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THN/Yahoo! NHL Awards: Toughest player, best penalty killer, best fighter

Zdeno Chara is a tough customer to deal with anywhere on the ice because of his size and brute strength. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

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Zdeno Chara is a tough customer to deal with anywhere on the ice because of his size and brute strength. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

JOHN FERGUSON AWARD/TOUGHEST PLAYER: ZDENO CHARA

By Greg Wyshynski
The notion of being the “toughest” player in the NHL can swing to opposite sides of the spectrum. On one side you have the mighty mites like Martin St-Louis, whose lack of size and willingness to put himself in harm’s way certainly speak to a level of toughness.
 
On the other side you have a man/mountain named Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins, listed at 6-foot-9 and 255 pounds.
 
Watching Chara play hockey is like watching an angry giraffe in battle armor. He simply shouldn’t skate as well as he does, but he does. He simply shouldn’t level his opponents like he does, but they’re leveled. As Brian Rolston told WEEI in March 2012:
 
“He’s so hard to play against, he’s a tremendous leader. Obviously he does that by example, but he’s the toughest guy to play against in the league – bar none. If you were to poll the forwards on every team they would say the same thing and coming in on a nightly basis knowing that you have to face him – it’s a tough task.”
 
It’s a task made tougher by the notion that Chara, should he choose to, could push your nose through the back of your head with a single punch.
 
In 1,055 NHL games, Zdeno Chara has 54 fights, according to HockeyFights.com. The frequency of those fights has tailed off since the 2004-05 lockout, as Chara became an elite defenseman that needed to stay out of the penalty box and as the rest of the league began to understand that avoiding his fists at all costs was a wise decision.
 
It was in October 2005 when Chara, then of the Ottawa Senators, fought Raitis Ivanans of the Montreal Canadiens, busting his face open with one punch while Ivanans was on his knees. Blood flew in several directions, and Ivanans lost some teeth. The visual was like a calling card for Chara.
 
In essence, Chara is like that friend of yours who has a black belt: You know they’re a weapon. They know they’re a weapon. Which is why the weapon remains holstered until absolutely necessary.
 
And when it is, it’s Chara time.

VOTING RESULTS

(Five points for first place vote, three for second, one for third)
Zdeno Chara - 13
Dan Girardi - 11
Chris Neil - 7
David Backes - 6
Wayne Simmonds - 5
Douglas Murray - 5
John Scott - 5
Ryan Callahan - 5
Shawn Thornton - 5
Andrew Ladd - 5
Brandon Prust - 4
Brent Seabrook - 3
Matt Martin - 3
Colton Orr - 3
Brian McGrattan - 3
Steve Ott - 1
Dustin Brown - 1
Mike Brown - 1
Shea Weber - 1
Milan Lucic - 1
Brooks Orpik - 1
Rich Clune - 1

GUY CARBONNEAU AWARD/TOP PENALTY KILLER: JAY MCCLEMENT

By Matt Larkin
Understanding who made the largest impact as a penalty killer this season only requires a little deductive reasoning.

Toronto’s penalty kill rankings in the first seven seasons after the 2004-05 lockout: 24th, 27th, 29th, 30th, 30th, 28th, 28th. Their playoff berths over that miserable stretch: zero. Then, last summer, they signed checking center Jay McClement. He led the NHL in shorthanded ice time per game at 3:39. Toronto’s PK rank this season: second, coinciding with its first post-season appearance since 2004. Though one player’s ability shorthanded can’t on its own carry a team into the playoffs, what McClement did is as close as it gets. His high-pressure approach drastically cut down on opposing players’ reaction time when the Leafs were shorthanded.

He’s suddenly a bargain at $1.5 million per season and has just a year remaining on his pact. The Leafs would be wise to lock him up soon. Who knows where their P.K., and playoff, hopes would be without him?

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VOTING RESULTS

Jay McClement - 42
Ilya Kovalchuk - 14
Zdeno Chara - 11
Ryan Callahan - 6
Max Talbot - 6
Francois Beauchemin - 3
Josh Gorges - 3
Sergei Bobrovsky - 1
Craig Anderson - 1
Marc Methot - 1
Jordan Staal - 1
Boyd Gordon - 1

BOB PROBERT AWARD/BEST FIGHTER: COLTON ORR

By Sean Leahy
If you want to talk about why Colton Orr of the Toronto Maple Leafs is the NHL’s best fighter, it’s probably best to consult someone who’s traded fists with the veteran pugilist.

New York Islanders defenseman Matt Carkner has fought Orr six times, all while he was a member of the Ottawa Senators. Between a combination of it being the always heated “Battle of Ontario” and Carkner, a then-unproven fighter trying to earn respect around the league, Orr never turned down an opportunity.

“He’s just a tough guy. He doesn’t back down,” Carkner said. “It’s kind of full-tilt. It’s either kill or be killed with him. He’s been around. He knows what he’s doing.”

According to hockeyfights.com, in Orr’s nine NHL seasons he’s dropped the gloves 113 times. There have been plenty of knockouts and there was also the time when it looked like Orr may never return after suffering a concussion after a fight with George Parros in 2011. He sat out the rest of the 2010-11 NHL season and played just five games with the Maple Leafs the next year, spending most his time with the American League’s Marlies.

When the 2013 season began, Orr found himself back on the Leafs’ roster after recovering fully from the concussion and having truculence-loving Randy Carlyle behind the bench.

There have always been big, tough fighters entering the league trying to earn respect and a role in the NHL, but many of those guys come and go. Orr has been able to stick because he’s incredibly successful doing his job. He may not possess the offensive game that Bob Probert displayed during his tenure as the NHL’s heavyweight champion, but Orr is also able to handle himself on the ice with his gloves on to maintain his standing in the league.

“In this day and age you’ve got to be able to play hockey,” said Carkner. “If you can’t play, they’re not going to be able to afford to keep you in the lineup taking up a roster spot. Guys now you see are pretty decent players, but they bring that physicality and that toughness.

“You have to prove yourself every time you step out there to drop the gloves.”

VOTING RESULTS

Colton Orr - 34
Shawn Thornton - 10
Brandon Prust - 7
Zdeno Chara - 5
B.J. Crombeen - 5
Zenon Konopka - 5
Jared Boll - 5
Steve MacIntyre - 5
John Scott - 4
Aaron Volpatti - 3
Rich Clune - 3
George Parros - 1
Ryan Reaves - 1
Mark Fraser - 1
Jody Shelley - 1

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