Another step in the Alex Ovechkin-Evgeni Malkin debate should be taken when finalists for some of the NHL’s most hotly contested awards are announced.
The three nominees for the Hart, Vezina, Selke, Masterton and Jack Adams trophies are to be revealed a day at a time, beginning Monday with the finalists for the Vezina Trophy for the league’s top goaltender.
On Tuesday, it is the Frank Selke Trophy for the best defensive forward while the Hart Trophy for most valuable player goes on Wednesday. Thursday has finalists for the Bill Masterton Trophy for dedication and perseverance and on Friday, it is the Adams Trophy for the NHL’s best coach.
The winners will be crowned at the NHL awards show June 18 in Las Vegas.
Most attention goes to the Hart, where Washington Capitals scoring sensation Ovechkin is gunning to become the first repeat winner since Jaromir Jagr took four in a row from 1998 to 2001.
Ovechkin finished second in the scoring race to Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins, but his 56 goals were 10 more than his closest pursuer, Jeff Carter of the Philadelphia Flyers. That clinched a second straight Maurice (Rocket) Richard Trophy for Ovechkin as the leader in goals scored.
Malkin, last year’s runner-up, already has the Art Ross Trophy for leading the league with 113 points, including 35 goals. He is another strong candidate for the Hart.
So is Detroit Red Wing Pavel Datsyuk, perhaps the league’s best all-around player. The speedy, two-way centre was fourth in league scoring with 97 points, including 32 goals, and was plus-34 for the season.
New Jersey’s Zach Parise, who emerged as a star with 45 goals and 94 points, likely drew some votes, as would 2007 Hart winner Sidney Crosby, who was third in scoring with 103 points – the third time he has topped 100 points is his four NHL campaigns.
The Vezina was left wide open this season when the Devils’ Martin Brodeur, who won in four of the five previous seasons, missed most of the season with an elbow injury.
Now the favourite may be Tim Thomas of Boston, who led the league with a 2.10 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage, but voters may like rookie Steve Mason of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who had 10 shutouts to help his team reach the playoffs for the first time.
Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks (nine shutouts), Miikka Kiprusoff of the Calgary Flames (league-leading 45 wins), and Niklas Backstrom of the Minnesota Wild, who played 17 more games than Thomas and had numbers almost as good, will likely also be considered.
The Adams may also be a tight race, with Claude Julien of Boston, Todd McLellan of San Jose and Ken Hitchcock of Columbus up against the last two winners, Alain Vigneault of Vancouver and Bruce Boudreau of Washington, not to mention Detroit’s Mike Babcock.
Julien took a Boston team dotted with players once considered difficult to coach, like Marc Savard and Phil Kessel, and brought them from eighth place last year to first in the Eastern Conference with a league-low 196 goals allowed.
McLellan took the Sharks to a President’s Trophy as the NHL’ s first-place overall team, while Hitchcock’s Blue Jackets made it to the post-season for the first time in their eight-season history.
The Selke should see a good battle between Datsyuk, who won it last year, and Philadelphia centre Mike Richards, who led the league with seven short-handed goals. He was also plus-22 and a tireless checker, while putting up an 80-point season.
Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler could be a darkhorse candidate.
The league has already announced finalists for three awards.
Zdeno Chara of Boston, Mike Green of Washington and Nicklas Lidstrom of Detroit are up for the Norris Trophy as top defenceman; Mason, Bobby Ryan of Anaheim and Kris Versteeg of Chicago are finalists for the Calder Trophy as best rookie; and Datsyuk, Parise and Martin St. Louis of Tampa Bay are up for the Lady Byng Trophy for most gentlemanly player.