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Illegal Curve’s NHL Awards Preview

The 2008 NHL Awards Show takes place tomorrow in Toronto (Thursday, June 12, 7:00 p.m. ET,CBC-TV) with host Ron MacLean as a litany of close contests highlights the annual event. Illegal Curve and its team of savvy writers have put together an NHL Awards preview for your delight. Enjoy.

The Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy

The Masterton Trophy, selected every year by the Professional Hockey Writers Association, is awarded each year to the player who best exemplified the qualities of perseverance and dedication to hockey. The trophy is named after former Minnesota North Star Bill Masterton, who was killed during an on ice incident. First awarded in 1967-68, the Masterton Trophy has been won by hockey luminaries such as Mario Lemieux, Henri Richard, Bobby Clarke and Teemu Selanne. A player may only win the Masterton once in his career.

The nominees this year include:

Jason Blake – despite being diagnosed with a form of cancer, Blake played all 82 games this year.

Fernando Pisani – Pisani, who has ulcerative colitis, avoided career ending surgery and overcame severe weight loss to play over half the season

Chris Chelios – is just plain old, but still skating in the NHL, waiting for AARP benefits.

It is my opinion that Fernando Pisani should win the award. He very narrowly avoided having his playing career ended, and spent a significant stretch of time in the hospital. I read an article where he said that he couldn’t muster the energy to climb a flight of stairs. Pisani worked himself back into game shape and was a modest contributor on a bad team that nearly made the playoffs.

That being said, I actually think Jason Blake will win. Ulcerative Colitis (really bad diarrhea just isn’t sexy). Though there are many past winners who beat a disease to come back and play, those who have beaten cancer are front and center on that list. Not to belittle what Blake did, but he didn’t miss any time and his doctors thankfully caught the problem soon enough and started an aggressive treatment plan. Blake’s status as a Toronto Maple Leaf certainly won’t hurt his chances.

I don’t believe Chelios has much of a chance. In addition to just being old, he strikes me as a miserable cuss (that’s right, I said cuss) and already has a Stanley Cup to play with this summer.
For Illegal Curve, I’m Kyle Kosior.

The Lady Byng Trophy

History: The Lady Byng Trophy, as its name would indicate, was named after Lady Marie Evelyn Moreton (Byng), wife of the former Governor General of Canada, Viscount Vimy Byng. The award was donated to the NHL by Lady Byng in 1925 and has been awarded every year since (excluding the 2004’05 lockout season). The trophy recognizes exceptional “sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability” (

2006’07 Winner: Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings

2007’08 Nominees: Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings; Jason Pominville, Buffalo Sabres; Martin St.Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning

Odds-on favourite to win: Pavel Datsyuk

Analysis: Datsyuk has a chance to become the first 3-peat winner (three wins in a row) of the Lady Byng Trophy since Frank Boucher of the New York Rangers accomplished the feat back in the early 1930’s and indications for the affable Russian are positive. Datsyuk set personal records for himself this past season (31 goals, 66 assists, 97 points) in a year in which he helped lead the Detroit Red Wings to their fourth Stanley Cup championship in 11 seasons. Datsyuk provided offense on a nightly basis for the Wings this past season and was effective in all game situations, whether it was on the penalty kill, the man advantage or at even strength. And he did this all while only racking up 20 measly penalty minutes. Datsyuk is a finesse player who has honed his defensive skills, but he can still give you physicality. Clean physicality. Datsyuk uses his speed and positioning to lay clean body checks at both ends of the ice and he should be given credit for this. I’ll take that one step further: Datsyuk may be the cleanest two-way player in the game today and could very well compete for this trophy for the next five years. Nothing against Pominville or St.Louis, but they won’t be winning the award this year.

For Illegal Curve, I’m Ezra Ginsburg.

The Selke Trophy

The Selke award is given annually to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game This year’s nominees include Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, both of the Detroit Red Wings, and John Madden of the New Jersey Devils.

A Brief History

Although named after former Habs and Leafs GM Frank J. Selke, a more accurate name would be the Bob Gainey award, who won it a record number four times since the award’s inception in 1978. Unfortunately for Gainey, an award honouring “stupid trades at the trade deadline involving your starting goalie for a second round pick” still doesn’t exist. Other notable Selke winners include Guy Carbonneau, Jere Lehtinen, and Rod “The Bod” Brind’Amour. Surprisingly former Winnipeg Jet Troy Murray captured the trophy as a Blackhawk in the mid-eighties. Next you’re going to tell me that Dave Manson was nominated for a Norris for some point in his career.

Favourite to win

Of the three aforementioned nominees, one would think that Datsyuk and Zetterberg are the favourites, due to Detroit’s spectacular season (keep in mind that the award is based on, and voted during, the regular season). Let’s take a moment to compare this dynamic duo’s season statistics, shall we:

Zetterberg: 43 Goals, 49 Assists, 92 Points, plus-30

Datsyuk: 31 Goals, 66 Assists, 97 Points, plus-41

Pretty similar stats between these two. Zetterberg could get the nod due to his bounce back season, after only scoring 68 points last season.

For argument’s sake, let’s throw John Madden into mix:

Madden: 20 Goals, 23 Assists, 43 Points, plus-1
Yikes! I’d rather have the other John Madden and his Turducken on my team!

My Pick:

Henrik Zetterberg for his stylish Zatacollection clothing line!

For Illegal Curve, I’m Neil Rockman.

The Calder Trophy

Wouldn’t it have been cool if Kyle Calder had played really great a couple years back in his rookie season with the Blackhawks? If he had, the Calder would have gone to a Calder! Alas, that didn’t happen, but there is a very good chance that the NHL’s rookie of the year prize could land in Chicago this year as two dynamic Blackhawk forwards, Patrick “Citizen” Kane and Jonathan “Don’t Call Me Vic” Toews, are both finalists for the award, alongside Washington’s Nicklas “Not the Goalie” Backstrom.

On paper, Kane looks like the front-runner for the award. The first pick overall in last year’s draft, he led this year’s rookie crop in scoring with 72 points (21-51) [and no, I will not restrain myself from pointing out that Kane’s total falls short of the number of GOALS (76) that Teemu Selanne scored in his rookie campaign].

Toews, who broke on to the international stage in Obama-like fashion with his incredible shoot-out performance at the World Juniors, was third in rookie scoring with 54 points and led all rookies with 24 goals. It is worth noting that Toews only played in 64 games whereas Kane played the full 82.

Not far behind Kane on the score-sheet was Backstrom, last year’s second overall pick. The highly touted prospect tallied 69 points on the year (14-55). And that was without playing alongside Alex Ovechkin, a Calder winner, for most of the time.

Of some controversy was whether or not Montreal net-minder Carey Price merited a nomination. While Price was stellar in the pipes for the Habs in the second half of the season, the nominators felt that his sample size was just too small.

Finally, let us all hope that this year’s winner, whoever he may be, follows in the footsteps of last year’s winner Evgeni Malkin of Pittsburgh, who was nominated for the Hart Trophy in his second year. But if it isn’t asking too much, let’s hope that the Malkin-emulating, like the Calder voting, does not reflect playoff performance.

For Illegal Curve, I’m Steve Werier.

The Jack Adams Trophy

As part of Illegal Curve’s comprehensive coverage of all things hockey, I have the distinct honor to ensure that the legacy of legendary Hall of Fame player and coach/general Manager Jack Adams lives on for eternity (or at least one more year) by providing this comprehensive preview of the award that bares his name, presented annually (unless there’s a lockout) to the coach who is adjudged to have contributed the most to his team’s success.

Without further ado, the nominees are…….

Mike Babcock, Detroit Red Wings (Western Conference Champions, Stanley Cup Champions)
Guy Carbonneau, Montreal Canadians (Eastern Conference Champions)
Bruce Boudreau, Washington Capitals (Performed a complete 180 with a team going nowhere)

And the winner is (in my humble opinion)……..

Mike Babcock, Detroit Red Wings

Long thought of as in the top echelon of NHL coaches, the work that Mike Babcock did with this year’s Red Wings firmly established himself as the top coach in the NHL (in my own humble opinion, for whatever it’s worth). He preached a mantra all season long, and his team bought into it from top to bottom, with them having received their just rewards last week upon defeating the Pittsburgh Red Wings. As we have seen many times in the recent past, talented Red Wings squads had fallen to inferior competition in the early rounds of the playoffs. Babcock wouldn’t allow his team to mimic this record of futility, and had the cojones to bench one of the top ten goaltenders of all time in Dominik Hasek, for the perennially unappreciated Chris Osgood. For refusing to panic in the face of adversity (versus Nashville in round one), and the way his team responded to that minor hiccup, by dispatching their following competitors with meticulous efficiency, Babcock deserves to win the Jack Adams Award. Kudos also needs to be extended to Carbonneau and Boudreau for their impressive performances in garnering better than expected results from squads in Montreal and Washington who probably over-performed all year. However, much like it has been all year for Detroit on the ice, Babcock will, in the end, triumph over his competitors.

For Illegal Curve, I’m Drew Mindell

If you have any thoughts, or want to register your general dislike of me, please post them in the Comments!

The Vezina Trophy

History of the Award: The Vezina Trophy Award, named in honour of former Montreal Canadiens goaltender Georges Vezina, was first handed out after the 1926’27 season and recognizes outstanding personal achievement at one of the hardest postions in all of professional sports.

2006’07 Vezina Trophy Winner: Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils

2007’08 Nominees: Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers; Evgeni Nabokov, San Jose Sharks; Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils.

Odds-on favourite to win: Brodeur

Analysis: Although Nabokov led Brodeur in many statistical categories ( 46 wins to Brodeur’s 44, 2.14 Goals Against Average to Brodeur’s 2.17 G.A.A), there are two stats that give Brodeur the slight edge to win the trophy this year; games played and save percentage.

Martin Brodeur quietly played 77 games out of a possible 82 games on the 2007’08 regular season schedule for a team with a new coach and a load of fresh acquisitions and played admirably. New Jersey iced an inexperienced defensive corps this season and all Brodeur did was post a record-extending 7th 40-win season and carry his team to a Top 5 Eastern Conference finish. Now, I know what you’re thinking right now. Nabokov also played 77 games this year for the Sharks. Indeed. But we were constantly reminded by the media (in the Bay Area especially) that Nabby was playing almost every game, whereas it was almost expected out of Marty “Iron Man” Brodeur.

The fact that Brodeur only missed 5 starts at the age of 36 years old is quite phenomenal when you consider how many games other starting goalies at his age were playing (Kolzig- 38 years old, 54 games; Osgood- 35 years old, 43 games played).

Now forget that Brodeur’s save percentage was .920 for a moment (compared to Nabokov at .910). At the beginning of this season, the Devils lost six of their first nine games and were heading towards the snake pits. New Jersey had lost Brian Rafalski (Detroit Red Wings) and Scott Niedermayer (Anaheim Ducks) over the past two seasons and were struggling with a terribly inexperienced blueline. The team, led by Brodeur, was able to shake off the rusty start and compete with Pittsburgh for the Atlantic Division title for the rest of the year. In contrast, Nabby’s Sharks were favoured to win the Cup at the start of this season, thanks in large part to a talented D Corps led by Craig Rivet, Kyle McLaren, Christian Ehrhoff and Matt Carle. Now, these aren’t future Hall of Famers were talking about here but neither are Mike Mottau, Sheldon Brookbank and Johnny Oduya.

Now, Brodeur has already won 3 Vezina trophies (2002’03, 2003’04, 2006’07) and would probably have more if it wasn’t for a guy named Dominik Hasek but it has never been what motivates the proud Montreal native. Brodeur wants to win at any cost and anyone who watched New Jersey’s embarrassing first round defeat this year in the Stanley Cup Playoffs would know that Brodeur will be back next year hungrier than ever.

Although Nabokov had a tremendous year for the Sharks and logged a ridiculous amount of big-time minutes, Brodeur should get his 4th Vezina Trophy this year because of his character, his leadership and his perpetual drive to play in games in which his team needs him the most. It just so happens that in 2007’08, that was almost every night.

For Illegal Curve, I’m Ezra Ginsburg.

The Norris Trophy

“The James Norris Memorial Trophy is an annual award given to the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position.”

All-around meaning all of the skills that are required for a defenseman to do, preventing goals, killing penalties, blocking shots, playing the body, along with breaking the puck out of the defensive zone, setting up in the offensive zone and all around positioning.

The three nominees for this years Norris Trophy are: Nicklas Lidstrom, Dion Phaneuf and Zdeno Chara. I will be looking into each of the candidates from a statistical perspective (thank you

What you need to know before reading this table:
TGF = Total Goals For while that player was on the ice
PPGF = Powerplay Goals For
NONPPGF = Even Strength and Shorthanded Goals
TGA = Total Goals Allowed while that player was on the ice
PPGA = Power Play Goals Allowed
EVGA = The difference between total goals allowed and power play goals allowed. I would like to call this even strength goals allowed but I cannot as it does not take into account shorthanded goals against.
AVGEVGA/G = The amount of non power play goals allowed per game
AVG TOI = Average Time on Ice per game
GC/G = Goals Created/Game “Goals created; calculated by adding goals scored to (assists divided by (team assists divided by team goals)), then multiplying by 0.5. Here is an example. In 2006-07, Sidney Crosby had 36 goals and 84 assists. The Penguins as a team had 267 goals and 468 assists. Thus Crosby is credited with 0.5 * (36 + (84 / (468 / 267))) = 42.0 goals created. Note that the sum of player goals created is equal to the sum of player goals scored for all teams.”

The leader of each category is in red

Games Played767782
AVG TOI/G26:4326:5026:25

After performing a statistical analysis on the three Norris trophy winners, it is easy to say that Lidstrom is far and away the best defensman of the three. While Lidstrom’s stats may be inflated because he plays for the best team in the league, he has won the Norris five previous times so this is no fluke. He is the best at scoring goals, as he has the highest goals created/game and the highest points and by far the most assists of the three. And as far as preventing goals he is also the best having been on the ice for the least amount of goals allowed and least amount of goals allowed per game.

His goal differential (+/-) is miles ahead of Chara and Phaneuf and he does not hurt his team by taking penalties with a measly 40 PIMs.

My pick for runner up in this category is Chara. While him and Phaneuf are very similar, what separates Phaneuf from these three is penalty minutes. His 183 penalty minutes are far too many for a top defenseman to be taking. A true number one defenseman should be the teams number one penalty killer. When Phaneuf is spending all of this time in the box, how can he kill penalties for his team? Phaneuf lead his team in penalty minutes this year with 182 and was 9th in the league in penalty minutes. Here are the names above and below Phaneuf in the league leaders of penalty minutes; Alex Burrows and George Parros. Despite taking so many penalty minutes he was able to keep up with the other two top defenseman in time on ice. Phaneuf is a young defenseman who just completed his third full season. A Norris trophy is in his future, just not this year.

Lidstrom should win this one in a landslide.

For Illegal Curve, I’m Michael Remis.

The Hart Trophy

Nominees are: Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Jarome Iginla.

Is there even a question as to who will win? It will be Ovechkin by a landslide and that is saying something considering Malkin and Iginla were absolutely tremendous this season. I mean the decision is so obvious that the NHL website had shirts printed with Ovechkin as the Hart winner last week!

If you are doubting Ovechkin, then just look at his numbers. The dominant Russian winger scored a whopping 65 goals this season. That is 13 goals than his next closest competitor. He also won the total points race by 6 points. Tack on his 11 game-winning goals and a +28 plus/minus rating and you have the game’s best player. Ovechkin should easily take home the hardware on Thursday night.

Even though this year’s decision is easy, that doesn’t mean we should not acknowledge the tremendous seasons put forth by Malkin and Iginla.

Malkin proved the Penguins are a two-headed monster with him and Sidney Crosby up the middle. The smooth Russian scored 47 goals and totaled 106 points on the season. He and Ovechkin were the only two players this season to eclipse the 100 point barrier.

Iginla was his dominant self for the Flames in 2007/08. The power-winger scored 50 goals and added 48 assists. On top of that, he was a +27, added 83 penalty minutes and was well-above average in the face-off circle with a 55% winning percentage.

While the Hart Trophy winner is obvious, second place in the voting is anyone’s guess. Personally, I would vote Iginla as my number two candidate. His leadership ability and all-around game make him the second best player in the NHL.

For Illegal Curve, I’m Richard Pollock.