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THN at the NHL Awards: The view from Las Vegas

Alex Ovechkin is up for the Hart Trophy as league MVP. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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Alex Ovechkin is up for the Hart Trophy as league MVP. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS – It took less than five hours for me to fly from Toronto to Las Vegas on Tuesday as part of the THN team descending on the desert for the NHL Awards. The flight was completely uneventful, just the way I like it. But, as we learned upon landing, there was plenty of action on the ground while we were in the air, including a surprise from the Hockey Hall of Fame, a future Hall of Famer retiring and a long-rumored trade finally executed.

By the time we figured out the elevator at the Palms Place only works when you swipe your room key, one of the biggest potential free agent names of the summer had also been re-signed by his team.

I’d heard things move fast in this city, but c’mon…

With so much happening around the league before the Wednesday night awards party has even kicked off, let’s pull the metaphorical lever on the hockey headline slot machine and see what it spits up.

NHL Awards in Vegas, Year 2
The first trip to the elevator keyed us into the room card trick. The second brought about a surprising question, especially considering how much more likely the average sports journalist is to hit a buffet than a gym in Vegas.

“Hey, you guys here for the NHL Awards?” a friendly stranger with the look of a sports fan asked my colleague and I.

Now, the only time I’ve been mistaken for an NHLer in my life was leaving Toronto’s Air Canada Centre one morning, and that had more to do with the inherent, blind optimism of a young autograph seeker – and the fact I was wearing a suit and exiting the building in a spot players are sometimes known to breeze through – than any genuine NHLer resemblance.

Assuming my golf shirt and shorts left no doubt I don’t have the build of a pro athlete, I then figured I must have some credentials dangling around my neck indicating I’m here to cover the event.

No dice.

So maybe there is a buzz in this city? Maybe this is something people – in this case, a nice fella from Seattle – are talking about?

“Yeah, we are here for the awards,” I said.

“Was that Monday night?” he inquired.

“No, it’s Wednesday night,” I replied, all the while thinking to myself, ‘OK, even a fake Vegas-style imitation of Rome wasn’t built in a day.’

The reality of Anaheim’s blueline without Scott Niedermayer
Does anyone else get the feeling blind loyalty always overrode logic when the Ducks were dealing with whether to keep Scott Niedermayer or Chris Pronger? Niedermayer’s retirement comes to the surprise of no one, especially since he very nearly left the game for good after Anaheim’s Cup win in 2007.

As of spring, 2009, you could make a pretty convincing case one way or the other as to whether you’d rather hitch your wagon to Niedermayer or Pronger, though the latter’s 2010 playoff performance would end that debate pretty quickly right now. But when it came to jettisoning salary at this time last year, it seems there was never any genuine talk of moving Niedermayer, even though it was quite clear Pronger had intentions of hanging around the league longer than his old teammate.

It’s almost like an internal decision was made that Niedermayer wouldn’t be moved, regardless of the circumstance. We’re never going to knock loyalty in these parts and Niedermayer’s decision to sign with Anaheim coming out of the lockout further legitimized a franchise that had fallen short in the Cup final a couple years before that, but wouldn’t be denied with him as captain in ’07.

Still, hard to ignore the fact a blueline that had two surefire Hall of Famers just one calendar year ago is now without either one because Pronger was dealt to Philly at last year’s draft and Niedermayer, rather predictably, is ready to turn his attention to things besides hockey.

Nathan Horton trade ends ‘Which Florida forward would you least want to be stuck with?’ debate forever
OK, cheap-shot faux headline aside, I like this trade for both clubs. Horton apparently told new Panthers GM Dale Tallon there ain’t no sunshine in Florida for him and that he wanted out. My guess is that was one note in the team suggestion box Tallon was happy to embrace.

It was time for Horton to get out of Florida and my guess is, this will be one of those trades where an underachiever moves to a new team and becomes the player his old club always thought he could be, except things had deteriorated to the point that he absolutely had to be in a new environment for it to happen.

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Horton is still only 25 and 30-plus goals is well within reason for him playing a top-six role in Boston. Meanwhile, the Cats now have the third and 15th overall picks – and five of the first 50 selections – in a deep draft, meaning Tallon can get right to work ushering in a new, happier era.

A surprise non-call by the Hall of Fame
First of all, congratulations to trailblazers Cammi Granato and Angela James for being the first female faces to grace the players section of the Hockey Hall of Fame; it’s truly a well-earned honor.

As for Dino Ciccarelli, the only right wingers with more goals than the 608 he scored in his career are Gordie Howe (801), Brett Hull (741), Mike Gartner (708) and Jaromir Jagr (646).

I think he can safely say he’s finally getting the recognition he deserves.

The surprise in the players category for me – and, presumably, my coworker Brian Costello – is that Joe Nieuwendyk didn’t get the nod. I thought he was a shoo-in for all the reasons Brian cited, but the three-time Cup-winner who also has a Conn Smythe Trophy to his credit will have to wait a while to get his all-time pat on the rear.

Plekanec puts pen to paper
The fact Tomas Plekanec opted to remain in Montreal rather than test the open market should come as no shock to anyone who’s followed the case closely at all. Signing a six-year deal reportedly worth $5 million a season likely means the 27-year-old center left about $500,000 on the table annually to stay with the Habs, while the club probably reached about half-a-million deeper per year than it ideally would have liked to to keep a good soldier in its midst.

Plekanec and Scott Gomez would both make terrific No. 2 pivots, but neither is a true front-line middleman. The problem for Montreal is, even if you consider Plekanec’s new deal to be reasonable, the team is still shelling out $12.3 million annually to its top two centers, neither of whom is a dynamic game-changer.

That, of course, is because Gomez is still slated to make $7.3 million per year through 2013-14.

By contrast, the Red Wings pay Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk a combined $12.8 million to take all the important faceoffs in Detroit.

That’s part of the reason Ken Holland will likely follow the lead of co-worker Jim Devellano into the Hall one day.

Is the NHL on Las Vegas' map?


THN is in Las Vegas covering the NHL Awards.

Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Thursdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesdays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. 

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