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. Read more
St. Louis’ Alex Steen has had a rewarding season. He set a career high with 33 goals and 62 points in 68 games, gained some traction as a Selke candidate and signed a three-year extension worth north of $17 million. In Game 1 against Chicago, he put another egg in his basket.
The Blues-Blackhawks series is going to be a brutal one…in a good way. With so many banged up stars and gruff bruisers battling for pride and glory, the immense skill and ruthless carnage mix for a perfect playoff painting. The opening game of this series was physical, full of offensive chances, great saves and was a test of endurance.
The Blues and Blackhawks were on their way to playing two games Thursday night, but Steen put the game, and everyone watching it, to bed, only 26 seconds into 3OT. Read more
(Editor’s Note: In our Playoff Preview edition of the THN magazine, we asked the question, “Who Would You Take” if you were a GM and were building a team from scratch to win in the playoffs? Most said Sidney Crosby, but three THN writers had another opinion. Below you’ll read why Adam Proteau would build his team around Jonathan Toews. Also check out Rory Boylen’s column on Steve Stamkos and Ryan Kennedy’s on Drew Doughty)
There’s currently one NHL captain who has two Cup rings and a pair of Olympic golds. It’s not Sidney Crosby. It’s not Henrik Zetterberg. It’s not Ryan Getzlaf, Steven Stamkos, Henrik Sedin or Alex Ovechkin. It’s Jonathan Toews of Chicago, the first guy I’d pick to give my team a shot at winning hockey’s ultimate prize.
Readers of my work know I come by my Toews crush honestly. I’ve never claimed he’s the sport’s best scorer or flashiest presence. But add up all the things he does at an astonishingly high level, and you have a sum far greater than its already-great parts.
When listing all Toews does right, it’s tough to know where to begin. He’s the epitome of consistency: he’s produced offense at a near point-per-game pace (440 points in 484 games) and he almost had the third 30-goal season of his seven-year career this season. He creates space for his teammates and unselfishly dishes off the puck, but he can easily pick a corner or rip a wrist shot past a goalie if the situation calls for it.
There’s not a brand of hockey Toews hasn’t excelled at. If you want to skate, he’ll skate with you. If you want to grind, he’s good on that level as well. And his international resume is impeccable: world under-17 gold medal? Check. World juniors gold? Check. World Championship gold? Check. Olympic gold? Double-check. When people talk about developing a winning pedigree, the standard by which all others are being judged has been set by Toews.
As I posted on Twitter Monday, I’m picking two series sweeps in Round 1. But there’s a chance two more go the minimum.
Sweeps are killjoys, though, so let’s hope for longer, and therefore much more exciting, series. But the possibility remains that at least one team, or more, will be on the links within a week.
Here are the most likely series sweeps in Round 1:
Welcome to the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs and the beginning of a new format. No longer will teams be seeded from 1-8 in their conference, but instead will have to play out of their division first. Teams are no longer re-seeded after the opening round and will face the other winner in their division in the second round.
THN gets you prepared for the action, which will start Wednesday, April 12. Below is our introduction to each series, insider analysis from CBC’s Kevin Weekes and TSN’s Jeff O’Neill, and THN’s prediction.
And be sure to vote on our poll: Who do you think will win the 2014 Stanley Cup?
BOSTON BRUINS vs. DETROIT RED WINGS
Introduction: A classic Original Six matchup welcomes the Detroit Red Wings to the East side of the playoff bracket and it won’t be a warm reception. The Bruins are the most complete team in the East and asserted their dominance by going through the East with a 12-4 record last playoff season. But the Wings are also an unfortunate draw for Boston. If any team, no matter its drawbacks, is capable of a shocking upset, it’s the experienced Red Wings machine. Just last season, Detroit upset Anaheim in the first round and took Chicago all the way to Game 7. This season, Gustav Nyquist should be even better for them. Read more
Just like the start of the regular season, any fan with a horse in the race starts the NHL playoffs with a giddy optimism. Even if you don’t believe your team will win it all, you’re surely thinking they can pull off an upset or two.
Well, sorry to break it to you, but you’re wrong. Your team isn’t as good or as complete as you believe it to be. They will not win the Stanley Cup.
And here’s why your favorite team will come up empty this spring:
Anaheim: Because the stats community says you’re doomed to fail. Your team’s 49.8 percent Corsi percentage is second-worst among Western playoff teams, which means you don’t possess the puck enough. You were upset last year and it’s going to happen again. Read more
Sometimes it’s easy to forget how good Marian Hossa is because he plays behind guys like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane on the Chicago Blackhawks.
But Hossa is really good, as he showed last night when he went coast-to-coast and beat Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne on a wraparound.
Hossa makes everyone look like they’re moving in slow motion as he darts into the zone, skirts the two Nashville defenders and comes out behind the net.
Then he tosses the puck at Rinne and it goes in.
With their 3-0 win over the suddenly slumping St. Louis Blues, the Dallas Stars are returning to the post-season, having eliminated the Phoenix Coyotes. It’ll be the franchise’s first playoff appearance since 2007-08 when ‘Big D’ made it to the Western Conference final before bowing out in six games to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings.
The 16 playoff teams are now set. All that’s to be decided now is positioning.
For the Stars, they could get any one of the Ducks, Avalanche or Blues in Round 1. They’re 2-1 against Anaheim, 1-3-1 versus Colorado and now 3-1-1 when facing St. Louis. Couple their success in Missouri with the Blues’ five-game losing streak, and the Stars might be hoping for first-round series against the Notes.