The 2006-2007 NHL Awards take place tonight in Toronto and like every other year, this year there is plenty of debate taking place over who is going to win each award. It can be argued that each award has more than one deserving candidate and that can only lead to many being disappointed once the hardware is given out.
The five major awards being contested are the Hart (League MVP), the Vezina (Best Goalie), the Jack Adams (Coach of the Year), the James Norris (Best Defenseman) and the Calder Memorial (Rookie of the Year).
The Calder Memorial Award is an interesting one. After last year's Crosby/Ovechkin showdown, this year's give away may not be as high profile but may be more competitive. Nominees for this award are the Pittsburgh Penguins' Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal and Paul Stastny of the Colorado Avalance. Each young phenom did great things this past season. Malking scored hilight reel goals time after time and led all rookies in scoring while Staal was sixth in rookie scoring but played a large role on the team's penalty kill and led the league in short handed goals. Paul Stastny was not as flashy as Malkin or Staal, but he did end up second in rookie scoring thanks to his impressive twenty game point-scoring streak.
The James Norris Award has been anything but competitive in recent history. Out of the last five years, Red Wing Niklas Lidstrom has won four time and guess what, he's up for it again. Along with Lidstrom, now Stanley Cup Champions Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger are nominated. It would be irresponsible to discredit Lidstrom on account of his competitiors winning the Stanley cup, but one would think that Anaheim's successes were due in large part to the tandem they had on D and this would render either Niedermayer or Pronger worthy of winning the award. The award will likely go to Niedermayer as he led all defeseman in points while Lidstrom and Pronger were fifth and seventh respectively.
The Jack Adams Award is awarded to the top coach in the league but this award may be the toughest to judge. This year's nominees are Buffalo's Lindy Ruff, Vancouver's Alain Vigneault and Pittsburgh's Michelle Therien. Although Ruff did a great job with the Sabres, it is apparent that Ruff's team had the most talent throughout the roster. This coupled with his win in this category all but eliminates him from contention in my mind. This leaves the two frenchmen Vigneault and Therien. Vigneault took a Canucks team which missed the playoffs the year before and was completely revamped with 14 new players on the roster and led them to a division title and a second round playoff berth. Although Vigneault's feat is astounding, the league and writers may see Therien's as more so. The Penguins' bench boss led his team from last place in the Eastern Conference last year to fifth place this year and a long-awaited playoff appearance. Vigneault did more with a lesser team, but Therien made a more drastic improvement.
The Vezina Trophy is given to the best goalie. Genearlly this award is based on stats. This year there are four nominees. Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo, Mikka Kiprusoff and Henrik Lundqvist. Brodeur seems like a shoe-in for this one, he lead the league in shutout with 12 and set a new league record for wins while having a steller GAA and Save %. Luongo would be a close second, but his stats do not compare to Brodeurs.
Finally, the Hart Trophy. The player who is judged the most valuable player to his team. Martin Broduer, Roberto Luongo and Sidney Crosby are up for this one. Many in the West would say Luongo deserves to win as without him, the Canucks would have gone nowhere this past season. Although the same could be argued for Brodeur, it could also be said that the Devils had a more talented team than Vancouver. This leaves Sidney Crosby, who as a 19 year-old, led the NHL is scoring setting a league record as the youngest player ever to do so. Sure there will be the argument that Pittsburgh was loaded with kid phenoms, but the fact remains that without Crosby that team would have go nowhere fast.
The Lester B. Pearson award is given to the Most Valuable Player voted on by the players of the NHL. Crosby, Luongo and Vincent Lecavalier (led the league in goals) are on the ballot. Crosby doesn't have the best reputation amongst his peers, but I doubt this will take many votes away from him. Lecavalier has Martin St. Louis on his side and often worked as the second half of a tandem. Most players in the league believe that Luongo is the best goalie in the league and without him, the Canucks would have been a basement dwelling team.
As you can see, there is much room for debate and controvery. This means only one thing: an exciting night in Toronto and that is more than we can say about the city during the NHL season.
Here are my predictions for all awards:
Hart - Crosby
Lester B. Pearson - Luongo
Calder - Malkin
Norris - Niedermayer
Selke - Pahlsson
Adams - Vigneault
Byng - Sakic
Vezina - Brodeur
Catch a debrief on the NHL Awards on this weeks upcoming show of The Press Box at www.thepressbox.org