2011 NHL Awards

A piece I originally wrote for the 2011 NHL Awards. The majority of my picks were wrong, for the record.
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Since the NHL Awards are being handed out tonight, I thought I’d give my picks today.

I tried to give as much reasoning as I could as to why each player who was nominated for an award deserved to win it, as well as some reasons why some of them probably won’t win. This is all opinion of course, so I expect a lot of people to disagree with many of my arguments. Just thought I’d put my thoughts out there, see what other people think.

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Calder Memorial Trophy – Logan Couture, Jeff Skinner, Michael Grabner

I’ll have no complaints, no matter who wins this one. All three players had great rookie campaigns, and all three have done enough to merit winning this award.

There’s not really much I can say about Logan Couture. This guy is a very good player. 32 goals in your rookie campaign is pretty damn good. 10 goals on the power play isn’t too shabby either. I think the fact he plays on a team with stars like Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Dany Heatley probably hurts his chances to win, but he’s still definitely got a legit shot at taking home the Calder.

I give a lot of credit to Michael Grabner. Of the three nominees, he played on the worst team, the New York Islanders, and was not surrounded by near the same talent level as the other two. It’s sort of a double-edged sword though; on a better team, he would have had better players around him, which may have boosted his goal (34) and assist (18) totals significantly. However, he may have played a lesser role on a better team, which would have probably had a negative impact on his numbers. Remember, he could barely crack the roster in Vancouver, and didn’t exactly light it up during his time in the AHL.

With all that being said, I’ll be very surprised if Jeff Skinner doesn’t win it. His point total (63) was the higher than the point totals of the others (LC – 56, MG – 52), he’s the youngest of the three (19 years old), and he had no prior pro-league experience (AHL or NHL). For someone to come right out of Junior hockey and have such an impact on an NHL team is pretty impressive. Making the All-Star team as an 18 year old didn’t hurt his odds here either. Having the highest point total for a rookie since Patrick Kane (72) in 07-08 is definitely something that deserves mention as well.

My Pick: Jeff Skinner

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Lady Byng Memorial Trophy – Loui Eriksson, Nicklas Lidstrom, Martin St. Louis

This award is a hard one for me to pick a winner for, since I think it is completely pointless. I really couldn’t care less about sportsmanship or gentlemanly conduct. Unfortunately, the award isn’t going away, and once again, I think all three nominees have a legitimate shot at taking it home.

Nicklas Lidstrom has been, and always will be, a real gentleman out on the ice. He seems to always keep his cool, and his hockey IQ is off the charts, so he’s not likely to make bad decisions that result in unnecessary penalties. Ironically enough, his PIM total (20) is the highest of the three nominees (LE – 8, MS – 12). That’s going to work against him. Not to mention the fact that this award almost never goes to defencemen. He’s in tough for this one.

When it comes down to the other two nominees, I don’t really have much to say. Loui Eriksson has the lower PIM total, so an argument could definitely be made for why he deserves to win. With that being said, Martin St. Louis had a much higher point total, while only taking two more minor penalties than Eriksson. Not to mention the fact that he played in all 82 games this season, three more than Eriksson did. Also, given the trend of recent years, namely Pavel Datsyuk taking this award home from 2006 to 2009, a repeat winner seems likely to me. St. Louis won it last year, and I think the trend will continue.

My Pick: Martin St. Louis

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Frank J. Selke Trophy – Pavel Datsyuk, Ryan Kesler, Jonathan Toews

This is another award where the trend seems to be repeat winners. That trend probably breaks this year. I think this is a two-horse race.

Pavel Datsyuk, who has won this award for the last three seasons, is in tough to make it four in a row, in my opinion. Being injured, and missing a significant portion of the season really put a damper on his chances. He still put up great numbers, and is arguably the most difficult player to play against, due to his extreme skill level, but I just don’t know if that will be enough this year. I’d be surprised if he managed to win; surprised, but pleased. This guy is one of the most entertaining players I’ve ever seen, and he doesn’t sacrifice any defensive ability while still managing to pull off some of the craziest skill moves.

Of the two other nominees, a strong case could be made for either. Jonathan Toews and Ryan Kesler had similar point totals (76 and 73, respectively) and a nearly identical +/- stat (25 and 24, respectively). Toews ability to play hard against any opposition, and not take a crazy amount of penalties is certainly something to be considered, but I don’t think that will be enough to earn him more votes than Kesler.

There are two factors that play into why I think Kesler will be winning the Selke: hits, and the high level of publicity given to the Vancouver Canucks franchise this season. Kesler’s hit total (124) was far higher than Toews’ (74). I’ve always looked at the term “defensive aspects of the game” and thought that being hard to play against as one of the most important parts of it. Kesler really knows how to throw his body around out there, and he does it often, and if that doesn’t make him hard to play against, I don’t know what does. The second factor that plays in his favour is the level of awareness, both media and fan, given to the Canucks this year. Between having last year’s Hart and Art Ross winner, Henrik Sedin, and being far and away the best team In the NHL this year, a lot more people have been paying attention to the Canucks. A lot of people watched Kesler this year, and saw him put up very good numbers, while not slipping at all in his defensive categories.

My Pick: Ryan Kesler

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Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy – Ray Emery, Daymond Langkow, Ian Laperriere

This one is a hard one to judge. All three have a good chance of taking it, just based on their accomplishments after suffering terrible injuries.

Daymond Langkow managing to come back and actually play in a couple games this season, after damaging his spinal cord is a pretty amazing story. Considering his age, the amount of time he missed (an entire year), and the fact that his offensive numbers have been steadily declining for the last few years, it shows a lot of dedication to the game that he even bother with a comeback. He could have easily walked away from the game, especially after suffering a setback in his rehab back near the beginning of the season.

Dedication to the game is something that Ian Laperriere has in spades. While coming back to play in the playoffs during the 09-10 season, after being hit in the face by a puck was undoubtedly a bad decision, it still shows how badly this guy wanted his team to win. Sticking around, continuing to try and help the team as much as possible, while being forced to sit out with post-concussion syndrome just further shows how much Laperriere wants to be a part of the game. I think the fact that he wasn’t able to attempt any kind of comeback this season, however, puts a bit of a dent in his chances to win the Masterton Trophy.

And what can I say about Ray Emery? The guy suffered from a disease that almost no other athlete has ever come back from. He’s missing 13 centimeters of bone in his leg. As a goaltender, the legs and hips are hugely important, especially to someone who employs the butterfly style of play. The fact that he was able to get back out on the ice is amazing to me. What sets him apart from the other two nominees in my eyes, however, is the fact that not only did he come back, he came back and played extremely well. 7 wins in 10 games for the Anaheim Ducks, while posting a .926 save percentage. Not too shabby.

My Pick: Ray Emery

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Jack Adams Award – Dan Bylsma, Barry Trotz, Alain Vigneault

Again, three very deserving nominees. It’s fairly easy to make a convincing case for all three.

Dan Bylsma had to go a large part of the season missing his two biggest stars, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Not to mention only having Jordan Staal for 42 games as well. Yet even with those huge holes in the roster, Bylsma managed to coach the Penguins to a 49 win, 106 point season. Impressive. When you look at the point totals for the players, it looks even better. Excluding Crosby, who missed the last 41 games of the regular season, the highest scoring forward on the team was Chris Kunitz with 48 points. Bylsma was able to plug minor-league guys into his line-up, and get enough production out of them to keep the team winning. No easy feat.

While Bylsma had to adapt to life without his star players, Barry Trotz is forced, year after year, to try and win without high-scoring forwards. For the sixth time in the last seven NHL seasons, Trotz managed to guide the Predators to the playoffs, despite not having a player score more than fifty points. Having Shea Weber, arguably the game’s best defenceman, and quality goaltending from Pekka Rinne certainly helped tremendously, but Trotz still had to find away to squeeze some offensive numbers out of a roster that didn’t really have a lot to give. The loss of Dan Hamhuis to free agency last summer was a big blow, but Trotz was still able to step up and coach his team to a 44 win, 99 point season. Definitely deserving of some recognition.

And now we come to Alain Vigneault. My hatred for the Vancouver Canucks is telling me not to say it, but I think Vigneault is the runaway winner of this award. Coaching a team to a 54 win, 117 point seasons is no easy feat, even when that team is as talented to the Canucks. Vigneault had to continually find a way to plug holes in the line-up, left by injuries to important players like Hamhuis, Bieksa, and Malhotra. He had to try and balance Roberto Luongo’s schedule, so the goaltender wasn’t completely wiped by the time the playoffs rolled around. And again, the same publicity factor that I believe is going to give Kesler the edge over Toews for the Selke Trophy comes into play. Everybody was watching as Vigneault coached the Canucks to far and away the best record in the NHL this season.

My Pick: Alain Vigneault

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James Norris Memorial Trophy – Zdeno Chara, Shea Weber, Nicklas Lidstrom

To me, this is probably the hardest award to judge. There are so many factors that go into deciding what makes one defenceman better than another. I have a feeling that my pick will not turn out to be the actual winner with this one.

62 points is an incredible total, especially for a defenceman who’s now north of 40 years of age. Nicklas Lidstrom continues to be the most consistent defenceman of the last twenty years. Part of me wants to say he’ll win the Norris, just because he’s won it so many times before. He’s the most dominant d-man I’ve ever seen play, and he does it without being physically intimidating like Rob Blake or Ray Bourque. He’s probably the smartest player I’ve ever seen play the game. Unfortunately, I don’t think he’ll be the one to take it home this season. Yeah, he had the highest point total of the three nominees (ZC – 44, SW – 48), but he also had a negative +/- stat for the first time in his career. And I know that’s not always telling. A lot of people disregard that stat, say it’s unreliable at best. But this isn’t a player who has hovered around even every season in his career. He routinely hits +40. He hasn’t had a single digit positive season since he was +9 in 00-01. He’s +429 in his career. To have a negative season, even though it was only -2, is a massive drop-off. He was not the best defenceman in the league this year.

When it comes to the other two nominees, I feel like Zdeno Chara is somewhat of a trendy pick. Don’t get me wrong; the guy is an absolute defensive monster out there. He plays insane minutes every game, faces all the top offensive stars, and still manages to put up decent numbers. His +/- stat was the highest of the three nominees (+33), and his point total was close enough to Weber’s as to not really be a factor. Unfortunately, I think sometimes his physical attributes sort of blind people to certain parts of his games. While his long reach helps bail him out, skilled players with above average speed can get around him fairly easily. And if someone manages to get behind past him, he lacks the foot speed to catch all but the slowest forwards in the league. In my opinion, while he is a top-notch defenceman, his game has holes in it that should prevent him from winning the Norris Trophy.

Shea Weber was the best defenceman in the NHL this season. Of all d-men, not just the other nominees, he is the most well-rounded, balancing good offensive numbers and stellar defensive ones. He’s the complete package, when it comes to d-men: hard shot, good vision, great size/strength, doesn’t take a lot of stupid penalties, and with enough speed to keep most players in check. And he hits like a Mack truck. In my eyes, there is no current player even close the Weber. Drew Doughty is someone who could compete with him, in a couple of years. But for the moment, Shea Weber takes the title.

My Pick: Shea Weber

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Vezina Trophy – Roberto Luongo, Pekka Rinne, Tim Thomas

While a strong case could be made for any of the three nominees, I think it’s fairly safe to assume which one will be winning the award, based solely on his outstanding statistics.

Pekka Rinne just had a very solid year. That’s the best way of putting it. 33 wins, exceptional goals against average and save percentage. If he was to win, there are very few arguments as to why he wouldn’t deserve it. I think it’s safe to say he’s probably be the favourite in almost any other year. Unfortunately for him, he just happened to get nominated the same year as Tim Thomas.

The same goes for Roberto Luongo. A slightly lower save percentage, and slight higher goals against average than Rinne, along with the highest win total of the three nominees (38) give him a decent shot at winning. Again, in any other year, his statistics would probably put him as the odds-on favourite. But Tim Thomas has him beat here, I believe.

And finally we come to the man himself. Tim Thomas had an incredible year, statistically. 35 wins, a goals against average of 2.00 and a save percentage of .938 just put him above the other nominees. That .938 save percentage is the highest ever since they started recording that stat. That alone is probably enough to get him the Vezina. Add to that how he managed to have such an amazing year, after almost losing his starting position to Tuukka Rask last year and it just makes the story that much better. In my mind, there’s no way he’s not taking this award home tonight. I bet It’ll look great sitting beside the Conn Smythe Trophy and the Stanley Cup.

My Pick: Tim Thomas

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Hart Memorial Trophy – Corey Perry, Daniel Sedin, Martin St. Louis

This is another case of all three having legitimate reasons why they should win, but with one nominee standing above the others.

Corey Perry led the league in goals this year, and was the only player to hit fifty goals. He almost hit the 100 point plateau (98), and really played well when Ryan Getzlaf took a puck to the face and missed some games. Unfortunately, playing in Anaheim doesn’t really do him any favours, when it comes to getting his name out there. I don’t think enough people really watched him play, so I doubt he wins the award.

It’s much the same with Martin St. Louis. He is far too under-exposed in Tampa Bay, especially considering how he continues to put up high point totals, despite his increasing age. He may just be a little guy, but St. Louis is one of the most consistent players around. Of course, playing with Steven Stamkos, and Vincent Lecavalier back when Lecavalier didn’t suck, definitely helps keep the point totals high. But there aren’t many players who compete like St. Louis does, and I bet he’d be a point/game player even on a team with no other stars. Unfortunately, the lack of exposure undoubtedly hurt his chances to win the Hart this year.

And that leaves Daniel Sedin. There are many reasons why I believe he’ll be taking home the Hart Trophy this year, not the least of which is his very high skill level. It’s no secret that I hate the Vancouver Canucks, but there’s no denying just how skilled the Sedins are. You don’t score 100+ points in the NHL by being a slug out there. Does that mean I like the Sedins as players? No. I think they’re both pussies, and softer than pillows (Repeated punches to the face, anybody?). But they are unbelievable skilled. That’s only part of why Daniel will win tonight though. Again, the high exposure the Canucks experienced this year will help him along. Also, I believe he may have gotten some votes simply because his brother won the Hart last year. The idea that twins could win the award, in consecutive years, is an interesting one, and I’d bet it was enough to convince at least a few people to pick him as the winner. It sounds incredibly stupid, but there you go.

My Pick: Daniel Sedin

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Ted Lindsay Award – Corey Perry, Daniel Sedin, Steven Stamkos

Since it’s the players voting for this award, I’d like to think the outcome will be a little different than with the Hart Trophy. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t shock me if my pick is wrong.

With Corey Perry, a lot of the same arguments for why he should win the Hart Trophy apply with the Ted Lindsey Award as well. Being the only fifty goal scorer, keeping the Ducks in the midst of things while Getzlaf was out, and just generally being a gritty, tough player probably got him a lot of votes from his fellow players. I don’t think it’ll be enough to win though.

In a perfect world, Daniel Sedin would not win this award. Henrik Sedin won the Hart last year, but lost out on the Ted Lindsay Award to Alex Ovechkin. I’m hoping history repeats itself. It’s pretty apparent that a lot of players around the league dislike the Vancouver Canucks, and that could mean they didn’t vote Sedin the winner. I think the fact that Daniel rarely stands up for himself probably loses him some points in the eyes of his fellow players. Also, NHL players are only human, and not voting for someone because you resent the fact that they’re more skilled than you is something I can see happening quite often. Do I think Daniel Sedin wins this award? Yeah, probably. But he’s not my pick.

I’d like to think Steven Stamkos’ inclusion in this category over that of his teammate, Martin St. Louis, is a sign. Players who have to play against Stamkos on a regular basis see just how good of a player he is. The guy’s barely out of his teens and he’s already one of the best pure goal scorers in the league. It’s impressive as hell, and the other players undoubtedly see that. I think the fact that he seems like a fairly humble person works in his favour as well. I already mentioned the apparent dislike many players seem to have for the Canucks, which dents Daniel Sedin’s chances in my eyes. Add to that the fact that Corey Perry seems like the kind of guy who could irritate the hell out of opposing players, and kind of be a dick on the ice, and I’m thinking the nice guy factor may have got Stamkos some votes. We’ll see though.

My Pick: Steven Stamkos

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As to the other trophies, they just don’t seem as important as the ones listed above. So I’m not going to go into detail with those.

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Bridgestone Messier Leadership Award – Zdeno Chara, Shane Doan, Nicklas Lidstrom

My Pick: Nicklas Lidstrom

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NHL Foundation Award – Dustin Brown, Mike Green, Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin

My Pick: Daniel and Henrik Sedin

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So there we go. Those are my picks for the winners of this year’s NHL Awards. I’ve probably guessed wrong on most of them. Have to watch the show tonight to see.

Patriotism In Sports

A piece I originally wrote and published on Tumblr during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Finals.

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Something’s been bugging me lately, so I thought I’d take a minute to get it off my chest.

Now, anyone who’s into sports, specifically hockey, knows that the Stanley Cup Finals are currently going on. The Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks are playing each other, with Vancouver currently holding the series edge 3-2, heading back to Boston for game 6 on Monday. And I hope Boston wins.

Being from Canada, it seems I get jumped all over the second I say I don’t want Vancouver to win. And that is starting to really piss me off. Listen, I understand patriotism and all that, wanting the Cup to come back to Canada. If you, as a Canadian, want to cheer for the Canadian team in the Finals, go for it. But don’t piss all over me because I don’t. I don’t like the Canucks. I never have. I don’t cheer for them in the regular season. Why the fuck would I cheer for them now?

As with most people, I think, I usually cheer for the team I like the most out of the two, since my team never makes it to the Cup Finals. Last year, I cheered for Philadelphia, because I like them more than Chicago. The year before, it was Detroit, because I like them more than Pittsburgh. And I don’t necessarily dislike Pittsburgh or Chicago; I just liked their opponents more than I like them.

With Vancouver, it’s a different story altogether. I dislike them. There are several teams in the NHL I will never cheer for. Vancouver is one of them. If that makes me unpatriotic or whatever, so be it. It will be a cold day in Hell before you hear the words “Go Vancouver” pass my lips.

So, when people say I should cheer for the Canadian team just because I’m Canadian, just because I should want the Cup to come back to Canada more than anything, I say fuck off. I want the Cup to come back as much as anyone. But when it does finally return, I want it to be brought by one of three teams; the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Edmonton Oilers, or the Calgary Flames. I’d rather Canada didn’t get another Cup, if it means Vancouver, Ottawa, or Montreal are the ones winning it. I’m going to cheer for a team because I like it, not because of where it’s based.

So fuck off, pissed off Vancouver fans, and everybody else who wants to rag on me for cheering for an American team against a Canadian team.

And that’s my rant for the day. Later.