Saturday, April 9, 2011

2011 Alternative NHL Awards

bobby orr awards bruins
The NHL regular season concludes on Monday and the playoff races in both the East and West won’t be determined until the final weekend of play. Only the final two playoff spots are open in the East, whereas the West has spots 5 to 8 available (although at this point only one new team in each conference can actually make it in). Madness. Last year’s Stanley Cup Champions are holding on desperately to the final playoff spot. Their reward: playing the President’s Trophy winners and their yearly opponent – the Canucks. Interesting indeed.

There is also a heated race for the major trophies, specifically the Hart Trophy awarded to the league’s most valuable player. Corey Perry is making a late charge by essentially scoring on a nightly basis. Earlier this week he scored a hat-trick to become the first (and likely only) player to hit 50 goals this season. He’s now only five points behind Daniel Sedin for the league lead in points, while scoring nine more goals, more short-handed goals and more overtime goals. Perry plays more minutes each night and carried the team during Ryan Getzlaf’s absence. Of course, Sedin is the best player on the best team in the league. It's being debated.

There’s enough talk about the real NHL Awards that you can find detailed arguments anywhere on the net. But what I really want to do is introduce the First Annual Alternative NHL Awards. I know the season isn't over yet, but these races are.

The Bobby Holik AwardDumbest free agent signing

Sergei Gonchar

In 2002, Bobby Holik signed with the New York Rangers for an absurd $45 million over five years. Holik was one of the league’s best two-way forwards, but never topped 70 points and, umm... it was $9 million a year! I was so happy when he signed with New York because the Leafs were the other team involved in the “sweepstakes”. Holik lasted two seasons with the Rangers and was eventually bought out after the lockout. Glen Sather doin’ work.

Ilya Kovalchuk is the easy selection this season because he’s signed until forever and barely cracked 30 goals, but at least he’s relatively young and has previously scored 50+ goals and nearly 100 points. It’s entirely possible he becomes an elite player for the Devils in the future. His contract is bad, but it isn’t the worst.

However, the same cannot be said for this year’s Bobby Holik Award winner. Congratulations, Ottawa! Signing a soon-to-be 37-year-old Sergei Gonchar to a three-year, $16.5 million contract was the worst free agent signing this off-season. The $5.5 million cap hit will count even if Gonchar retires.

For their investment Gonchar scored 27 points, while providing minimal defence.

Honourable Mentions: Ilya Kovalchuk, Dan Ellis, Derek Boogaard

The Teemu Selanne AwardBest free agent signing

Antti Niemi

Selanne signed a one-year contract with the Ducks in 2005, but was six seasons removed from his last 70 point campaign and didn’t even play during the lockout. There were more than quiet whispers that the Finnish Flash was done.

For the Duck’s investment of $1 million they received a player who scored 40 goals and 90 points, while leading them to the Western Conference Final. Since allegedly being washed-up, Selanne has 193 goals and 387 points in 378 games (and counting). Not too shabby.

The Leaf fan inside of me wanted desperately to pick Clarke MacArthur for this award. MacArthur scored 62 points for the Leafs and filled a top-6 role on a team predicted to have one legitimate forward. He’s only 26-years-old and will only be a RFA at season’s end, so he could comprise a part of the Leafs' core moving forward. It’s hard to find better value for $1.1 million.

However, the Sharks signed Antti Niemi for $2 million this season and after a rough start he's really turned into the franchise goalie the Sharks hoped they were getting. Niemi recently played in 34 straight games where he went 25-4-4 with a 2.05 GAA and .929 SV%. He's 34-17-6 on the year with a .920 SV% and 2.38 GAA. The Sharks are second in the West and Niemi is a big reason why. Franchise goalies don't grow on trees, but apparently you can get one who has already won a Stanley Cup for $2 million. Not surprisingly, the Sharks locked up the 27-year-old to a reasonable four-year deal worth $3.8 million per season. 

Honourable Mentions: Clarke MacArthur, Alex Tanguay, Brendan Morrison

The Arnold Palmer AwardPlayer with the worst plus/minus

Chris Phillips

I don’t even have to argue here; I just have to read some stats. Chris Phillips turned in an ugly -35 for the Ottawa Senators this season with one game to go (note: if anything drastic changes over the next few games I will have to strip Phillips of this award), which led the league. Ottawa is cleaning up here.

Honourable Mentions: David Booth, Erik Karlsson, Tyler Bozak

The Gordie Howe AwardBest player close to 40

Niklas Lidstrom and Teemu Selanne

Teemu Selanne had another renaissance year, this time at age 40. The Finnish Flash has scored 78 points in 71 games and has looked 10 years younger.

As always, Niklas Lidstrom is a strong contender for the Norris Trophy (he has already won six) after scoring 62 points in 80 games. He’s a -3, which everyone assumes is some sort of error because it would be the first time in his career he was a minus player (and the first time since 1992-1993 that he was below +10). This number is a little misleading as well according to advanced metrics. Lidstrom is facing the highest quality of competition among all defencemen and still playing excellent defence. The +/- isn’t really reflecting that this season.

I can’t choose between the two. Both their seasons are equally impressive.

Honourable Mention: Mark Recchi, Dwayne Roloson

The Vesa Toskala AwardThe league’s worst goalie

Jonas Gustavsson

In the great tradition of post-lockout Leaf goalies, this award will go to a Maple Leaf. Jonas Gustavsson’s season was horrible. There’s no other way to describe it. His .890 SV% was only better than Rick DiPietro and Ty Conklin among goalies who played more than 20 games. His 3.29 GAA was fifth worst among goalies with more than 20 starts. What wins him this award is his treatment of his teammates. On multiple occasions he had visible meltdowns where he ripped his teammates. Maybe that’s acceptable if you’re Martin Brodeur and you’ve won multiple Stanley Cups and Vezina Trophies, but not when you’re in your second year in the league and have shown little ability to stop the puck.

Honourable Mentions: Nikolai Khabibulin, Rick DiPietro, Brian Elliott, Dan Ellis

The Taylor Pyatt/Anson Carter AwardThe player benefitting most from their linemates

Alex Burrows

Playing with the Sedins is the cushiest job in hockey. All you have to do is put your stick on the ice and you’re likely to have something deflect off you into the net. If you play a whole season there you’re guaranteed to crush any previous career highs.

In 2005-2006, Anson Carter scored 33 goals with the Sedins. He only scored 11 more after leaving the Sedins. Taylor Pyatt scored almost 40 goals over two seasons with the Sedins despite only previously topping 10 goals in a season twice.

Now Alex Burrows has taken residence alongside the twins and has scored 63 goals the past two seasons. This season Burrows has scored 25 goals in an injury shortened season and looks as comfortable as ever playing with the Sedins.

Burrows shouldn’t take this award as an insult. He’s a good hockey player, but he definitely owes the Sedins a portion of his pay cheque.

Honourable Mentions: anyone playing with Sidney Crosby, Tomas Kopecky, Devin Setoguchi

The Jaromir Jagr AwardBest hockey hair

Jakub Voracek

This was a hard category to anoint a winner. Jaromir Jagr fled to Russia; Patrick Kane ditched the playoff mullet; Scott Hartnell, Ryan Smyth, and George Parros cut their hair; plus, Mike Commodore is in the AHL. Someone has to take the mantle and I think young Jakub is the man to do it. He’s from the Czech Republic as well, so he’s the logical successor to Jagr’s mullet throne.

Honourable Mentions: T.J. Oshie, Barry Melrose, Ryan White

The Butch Goring AwardBest beard

Henrik Zetterberg

I’m not sure if Zetterberg has shaved his beard since the first time he grew a playoff beard. If that’s true it’s pretty cool. I assume he kept it because he plays like every game is the playoffs. He has a thick beard ideal for surviving the harsh Scandinavian winters or NHL playoffs. Unfortunately, because he didn’t start growing his beard at the beginning of this year’s playoffs he will be ineligible for the 2011 Wendel Clark All-Stars.

Honourable Mentions: Rick Nash, Paul Mara

The Steve Sullivan AwardBest waiver pick-up

Michael Grabner

The Maple Leafs waived Steve Sullivan in 1999 in favour of Dmitri Khristich even though he scored 40 points in 63 games the season prior. Sullivan blossomed into a consistent 60+ point player and Khristich was useless.

The Vancouver Canucks traded Grabner to the Florida Panthers at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft as part of a package for Keith Ballard. Surprisingly, the Panthers cut Grabner in training camp. Grabner, still only 22 at the time and a former first round draft pick, was available to anyone in the league. The Islanders put in a claim and were awarded the Austrian forward.

Grabner has become a goal-scoring machine, notching 33 in 74 games, including six short-handed. He only has 17 assists, so he’s a Cy Young candidate, but he’s in contention for Rookie of the Year and has become an essential piece of the rebuilding Islanders. This was a great move by the Islanders and you have to wonder why both Toronto and Columbus (who both had waiver priority over the Islanders) decided to pass on the former 14th overall pick. Both certainly could have used Grabner.

Honourable Mentions: none, Grabner is in a class of his own

The Claude Lemieux Award - Biggest cheap-shot artist

Matt Cooke

This award is named after Claude Lemiuex for one specific incident that most people will forever remember him by. In the 1996 Western Conference Final, Lemieux drove Kris Draper into the boards from behind with an absolutely vicious hit. Draper suffered a broken jaw, shattered cheek and orbital bone, which eventually required surgery that left Draper’s jaw wired shut. Lemieux already had a reputation as a player who crossed the line, but this was horrible, even by rat standards.

2010-2011 was a banner season in the NHL for rats everywhere. Seemingly every week there was a new offender being prosecuted by the league for some sort of flying elbow or supercharged hit from behind. And we can't have a discussion about cheap-shots without talking about Matt Cooke - the reigning heavyweight champion of the suspendable. Three separate Cooke incidents come up in this video, which is comprised of the year's low-lights. Cooke's last offense - a elbow to Ryan McDonough's head - earned him a suspension that will last until the end of the first round of the playoffs. Maybe if the league came down that hard last year when he took Marc Savard's head off these type of things wouldn't happen.

Honourable Mentions: Trevor Gillies, Matt Martin, Micheal Haley

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