LAS VEGAS – Perhaps it’s only fitting that the NHL has moved its awards ceremony out of Canada because for the second straight year, Canadians were distinguished only by the dearth of them accepting awards.
Of course, it’s hard to get your hands on the silverware when the Russians have theirs all over it.
Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Steve Mason saved Canada from being shut out from the major player awards this season – and by that we mean the Art Ross, Vezina, Calder, Norris, Hart, Lady Byng, Rocket Richard and Selke. It was the same last year when the only Canadian skater to pick up a major piece of hardware was Martin Brodeur, another goaltender. In fact, 2008 and 2009 mark the only times in NHL history that Canada has not been represented by multiple winners.
There weren’t even that many Canadians nominated. Aside from Mason, who was also a finalist for the Vezina, the only other Canadians who were among the top three in their categories were Mike Green (Norris), Kris Versteeg (Calder), Mike Richards (Selke) and Martin St-Louis (Lady Byng).
However, no navel-gazing summits, no government commissions will be necessary. The fact is, Canada is producing as much top-level talent as it ever has at all positions. What is more accurate is that the top-level talent from a lot of other countries is just as good, and in some cases better, than Canada’s.
In fact, there are fewer Russians in the league now than there were five years ago, but the ones who are playing in the NHL are, like, really good. They accounted for six major awards this year and for the first time in NHL history, accounted for all three of the finalists for MVP honors, both in voting among the writers and the players.
All of which makes for an interesting backdrop for the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver in eight months. If you line up the top 25 Canadian players against the top 25 from Russia and the top 25 from Sweden, there isn’t a whole lot to choose in terms of skill. But where Canada does, and always will, have an enormous edge is in depth of talent. The quality of player drops off dramatically after the top 30 for every country with the exception of Canada.
That doesn’t mean much in terms of representation at the NHL awards and it certainly is no guarantee of a gold medal in 2010, but it isn’t a cause for major alarm, either.
Mike Richards actually received more first-place votes for the Selke Trophy than did Pavel Datsyuk (61-55), but that should in no way diminish Datsyuk’s accomplishment.
What makes it even more impressive though, is that Datsyuk has been recognized the past two seasons as both the top defensive forward in the league and the most gentlemanly player. Those two honors isolated are rather impressive, but it requires a truly special player to win them simultaneously.
Think about it. Datsyuk is often charged with the task of shutting down the other team’s top offensive player and he does it largely within the confines of the NHL rulebook. Being able to do that without committing a minimum of stick and restraining fouls is truly a remarkable thing.
Combine that with the fact the Selke has evolved into an award for the best two-way player in the league and it makes it even more impressive. Good checker, top point guy and a player who doesn’t put his team into penalty trouble? No wonder he was also a finalist for the Hart Trophy.
LIDSTROM’S SWAN SONG?
Let’s take a moment to acknowledge the passing of the torch from Nicklas Lidstrom when it comes to the Norris Trophy. After winning six of the past seven Norrises, Lidstrom finished a rather distant third in voting behind Zdeno Chara and Mike Green. Consequently, he also failed to crack the first all-star team.
You have to wonder if Lidstrom has another Norris Trophy season in him. He’s 39 years old and has one year left on his deal with the Detroit Red Wings. But the fact he remains near the top of the league is nothing short of remarkable for one of the best defensemen ever to play the game.
CAPS, NOT KHL…FOR NOW
Sergei Fedorov said his first priority is to sign with the Washington Capitals, but that hasn’t stopped the rumor mill from churning in his native country about the possibility of him playing in the Kontinental League.
“I just went home for two weeks and reading the papers was interesting,” Fedorov said. “One paper said I had signed with one team and another said I had signed with another one. But I will wait until July and hope things go well with Washington. I want to play in Washington, nowhere else.”
If the Capitals are not interested, then we might see Fedorov in a KHL uniform next season.
ONE ON ONE WITH ALEX OVECHKIN
THN’s Ken Campbell talks to the Hart and Rocket Richard Trophy winner after the awards.
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Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell’s Cuts, appears Mondays.
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