wings
After a drop-off in performance before the lockout, Lidstrom, 35, has returnedto the high level of play that earned him three straight Norris Trophies from2000-01 through '02-03. His next interesting public statement will be hisfirst, one reason the best defenseman of his generation receives far lessattention than he warrants. His game, however, speaks unabashedly ofexcellence. Along with Andreas Lilja, Lidstrom played on Detroit's shutdowndefensive pair--the Red Wings had allowed the second-fewest goals in theWestern Conference--while quarterbacking the NHL's best power play and scoring75 points. His 28:20 of ice time per game, most in the league, are as close asthe NHL offers to a clinic.
Zdeno Chara, Senators; Sergei Zubov, Stars.
Miikka Kiprusoff, Flames
Maybe the other 29 teams have been sucked in by the new NHL, but Calgary neverabandoned the Dead Puck era, a philosophical predilection toward winning close,physical games by relying on a goalie who makes the miraculous lookcommonplace. In 2003-04 Kiprusoff had the lowest goals-against average (1.69)in the NHL since 1939-40; overall his play might have been even better thisseason. He had the leading goals-against average (2.15) among netminders withat least 50 appearances through Sunday and operated with a far slimmer marginof error than the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist or the Predators' Tomas Vokoun. Ahot Kiprusoff, 29, could prove a nightmare for playoff opponents.
Lundqvist; Marty Turco, Stars.
Alexander Ovechkin, Capitals
The left wing certainly has style. From his dynamic play to his trademark smokyface shield--call him Darth Visor--Ovechkin headed a rookie class for the ages.At week's end he was on the cusp of 50 goals (48), a milestone that would rankhim with Teemu Selanne, Mike Bossy and Joe Nieuwendyk as the highest-scoringrookies of all time, but it was the sheer fabulousness of his game (he scored agoal reaching one-handed with his stick while flat on his back) thatdistinguished the 20-year-old. On the thrill meter he ranks with Pavel Bure andGilbert Perreault among the most eye-catching forwards of the past threedecades.
Sidney Crosby, Penguins; Dion Phaneuf, Flames.
The Coach of the Year award--make that Coaches of theYear--goes to the Rangers' staff. For keeping Jagr happy, Tom Renney (right)could be Psychology Today's top coach as well. He also used third- andfourth-line players effectively and gave structure to a slovenly team. Renneywas helped greatly by the NHL's best assistant, Perry Pearn, who had spenteight years on the Senators' staff; Mike Pelino, a sharp mind with a HockeyCanada background; and goalie instructor Beno√Æt Allaire, who reaches pupils ona technical and human level. That group is a big reason New York ended aneight-season playoff drought.