Bruins, Avs dominate my NHL Awards picks

Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron (Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)
Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron (Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

Once again, I’m privileged enough to receive a ballot for the NHL’s annual individual player awards. It’s a huge honor for any hockey journalist and one I think deserves the respect of full transparency to the public. If we’re supposed to represent the fans, we owe it to them to reveal and stand behind our choices – choices I make after numerous discussions with NHL executives and players.

So here are my picks, along with some brief thoughts on why I chose the players I did for the five awards. You probably won’t agree with all of them, but the last thing these honors are about is pure consensus.

HART TROPHY (“to the player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team”) — Five selections.

1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
2. Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks
3. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
4. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
5. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings

The Rationale: As I’ve noted in the past, I’ve come to see the Hart as a most valuable player award, if only because the concept of “value” is so nebulous. But certainly, Crosby’s value to the Penguins – especially during Pittsburgh’s injury-plagued season – cannot be questioned. Nor can his status as the game’s best all-around individual force. Getzlaf was a very close second, while Giroux got the nod over Bergeron because he was the catalyst in Philadelphia’s remarkable season-saving turnaround.

NORRIS TROPHY (“to the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position”) — Five selections.

1. Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins
2. Shea Weber, Nashville Predators
3. Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild
4. Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks
5. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings

The Rationale: Of all the awards members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association receive a vote on, the Norris is far and away the most contentious. I’d feel guilty leaving off superb talents such as Alex Pietrangelo and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, among others, if it weren’t for the incredible blueliners who did make the cut. You could make a solid argument for any one of my top five as the rightful Norris winner, but for me, Chara’s combination of physical intimidation, impeccable positioning and offensive capability made him the guy. One of these years, though, Weber has to be the recipient.

CALDER TROPHY (“to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition”) — Five selections.

1. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
2. Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay Lightning
3. Olli Maatta, Pittsburgh Penguins
4. Seth Jones, Nashville Predators
5. Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay Lightning

The Rationale: MacKinnon was the clear choice here, having more than lived up to the expectations that go along with being the first overall draft pick last summer. Palat was a revelation for the Bolts, while Maatta was one of the chief reasons the Penguins’ defense corps didn’t fall apart after so many key injuries.

LADY BYNG TROPHY (“to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability”) — Five selections.

1. Ryan O’Reilly, Colorado Avalanche
2. Patrick Marleau, San Jose Sharks
3. David Krejci, Boston Bruins
4. Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars
5. Frans Nielsen, New York Islanders

The Rationale: This unfairly-maligned award essentially is about which players are, in their own way, the toughest – by which, I mean the players who are playing an incredibly skilled game in the same physical league as everyone else, yet who manage to control themselves and not hurt their team with needless penalties. O’Reilly fits the bill perfectly, while the eternally underrated Marleau also comports himself well (only nine minor penalties despite playing more than any other Sharks forward). If you think the Byng is for softies, ask yourself if any of the above five players could play for your team. If you don’t want them, I know a ton of hockey people who do.

SELKE TROPHY (“to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game”) — Five selections.

1. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
2. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks
3. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
4. David Backes, St. Louis Blues
5. Ryan O’Reilly, Colorado Avalanche

The Rationale: My top four players in this category are essentially toss-ups for the honor, even though all of them defend somewhat differently. Backes, for instance, uses his ferocious physicality to keep the opposition off the puck, while Toews and O’Reilly use a more positional approach to get the job done. Ultimately, Bergeron made so few mistakes on a nightly basis, it was impossible for me to deny him the No. 1 slot. But Toews wasn’t at all far off from that spot.

(2) NHL All-Star Team

CENTER — Three selections.

1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
2. Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks
3. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers

RIGHT WING — Three selections.

1. Corey Perry, Anaheim Ducks
2. Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs
3. Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks

LEFT WING — Three selections.

1. Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks
2. Patrick Sharp, Chicago Blackhawks
3. Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars

DEFENSE – Six selections.

1. Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins
2. Shea Weber, Nashville Predators
3. Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild
4. Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks
5. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
6. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, San Jose Sharks

GOALTENDER — Three selections.

1. Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche
2. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens
3. Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning

(3) NHL All-Rookie Team

FORWARD — Three selections, regardless of position.

1. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
2. Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay Lightning
3. Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay Lightning

DEFENSE — Two selections.

1. Olli Maatta, Pittsburgh Penguins
2. Seth Jones, Nashville Predators

GOAL — One selection.

1. Frederik Andersen, Anaheim Ducks