With a dirty-dozen days to go in the NHL schedule, we can start talking about the individual trophy races without fear of overlooking an obvious choice.
Right, Sidney Crosby?
With Alex Ovechkin ready for a Rocket Richard Trophy repeat and Evgeni Malkin set to scoop up his first Art Ross Trophy for the scoring championship, the Russians are no longer coming; they’ve arrived, they’ve unpacked and they’re ordering takeout.
Here’s a look at the top three candidates in the four major trophy races – Hart (MVP), Vezina (best goalie), Norris (best defenseman) and Calder (best rookie) – as well as three players who would be deserving nominees in a parallel universe.
The Favorites: Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh; Alex Ovechkin, Washington; Tim Thomas, Boston
Replace Thomas with Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk for an all-Russian derby, but it looks like a two-borscht race between Malkin and Ovechkin.
The Alternates: Zdeno Chara, Boston; Steve Mason, Columbus; Zach Parise, New Jersey
The Bruins are neither big nor bad without Chara; the Blue Jackets became a confident playoff-caliber club after Mason arrived from the minors in November; and, Parise proved it is, in fact, possible to score in New Jersey.
The Favorites: Steve Mason, Columbus; Evgeni Nabokov, San Jose; Tim Thomas, Boston
The unorthodox Thomas might be a flopper, but he’s no flop. He might not stand a chance for the Hart against the all-too-alluring Ovechkin and Malkin, but there’s a-Vezina a-brewin’.
The Alternates: Scott Clemmensen, New Jersey; Pekka Rinne, Nashville; Dwayne Roloson, Edmonton
If their teams make the playoffs, these three goalies get a triple helping of credit. Martin Brodeur’s backup finally got a chance to play more than one game in a row and it turns out Clemmensen can stop the puck. Of course, he’s doing it in the American League now that Brodeur’s back, but the Devils might not be a playoff team if not for the superb substitute. And, the rookie Rinne rose up when Dan Ellis faltered, while Roloson has started every game in Edmonton since Wayne Gretzky was traded.
The Favorites: Zdeno Chara, Boston; Mike Green, Washingtom; Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit
Chara is simply too big to ignore, in stature and impact; it’s his to win. Like Paul Coffey, Green’s offense will get him nominated, but he’ll have to round out his game to convince voters. And Lidstrom? Well, we just thought he had to be nominated. He’s Nicklas Lidstrom.
The Alternates: Dan Boyle, San Jose; Duncan Keith, Chicago; Brian Rafalski, Detroit
Boyle might be the most underrated addition of the 2008-09 campaign; Keith is a killer; and Rafalski is a pocket Lidstrom who takes more chances.
The Favorites: Steve Mason, Columbus; Bobby Ryan, Anaheim; Kris Versteeg, Chicago
Mason runs away with this one, although it would’ve been closer if Ryan, the NHL’s leading rookie goal-scorer, had been called up from the AHL before mid-November. Then again, that’s about when Mason was recalled, so all’s fair.
The Alternates: Drew Doughty, Los Angeles; Adam Pardy, Calgary; Luke Schenn, Toronto
First of all, let’s be clear: Defensive defensemen win the Calder Trophy about as often as the Islanders are exciting. It isn’t going to happen. But Doughty and Schenn, a pair of 19-year-olds who were high first round picks last June, deserve praise for surviving – and thriving – a rigorous rookie season in the NHL. They’re a pair of studs who will stabilize their team’s blueline for the next decade or so. Pardy doesn’t fit that description. The 25-year-old was drafted 173rd overall five years ago, but he cracked the Flames lineup and has played regularly on the third pairing.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.