April 5, 2011
Sedin should keep Hart in the familyA look at who's who for the 2011 awards
By DAN DI SCIULLO, Sports Network
Philadelphia - A year ago, Henrik Sedin was putting the finishing touches on a terrific season that would eventually reward him with the Hart Memorial Trophy.
Flash forward to the present and it seems clear that Henrik's twin brother, Daniel, is in the same exact situation.
It's hardly a surprise that Daniel would answer Henrik's MVP season with one of his own. After all, the identical twins have been trying to one-up each other since Henrik was born six minutes before his brother back in 1980.
Daniel Sedin has played in all 79 games for Vancouver this season and is leading the entire league with 100 points. He is also third in the NHL with a career-best 41 goals.
The biggest factor going in Daniel's favor is the fact that the Canucks were clearly the NHL's best team in the regular season. Vancouver waltzed to a Northwest Division title and also claimed the franchise's first Presidents' Trophy as the league's best team during the regular season. And if that's not enough, the Canucks have also already set new club single-season records in points (113), wins (52) and road wins (26).
The Canucks were the only NHL team to maintain a dominant air about them all season long and that has so much to do with the play of the Sedins, especially Daniel.
Should Daniel claim the Hart it will be the first time brothers have won the award in consecutive seasons. In fact, the last time a pair of teammates won the Hart in back-to-back years was in 1969 and 1970, respectively, when Phil Esposito and Bobby Orr of the Boston Bruins won the award.
Of course, it should be mentioned that this year's Hart would likely have gone to Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins if not for the concussion that has claimed half of Sid the Kid's season. Crosby had an amazing 32 goals and 66 points through 41 games and was well on his way to a second Hart Trophy.
As for the other Hart finalists, my guess is Anaheim's Corey Perry and Martin St. Louis of Tampa Bay will get the nods. Perry leads all goal-scorers with 47 markers and is third in the league with 93 points. St. Louis is second to Daniel Sedin with 94 points and has overtaken teammate Steven Stamkos, who has scored just six of his 44 goals since the beginning of February.
There is some talk of a goaltender such as Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury or Boston's Tim Thomas winning the Hart Trophy this year, but that would be a surprise. I'm not ideologically opposed to netminders winning the MVP, but this year doesn't necessitate a goaltender's inclusion among the finalists. After all, Thomas has the best statistics, but it's hard to give the Hart to a guy who was on the ice in less than 70 percent of his team's games this year.
Here are my thoughts on some of the remaining awards:
VEZINA TROPHY (Best Goaltender)
Winner: Tim Thomas, Boston
Other finalists: Roberto Luongo, Vancouver; Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh
Thomas figures to be the easy pick for the Vezina this year, as he regained the form that won him the award two years ago. Last season, a hip injury caused Thomas to be ineffective and he even wound up losing Boston's No. 1 job to Tuukka Rask, who was the Bruins' starter in the postseason. This year, Thomas established himself early as the club's clear starter and Boston will rest its postseason hopes on his shoulders.
Thomas has put together his finest NHL campaign this year, even better than the season that resulted in him winning his first Vezina in 2008-09. The soon- to-be 37-year-old is leading all goaltenders in goals-against average (2.02) and save percentage (.938) and he is sporting a sparkling 33-11-9 record.
While the choice for the Vezina winner should be a no-brainer, determining the other finalists is not such an easy choice. Luongo should land one of the three spots thanks to an NHL-leading 37 wins and a career-best 2.14 GAA, but the third slot could go to a number of players, including Fleury, Nashville's Pekka Rinne and Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers.
Although, Rinne, Lundqvist and Chicago's Corey Crawford are better picks than Fleury in terms of statistics, Pittsburgh's netminder should get the nod as a finalist for keeping the Pens playing at a high level following costly injuries to Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. After head coach Dan Bylsma, Fleury is the biggest reason Pittsburgh was not only able to make the postseason without its two most important offensive weapons, but he has also kept the Pens in the race for the Atlantic Division title as well as the East's top seed.
Best of the rest: Rinne, Nashville; Lundqvist, NY Rangers; Crawford, Chicago
NORRIS TROPHY (Best Defenseman)
Winner: Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit
Other finalists: Lubomir Visnovsky, Anaheim; Dustin Byfuglien, Atlanta
What can be said about Lidstrom that hasn't already been stated over and over again? The guy will turn 41 years of age at the end of the month and is still making a convincing case as the best all-around defensemen in the world. The Red Wings captain has already claimed the Norris six times in his career, but another win this year would not be on reputation alone. Lidstrom is tied for third in the league among blueliners with 16 goals and is second only to Anaheim's Visnovsky in points with 62.
Although there are defensemen with better stats than the Swedish legend this year, Lidstrom's leadership is always a big factor when it comes time to vote for the Norris. Lidstrom dominates not through sheer skill or physicality, but because he plays with more intelligence and poise than any other rearguard in the league.
If Lidstrom does win the award again, he will tie Doug Harvey for the second- most Norris Trophies in league history. Of course, Bobby Orr has the most, winning the awarded eight times during his legendary career.
Visnovsky should get a finalist spot thanks to his 18 goals and 66 points so far this season. Byfuglien has slowed down greatly for Atlanta after an amazing start to the year, but he is still leading defensemen with 20 goals and that should be enough to get him in the top-three. Byfuglien also has the added bonus of playing this well at the back end after playing most of the previous three seasons as a winger with Chicago.
Best of the rest: Zdeno Chara, Boston; Kris Letang, Pittsburgh; Keith Yandle, Phoenix
ADAMS TROPHY (Coach of the Year)
Winner: Dan Bylsma, Pittsburgh
Other finalists: Alain Vigneault, Vancouver; Guy Boucher, Tampa Bay
Bylsma led the Penguins to the Stanley Cup title in 2009 after taking over for a fired Michel Therrien in February of that season, but the job he's done this year may be even more impressive. Although Vigneault led the NHL's best team, Bylsma deserves more credit for keeping his Pens playing at an elite level despite the loss of Crosby and Malkin.
When Malkin went down with a season-ending knee injury in early February, Crosby was already out with his concussion and many folks thought the situation spelled doom for the Penguins' playoff hopes. But, that wasn't even close to what happened. Instead, Bylsma was able to rally his troops and keep the Pens from falling apart despite the fact that conventional wisdom said Pittsburgh was no more than an average team without Crosby and Malkin doing the heavy lifting on offense.
It's not like Bylsma's Penguins were dominant without their two biggest stars, but they were able to win many close games and gain points in loads of tests that went past regulation. In short, Bylsma created a system that allowed his club to compete with anybody despite the fact that two of the best players in the world were no longer at his disposal. In the end, the Pens are once again a 100-point team and could have home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Vigneault led his club to a record-breaking season, but he will be hurt by the fact that the Canucks were picked by many experts to win it all this season. Boucher, on the other hand, is a rookie NHL coach who took a Lightning club that was supposed to struggle to make the playoffs and turned them into one of the best teams in the East.
Best of the rest: Dave Tippett, Phoenix; Jacques Lemaire, New Jersey
CALDER TROPHY (Rookie of the Year)
Winner: Jeff Skinner, Carolina
Other finalists: Logan Couture, San Jose; Michael Grabner, NY Islanders
Skinner, the youngest player in the NHL this year, has played a big role for Carolina all year and he has established himself as a clutch performer during the Hurricanes' push to the playoffs. Although it appears Carolina's postseason quest is going to come up short, Skinner has meant more to his NHL club than any other rookie this season.
Eric Staal has been burdened with the lion's share of the offensive load for Carolina in recent years and the 'Canes desperately needed somebody to pick up some of the scoring slack. The fact that the player to do so was an 18-year- old that was selected with the seventh overall pick in the 2010 draft did come as a surprise.
Skinner has improved steadily throughout the season and has recorded 20 of his 29 goals and 32 of his 58 points since the start of January. He leads all NHL rookies in points and is second in goal-scoring to Couture and Grabner, who share the lead with 31 markers apiece.
Hurting Couture in this race is the fact that he plays on a much better team than Carolina. After all, San Jose is already loaded with offensive talent, boasting players such as Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley on its roster. Also, although Couture is still technically a rookie, he did play 25 games in the regular season last year and 15 more in the playoffs.
Grabner is a great story, having finally realized his potential after being selected by Vancouver with the 14th overall pick in 2006. However, it's hard to give the 23-year-old Austrian the award when he played for the dismal Islanders, considering Skinner had become the second scorer on a playoff contender.
As for the goaltenders, both Crawford of Chicago and Philadelphia's Sergei Bobrovsky have turned in standout seasons, but neither warrant a spot among the finalists ahead of Skinner, Couture and Grabner.
Best of the rest: Crawford, Chicago; Sergei Bobrovsky, Philadelphia