Sergei Bobrovsky nearly led the Blue Jackets to an unexpected playoff berth and earned goaltender of the year honors for his efforts. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)
By Ryan Kennedy
When the Columbus Blue Jackets visited the Chicago Blackhawks in late February, they came upon the home team in the midst of an historical streak, one that saw the Hawks go 24 straight games from the start of the season without losing in regulation. Chicago was so-so on the night, but still won the game 1-0 because the Jackets were so non-threatening, so anonymous, that only a single rush by center Ryan Johansen in the first period sticks in the memory bank.
But that was before ‘Bob’ took over.
Beginning with a win over Colorado March 3, Sergei Bobrovsky lost just five decisions in 26 games as the Blue Jackets morphed into a feel-good playoff contender lovably referred to online as simply ‘Lumbus.’ Without Bobrovsky in the driver’s seat, it doesn’t happen. During that incredible end run, when the third-year Russian refined his stats to a sleek 2.00 goals-against average and .932 save percentage, ‘Bob’ was in net for every game except one.
And let’s face it: Columbus needed a hero. The post-Rick Nash era got off to a rocky start and even the future looked bleak when second overall pick Ryan Murray was knocked out for the year after 23 games in junior due to shoulder surgery. The Jackets got some nice pieces back for Nash in the form of Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov and Tim Erixon, but those weren’t franchise players. Before the arrival of Marian Gaborik at the trade deadline, Columbus didn’t even have a go-to guy in the lineup. Every team in the NHL except Ottawa and Phoenix had a player on the NHL scoring leaderboard before Columbus, where Vinny Prospal showed up with 30 points.
Bobrovsky will earn trophy consideration. The Vezina is the most achievable and he’s a favorite alongside San Jose’s Antti Niemi. The Sharks netminder did have a wonderful season, but also a boatload more talent in front of him.
And while Bobrovsky will be a long shot for the Hart, he was in the conversation and garnered top-five support alongside more prominent names such as Crosby, Ovechkin and Tavares.
With the team on the precipice of falling into a deepwater trench, Bobrovsky took the controls from Steve Mason (traded to Philly at the deadline) and the Jackets never looked back, missing the playoffs by less than a point. Minnesota earned the No. 8 seed in the West on a tiebreaker.
The Jackets can now at least look toward next season with a sense of optimism. The crew is cohesive and for the first time since Mason’s unexpected Calder run in 2008-09, a legitimate star is in net. His name is ‘Bob.’
(Five points for first place vote, three for second, one for third)
Sergei Bobrovsky - 48
Antti Niemi - 23
Henrik Lundqvist - 10
Tuukka Rask - 5
Niklas Backstrom - 3
Craig Anderson - 1
By Sean Leahy
There were many wondering how Ryan Suter would fare being separated from his long-time defense partner Shea Weber after he joined buddy Zach Parise and signed a 13-year, $98-million deal to join the Minnesota Wild. Making things more intriguing was that Suter would eventually be paired with a 19-year old rookie.
Well, it worked. And much like the relationship between Suter and Weber in Nashville, Suter and rookie Jonas Brodin complemented each other and formed one of the NHL’s top defense pairings. Suter helped Brodin become a Calder Trophy candidate and the young Swede helped Suter become the Norris Trophy favorite.
The 28-year old Suter has developed into a workhorse, seeing his ice time increase by 10 minutes per game since his 2005-06 rookie season. He finished the 2012-13 campaign leading all players at 27:16. Having played 30-plus minutes just four times into April, with the Wild chasing a playoff spot in the Western Conference, Suter played more than 30 minutes in six of Minnesota’s final 11 games. That capability carried over into the post-season, too; Suter played 41:08 in Game 1 against the Chicago Blackhawks in the opening round of the playoffs.
Had this been a full 82-game season, Suter likely would’ve set career highs in goals and points after scoring four times and chipping in 32 points during the truncated 48-game schedule. It took a while to adjust to his new surroundings and Suter was hard on himself during his early season struggles. When you’re playing alongside the same guy for seven seasons, you get to know his tendencies. You know how he’ll react in certain situations. You begin to form a kind of ESP that the Sedin twins possess.
What caused Suter the most stress was that he was trying to do everything himself. He was trying to live up to the massive, long-term contract in his first handful of games with the Wild. It wasn’t until a talk with GM Chuck Fletcher that Suter finally began to relax. “I wanted to assure him we were thrilled that we signed him and that it would take time,” Fletcher said in March.
Sure enough, that was the wakeup call Suter needed. And once he fell into a comfort zone with Brodin, the pair flourished and the Wild took off, jumping up into the West’s playoff picture.
Wild coach Mike Yeo has called Suter’s Norris Trophy candidacy “a tap-in.” Being able to adjust to new surroundings, new teammates and a new defense partner, Suter removed all doubts after leaving Weber and the Predators. He played through the pressures of the new contract and elevated his game this season, a season that should end with the Norris Trophy.
Ryan Suter - 46
P.K. Subban - 22
Kris Letang - 11
Drew Doughty - 3
Erik Karlsson - 3
Francois Beauchemin - 3
Duncan Keith - 1
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - 1
By Harrison Mooney
The Norris Trophy purports to reward the NHL's best defenseman. Maybe it does. But it's a safe bet that, if you're the sort of defenseman who doesn't put up a whole lot of points and busies himself with the defending aspects of the job, you're likely to slip through the cracks. Such was the case for Francois Beauchemin, the Anaheim Ducks rearguard who was the heart and soul of the club during their resurgent year – and who really didn't get much in the way of award chatter due to his relatively low point totals.
P.K. Subban, Kris Letang and Ryan Suter were 1-2-3 in scoring by defensemen in 2013. They got Norris nominations. Meanwhile, Beauchemin, who put up a very respectable six goals and 24 points in his 48 games, did not. Granted, there's more to the nomination than just points (it is, as we know, awarded to the best "all-around defenseman," and the three nominees are pretty good at everything), but it's a damning indictment of what the Norris has become nonetheless. Clearly, points matter quite a bit when the top three scorers are judged to be the league's best defensemen. You'd think there would be a little more to "all-around" than that.
You simply can't measure Beauchemin's contributions on the scoresheet, precisely because his primary contribution was keeping the opposition off of it. It's a fact perhaps best demonstrated by his plus/minus rating of plus-19, the best for any NHL defender.
Admittedly, plus/minus is a stat that doesn't say everything, but when you finish the season as the league's best defenseman in the category despite playing primarily against the Western Conference's top forwards -- guys like the Sedins, Henrik Zetterberg, Taylor Hall, and so on -- it says something. These are guys that score in bunches, and somehow, despite sharing the ice with them every night, Beauchemin finished comfortably in the black.
Beauchemin was the Ducks' best penalty-killer, one of their most physical players, and their most reliable defender when it came to getting the puck out of the defensive zone. He was a defenseman, through and through, and if the NHL handed out an award just for defense, Beauchemin would be this year's recipient. Thankfully, THN does, and Beauchemin's the guy.
Francois Beauchemin - 18
Dan Girardi - 17
Zdeno Chara - 15
Ryan Suter - 10
Josh Gorges - 6
Niklas Hjalmarsson - 6
Ryan McDonagh - 5
Fedor Tyutin - 3
Rob Scuderi - 3
Duncan Keith - 3
Roman Polak - 1
Breant Seabrook - 1
Ron Hainsey - 1
Dan Hamhuis - 1