Voting on the NHL Awards is a big responsibility for members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association – and one that’s taken quite seriously. However, in my opinion, our voting method loses something because of the secrecy surrounding it. Much like the Star Chamber/papal conclave feel of the Hockey Hall of Fame selection process, PHWA voting is conducted without any transparency – a stark contrast to the way Major League Baseball (properly) chooses players for that sport’s hall of fame. As such, the hockey world never becomes privy to PHWA voters who might choose to engage in blatant acts of homerism.
That’s as wrong as any secretive element to the HHOF. And that’s why I make my NHL Awards ballot public. You can criticize my choices if you want, but at least you’ll have a sense of where I’m coming from. With that said, here are the players I included on my submitted ballot for the five individual player awards on which I’m allowed to vote.
HART TROPHY ("to the player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team") -- Five selections
1. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins
2. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
3. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning
4. Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
5. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
WHY THOSE FIVE? Once again, the wording of the Hart will become a source of confusion among certain PHWA voters. The subtle difference between being “most valuable to his team” and being the most outstanding player (which is what any MVP award connotes in other sports) can turn into a significant discrepancy when ballots are cast.
I used to be one of those “most valuable” sticklers, but now I fully embrace the Hart as something that goes to the game’s best individual performance over the course of a season. While there’s certainly a strong case to be made for Lundqvist on both counts, I think Malkin’s dominance – as evidenced by the Penguins’ star’s 12-point lead on the second-highest scorer (Stamkos) despite playing seven fewer games – nudges him slightly ahead of the Rangers goalie. Although the PHWA doesn’t vote on the Vezina, Lundqvist would have received my first-place selection.
NORRIS TROPHY ("to the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position") -- Five selections.
1. Shea Weber, Nashville Predators
2. Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators
3. Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues
4. Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins
5. Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings
WHY THOSE FIVE? My top vote for the Norris last season went to its eventual winner (Lidstrom), but it’s impossible to deny Weber, the most complete and feared blueliner in the game, his due. He has improved statistically in a slew of key categories (including goals, points and blocked shots) and tripled his plus-minus (from plus-7 to plus-21) while averaging nearly a minute more per game. First time nominees Karlsson and Pietrangelo made big impressions on veteran NHL observers, but in addition to Chara and Lidstrom, there were many more who deserved some type of honorable mention, including Florida’s Brian Campbell and Nashville’s Ryan Suter.
CALDER TROPHY ("to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition") -- Five selections.
1. Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche
2. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers
3. Matt Read, Philadelphia Flyers
4. Adam Henrique, New Jersey Devils
5. Jake Gardiner, Toronto Maple Leafs
WHY THOSE FIVE? Landeskog gets a slight edge from me not because he was healthy all season long while Nugent-Hopkins missed 20 games due to injury, but because the Avalanche left winger was better all-around – his plus-20 was nearly double the total of Colorado’s next-best plus-minus player – and because he averaged a full minute more a night than the budding Oilers star center. Nugent-Hopkins may yet have a bigger impact than Landeskog, but this award is about performance this season – and this season, Landeskog was better.
LADY BYNG TROPHY ("to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability") -- Five selections.
1. Brian Campbell, Florida Panthers
2. Matt Moulson, New York Islanders
3. Jordan Eberle, Edmonton Oilers
4. Loui Eriksson, Dallas Stars
5. Jason Pominville, Buffalo Sabres
WHY THOSE FIVE? I said last week why I think the Byng deserves far more respect than it typically receives and this group of five illustrates why. Between them, they had just 46 minutes in penalties this season – and of those 46, only six belonged to Florida’s Campbell, who averaged nearly 27 minutes a game. The last defenseman to win the Byng was Red Kelly in 1953-54 and it’s high time another won it.
SELKE TROPHY ("to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game") -- Five selections.
1. David Backes, St. Louis Blues
2. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
3. Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings
4. Ryan Callahan, New York Rangers
5. Mike Fisher, Nashville Predators
WHY THOSE FIVE? The difference between Backes and Bergeron was miniscule, but in the end I gave the Blues center the nod for a couple reasons: firstly, Backes used his intimidating physical presence (seen in his hits total of 226) in a way Bergeron (73 hits) did not; and also because Backes averaged nearly a minute-and-a-half more (19:59) than the Bruins center (18:34) while playing in a much tougher conference and division. No slight to Bergeron, but when there’s so little difference in many categories, intangibles come into play.
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