The single-biggest advantage year-end awards columns have over year-end awards TV shows: no speeches. No deferring to deities, no lauding of loved ones, no auto-erotic self-congratulation. Just (a) the categories; (b) the oughta-wins; and (c) a couple runners-up in each area so as to cover the author's much-cherished hide.
Hart (Most Valuable Player)
Oughta Win: Joe Thornton, San Jose
Runners-up: l. Miikka Kiprusoff, Calgary. 2. Alexander Ovechkin, Washington.
Why: Jaromir Jagr is the consensus favorite to win the MVP award, but there is a good collection of talent surrounding him in Manhattan Â– talent that has helped him put up those impressive numbers. Thornton, Kiprusoff and Ovechkin are more valuable in the truest sense of the word, as all three of their teams would be much worse Â– missing-the-playoffs worse in Calgary's and San Jose's cases; frightening-to-small-children-worse in Washington's Â– without them.
It goes to Thornton, in part, because he has overcome so much en route to his first Art Ross Trophy as the league's top pointgetter. Management and the media in Boston questioned his skills and leadership often and vigorously. But following the trade, the Bruins went into a tailspin and finished the year out of the playoffs; Thornton almost singlehandedly led San Jose from the cellar region of the Western Conference to the fifth seed in the post-season. That's vindication for Thornton, and value for the Sharks.
Norris (Top Defenseman)
Oughta Win: Scott Niedermayer, Anaheim
Runners-up: l. Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit. 2. Zdeno Chara, Ottawa.
Why: Because Niedermayer is central to the Mighty Ducks' mighty quick reversal of fortune. Because his absence from the Canadian national team was the main reason why the True North was not-so-strong at the Turin Olympics. Because he's putting up career-best assists and point totals on a young, still-developing team.
It's true you could make a solid argument for Lidstrom taking home the Norris. It is also true we've already decided on Niedermayer, so you shouldn't waste your time. Chara might eventually win one if he'd stop doing things like getting injured in pointless fights.
Calder (Top Rookie)
Oughta Win: Alexander Ovechkin, Washington
Runners-up: l. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers. 2. Dion Phaneuf, Calgary.
Why: For as good as Lundqvist, Phaneuf and Sidney Crosby are going to be, none currently possess the presence, potency and persona of the smiling Russian kid with the magic hands.
Here's the scary thing: if Ovechkin has yet to take his talents to their peak, we may need oxygen masks and Sherpa guides to watch him when he does.
Vezina (Top Goaltender)
Oughta Win: Miikka Kiprusoff, Calgary
Runners-up: l. Marty Brodeur, New Jersey. 2. Tomas Vokoun, Nashville.
Why: Kiprusoff ranks first in the NHL in wins (42) and goals-against average (2.07). He is fourth in the league in save percentage. He has 10 shutouts in a whopping 74 games for the Flames this season. What else does he need to do?
After a wobbly start, Brodeur has come on like gangbusters, while Vokoun was dominant for the Predators all year Â– right up until he was sidelined for the season by a blood disorder. But neither one can claim they've carried their team. Kiprusoff can, and that's why he gets the nod here.
Jack Adams (Top Coach)
Oughta Win: Lindy Ruff, Buffalo
Runners-up: l. Tom Renney, New York Rangers. 2. Dave Tippett, Dallas.
Why: Ruff and Renney (sounds like a 70s-era cop series) both took the low expectations that surrounded their teams and stuffed them as their players shined.
Renney coaxed an unbelievable year out of Jagr, a feat most hockey people no longer believed possible without aid of a loaded gun. But Ruff worked his wonders without an acknowledged superstar, top-shelf payroll or consensus No. 1 goalie. Add to that the rash of injuries to top Sabres players (Jochen Hecht, Daniel Briere) Ruff had to deal with, and you've got a job very, very well done.
Executive of the Year
Oughta Win: Jim Rutherford, Carolina
Runners-up: l. Brian Burke, Anaheim. 2. Darcy Regier, Buffalo.
Why: Nobody but Hurricanes players, employees and their families believed Carolina was going anywhere but the lottery this season. But Rutherford, with much assistance from coach Peter Laviolette, has made everyone believers.
Burke's transformation of the Mighty Ducks has been remarkable not simply for its speed, but also because he freed up a fair slice of salary cap space to use as early as this summer. He and Regier proved you needn't spend to the cap's upper limit to build a competitive team.
Selke (Top Defensive Forward)
Oughta Win: Rod Brind'Amour, Carolina
Runners-up: l. Jere Lehtinen, Dallas. 2. Mike Fisher, Ottawa.
Why: Forget about Eric Staal Â– Brind'Amour is the Â‘Canes' MVP this year. He plays as many minutes as any forward in the league Â– usually against the other team's top line Â– and has a plus-9 rating to augment his 31 goals and 70 points this year. And he's 35 years old. If he doesn't win, he should demand a recount.
Lady Byng (Most Gentlemanly Player)
Oughta Win: Brian Rolston, Minnesota
Runners-up: l. Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit. 2. Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa.
Why: Yes, Rolston has 22 more penalty minutes than Datsyuk's total of 28, but Rolston also plays on a team whose style is known to grate on the opposition. The 33-year-old Rolston has been well-liked everywhere he's played, and the 10-year vet is respected around the league.
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