Register Saturday | December 7 | 2019

NHL Awards Redux

My Case For Some Alternate Winners

The NHL hosted its annual banquet last week, and while the results didn’t produce too many surprises, I’d like to make the case for some alternate winners. These awards are not supposed to take the playoffs into account; however, sometimes regular season excellence translates into playoff success.

Hart Trophy (MVP, Regular Season): Martin St. Louis of Tampa Bay was the winner, but Jarome Iginla of the Calgary Flames deserved better. This isn’t just a consolation prize: no one led his team like Jarome. He topped the league in goals—and not only that, he hit, he fought, he was an example to the rest of the young Calgary team. This is not to slight St. Louis: he is the first player since a certain star from Brantford, Ontario, to win the Hart trophy, the Art Ross trophy (awarded to the leading scorer) and the Stanley Cup in one year. Other than Gretzky (1984, ’85, ’87), only Guy Lafleur (1977, ’78), Bobby Orr (1970), Jean Béliveau (1956), Gordie Howe (1952), Bill Cowley (1941) and Howie Morenz (1931) have managed that hat trick of honours.

Vezina Trophy (Best Goalie): Martin Brodeur (New Jersey) was the winner here, based on his league-leading eleven shutouts and low, low goals against average (2.03, fourth in the league). In my mind, however, there is no better goalie than Roberto Luongo of the Florida Panthers. Luongo not only faced the most shots, but he managed to have the third-best save percentage in the league (.931). Brodeur ranked fifteenth (.917). His goals against average (2.43, third worst in the NHL) was nowhere close to Brodeur’s, but despite that—and despite playing behind a defence corps that was clearly second-class—he managed seven shutouts, which puts him in fifth place behind Brodeur. The fact that New Jersey defenceman Scott Niedermayer won the Norris trophy shows that Brodeur’s GAA and shutout stats were a team effort. Luongo was in there alone, and he shone.

Norris Trophy (Best Defenceman): As I mentioned above, Niedermayer won this one, and he was probably deserving, but if I were to pick an alternate winner, it would have to be Zdeno Chara of the otherwise lacklustre Ottawa Senators. As much as I hate the Sens, this is one big, bad dude. He stood in front of the opposing net on the power play and was unmovable; he stood in front of his own net and was unmovable; he managed to score a few goals too (sixteen goals, tied for third best among NHL defencemen; Niedermayer was eighth with fourteen). Sure, being 6’9”—over 7 feet on skates—is a bit of an advantage, but Chara didn’t waste his size, and should have been rewarded for his tact.

Selke Trophy (Best Defensive Forward): Kris Draper from the Detroit Red Wings was the winner here, and I have no problem with that. Draper was named to Canada’s World Cup team for his defensive skills. There is no other player in the league who can shut down opposing stars, kill penalties and even chip in some offence like Draper.

Calder Trophy (Best Rookie): Bruin’s goalie Andrew Raycroft won, but Michael Ryder from the Montreal Canadiens may have deserved better. Okay, so maybe I’m showing a little hometown bias here. Still, Ryder led rookies in scoring, played on the power play and has a shot that NHL goalies are going to fear for years to come. I know the playoffs aren’t supposed to count for these awards, but in the first-round showdown between Ryder’s Habs and Raycroft’s Bruins, it was clear who was better. Raycroft just couldn’t save the Bruins. I suppose the reason Raycroft won this is that it is much harder for a goaltender to excel in his first year in the NHL than it is for a forward. That said, I think Michael Ryder will develop into a much bigger star than Andrew Raycroft.

Adams Trophy (Best Coach): John Tortorella, coach of the Stanley Cup champions, won this award; however, I wonder whether wins are the only determinant of a good coach. Darryl Sutter, the Calgary Flames’ coach, seemed to me to get more out of his players than did Tortorella with his talent-laden squad. Sutter’s not just tapping shoulders behind that bench. His strategic plan of breaking the last quarter of the season into a seven-game series got the Flames into the playoffs. It’s likely he won’t be back next year (if there is a next year), as he now holds both the coach’s and general manager’s jobs in Calgary. He wants to hire a new coach to replace himself.

Lady Byng Trophy (Most Gentlemanly Player): Brad Richards, Conn Smythe winner for the Tampa Bay Lightning, won and deserved this award. There was a certain dirty Senator up for this award (won’t say which son of Alfred it is), but there’s no way he should have won, the way he plays. He’s nominated because of a lack of penalty minutes, but that is only testament to what he gets away with. Richards, on the other hand, answers his critics, takes out his frustrations and responds to challenges in one way: he scores goals.

There are a couple of other awards—so-called minor awards, though they are no less important, least not to the winners. The King Clancy award is for leadership and humanitarian contribution to the community. Jarome Iginla was the winner, and deservedly so. I have never heard so many stories of a hockey player’s selflessness as I did of Jarome when I was visiting Calgary. The Bill Masterton trophy is for perseverance and dedication to hockey. This year’s winner was Bryan Berard, who managed to play solid defence for the Chicago Blackhawks, despite being blind in one eye. His incredible comeback deserves more than a trophy. The Lester B. Pearson award is given to the league’s most outstanding player, as voted by the NHL Players’ Association. Martin St. Louis won, and I guess you can’t argue with his peers. It is interesting that this award is secondary to the Hart trophy, which is voted on by the media. I’m not sure the media knows any better than the players who the most outstanding player is. In fact, the players probably always know better. The Lester Patrick award is for service to hockey in the USA. This year’s recipients were John Davidson, Ray Miron and Mike Emrick.

The Maurice Richard, Art Ross and William Jennings trophies—for, respectively, most goals, most points and fewest goals allowed—are based on regular season stats, not votes, so the winners were no surprise: Jarome Iginla, in a tie with Rick Nash (Columbus) and Ilya Kovalchuk (Atlanta), each with 41 goals; Martin St. Louis with 94 points; and Martin Brodeur with 164 goals.

So that’s it: now everyone starts back at 0.

John Lofranco is a Montreal-based writer, teacher and distance runner. The Masochist gets rough in the corners every second Wednesday.