COACHING CHANGES TRANSACTIONS POWER POLL DEPTH CHARTS CURRENT ODDS
By Dan Di Sciullo
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - For the first time in four years, the NHL's most valuable player may answer to a name other than Sidney or Alex.
With the NHL regular season in its final week, it's a good time to take stock of the 2009-10 campaign. Part of that process is determining who deserves to take home the league's annual awards, which are not handed out until after the Stanley Cup Finals but only take into consideration the regular season.
Of course, the biggest of these individual awards is the Hart Memorial Trophy, a piece of hardware that had Alex Ovechkin's name on it in each of the past two years. Ovechkin will almost certainly be a finalist for the MVP once again, as will Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, who won the award for Pittsburgh three years ago.
Yet, another player -- Vancouver's Henrik Sedin -- has caught my eye as the favorite for the Hart Trophy. It's odd to think of Sedin as a candidate for individual awards since he is perpetually linked with his twin brother Daniel, also a standout forward for the Northwest Division champion Canucks.
Heading into Tuesday's action, Henrik Sedin is leading the league in points with 106, but is just two ahead of Ovechkin, who has played 10 fewer games than the Canucks centerman. Ovechkin and Crosby are also locked in a tight battle for the league's goal-scoring crown. Sid the Kid has a career-high 47 tallies, while Ovechkin is next with 46. Sedin has claimed a personal-best with just 29 goals, but the way he came about that number is what impresses me the most.
Since the Sedins entered the league in 2000-01, they have not strayed far from their individual roles: Henrik as the playmaking centerman and Daniel as the goal-scoring winger.
That ability to alter his game in such a dramatic way set Henrik apart from the pack this year. Sure, he's not as deadly an offensive player as Ovechkin or Crosby, but Henrik showed an uncanny ability to adjust when his team needed production from him the most.
Henrik has also closed strong, notching 26 points in his last 17 games. Of course, with Daniel back in the lineup, 22 of Henrik's 26 points during the stretch run have come by way of assists. That also impresses me. Even though Henrik proved earlier in the year that he could score goals with the best of them, he had no problem returning to his previous playmaking role, proving once again that he puts his team above all else.
The Sedins also came into this year with tremendous pressure to perform, having both signed identical five-year, $30.5 million contracts in the offseason. Add the fact that the Canucks faced an NHL-record 14-game road trip in the middle of the season due to their city's Olympic host duties, and it becomes even more impressive that Henrik was able to perform the way he did.
Voters would certainly not be wrong in giving the award to either Crosby or Ovechkin, but for my money Sedin displayed the intangibles necessary to set him apart in such a close race. The Hart may be determined by whether he beats out Ovechkin for the scoring lead, but it shouldn't have to come to that.
Here are my thoughts on some of the remaining awards:
VEZINA TROPHY (Best Goaltender)
Winner: Ilya Bryzgalov, Phoenix
Other finalists: Ryan Miller, Buffalo; Martin Brodeur, New Jersey
Along with the hiring of head coach Dave Tippett just before the start of the season, Bryzgalov has been the biggest reason for Phoenix's return to the postseason. The Russian backstop is 41-20-5 this year, destroying the club's previous record for wins in a season of 33, which was set in 2001-02 -- the last year Phoenix made the playoffs.
Bryzgalov also enters Tuesday's action tied with Brodeur for the league lead in shutouts (8). New Jersey's legendary goaltender has won four Vezina Trophies, and with a league-leading 42 victories this year, could make it five. But after last year when the Devils won the division despite Brodeur missing most of the season due to injury, it would be hard to say that Bryzgalov isn't more essential to his team's success.
Meanwhile, Miller has had an amazing year and is sporting a 2.23 goals against average and a .928 save percentage -- the highest for any goaltender with more than 50 games played this season. However, Miller will still be remembered most for his outstanding play for Team USA at the Vancouver Olympics. His MVP performance for the Americans at the tournament isn't supposed to count towards the Vezina, but it will be hard to make the voters forget about that two-week stretch.
Best of the rest: Jimmy Howard, Detroit; Evgeni Nabokov, San Jose
NORRIS TROPHY (Best Defenseman)
Winner: Duncan Keith, Chicago
Other finalists: Mike Green, Washington; Drew Doughty, Los Angeles
Keith has the inside track on this award over Green, who is the only defenseman mentioned above who was a finalist for the Norris last year. Green is leading all NHL blueliners with a career-high 74 points (19g, 55 assists), but the Capitals star is still dogged by questions about his value as a pure defenseman. On the other hand, Keith is the complete package for Chicago, playing terrific hockey on both ends of the ice. Not to mention, he is second to Green in scoring by a defenseman, posting 66 points (13g, 53a) for the Blackhawks. Green is still largely an offensive player who happens to play on the blueline, while Keith is a clear-cut No. 1 defenseman who can beat you in more ways then one.
At just 20 years of age, Doughty will be happy if he even gets nominated for the Norris, but he may have several of these trophies by the end of his career. Like Keith, he is considered to be a force at both ends of the ice and he improved by leaps and bounds from his rookie season. Doughty has 56 points through 78 games for the Kings this year, giving him 29 more points than he had in 81 contests in 2008-09. He also has a plus-18 rating this year after posting a dismal minus-17 a year ago.
Best of the rest: Chris Pronger, Philadelphia; Tyler Myers, Buffalo
ADAMS TROPHY (Coach of the Year)
Winner: Dave Tippett, Phoenix
Other finalists: Joe Sacco, Colorado; Terry Murray, Los Angeles
This is basically a one-man race, with no other coach to seriously challenge Tippett and his role in the Coyotes' magic season. He was hired when Wayne Gretzky quit the job just over a week before the start of the season, and with all the drama over whether or not the club was going to be moved, he was still able to get his troops playing like a playoff team right out of the chute.
Nobody was seriously considering Phoenix as a playoff club heading into this year, but the Coyotes have clinched a spot and are currently seeded fourth in the West. Tippett also led the Phoenix/Winnipeg franchise to its first-ever 100-point season and set a club record for wins in a season.
Sacco also did a terrific job in turning the Avs into a playoff contender after they finished last in the West in 2008-09. However, Colorado has faded down the stretch, and although the club will most likely clinch a playoff spot anyway, the poor finish will hurt the rookie coach's chance at claiming the Adams.
Murray has done a superb job in teaching an extremely young team how to win. Yet, after stockpiling high draft picks for the better of a decade, the Kings' emergence always seemed inevitable, no matter who was behind the bench.
Best of the rest: Bruce Boudreau, Washington; Joel Quenneville, Chicago
CALDER TROPHY (Rookie of the Year)
Winner: Tyler Myers, Buffalo
Other finalists: Jimmy Howard, Detroit; Matt Duchene, Colorado
This is another close race, but Myers gets the nod for entering the NHL as a fully-formed defenseman, a position in which it is supposed to take years for even the biggest prospects to show their full potential. The fact that the 6-8, 222-pound Myers never played a game in the NHL prior to this year and was playing junior hockey in 2008-09 makes what he's done for Buffalo even more impressive.
Myers is the highest-scoring rookie defenseman this year with 46 points (11g, 35a) and is tied for 10th among all NHL blueliners. The Sabres couldn't have counted on him being this good right away and he is nothing short of a revelation for the likely Northeast Division champs. Buffalo would have found it difficult to have added a better veteran defenseman through free agency last summer, and Myers comes at a much cheaper price because of his rookie status.
Howard, meanwhile, has played a huge part in Detroit's late run to the playoffs, taking over the starting goaltending job from an ineffective Chris Osgood. Howard is 34-15-10 with a .923 save percentage and a 2.30 GAA and started 25 straight games for the Red Wings from late January up until this past weekend when Osgood finally gave him a rest.
Still, a goaltender won the Calder last year and judging by Steve Mason's poor sophomore season for Columbus, it could give voters pause before they award another netminder with the top rookie prize.
Duchene is the leading rookie scorer, but his 54 points aren't enough for the forward to distance himself from Myers as the top skating rookie. Still, the third overall pick in last year's draft can be proud that he outplayed John Tavares of the Islanders and Tampa Bay's Victor Hedman, the two players selected before him in the summer.
Best of the rest: John Tavares, NY Islanders; Jamie Benn, Dallas