Tuesday, June 12, 2012

2012 5MFF Playoff Awards

Dustin Brown stanley cup
Welcome to the hockeyless nights of the summer. It is truly a barren wasteland of nothingness. Sure, there's baseball, and that will keep you sane, but without hockey, you might as well just go into summer hibernation.

Before shifting gears totally into off-season modegetting excited for the draft, the blockbuster trades, and the free agent bonanza that is sure to comewe should shed a tear for another season gone, and hand out some awards to the deserving few for a playoffs well done.

The Wayne Gretzky AwardMost valuable player

Jonathan Quick

I didn't think someone would so quickly eclipse Tim Thomas' playoff performance from last season, when he went 16-9 with a 1.98 GAA and a .940 save percentage, not to mention four shut outs. However, Jonathan Quick did just that, besting even those gaudy numbers. Quick went 16-4 and allowed an obscene 1.41 GAA, accompanied by a .946 save percentage and three shutouts.

Quick was consistently dominant as well. Thomas had a pretty mediocre Conference Final against Tampa Bay last year, allowing five goals on four occasions, but Quick didn't let up through all four rounds. Quick never allowed more than three goals in one game, and he only let up three goals twice. Plus, only once did he have a save percentage of less than .900.

Only two other times in NHL history has a goalie who played more than 10 games in one post-season register a save percentage above .940 and a GAA under 1.50. Amazingly, those two players were Patrick Lalime in 2002 and Ilya Bryzgalov in 2006.

The Mario Lemieux AwardBest forward

Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar

Sure, giving this to Claude Giroux would be fun, because he nearly led the playoffs in both goals and points, despite only playing into the second round. However, 14 of his 17 points were scored in the first round against the Penguins, who were using the curious strategy of placing a wooden sieve in net in lieu of a goaltender. What? You mean they actually were playing Marc-Andre Fleury? And he stopped how many!? Wow. You might as well just discount Giroux's stats quicker than a 50-goal scorer from the 1980s.

In Giroux's place is both Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar, because the two produced nearly identical playoffs, and both dominated at times. Both finished with 8 goals, two of which were short-handed, 12 assists, and a plus-16 rating. Three of Brown's goals were game winners, compared to only one of Kopitar's, and Brown was an all-around physical force, but there still isn't much separating these players.

The Bobby Orr AwardBest defenceman

Drew Doughty

One of New Jersey's major strengths through the first three rounds of the playoffs was their relentless forecheck. After dumping the puck in they were on top of the defence in an instant. It didn't seem like there was just one either, it almost felt like an endless barrage.

The Kings did an excellent job neutralizing this part of New Jersey's game, and a large reason was Drew Doughty. The former Olympian showed an amazing calm on the backend and made quick, crisp passes to lead the Kings out of the zone, effectively stopping the forecheck before it could start. If the Devils did manage to swarm Doughty, he showed a slippery ability to evade the attacking forwards and maintain puck possession.

He also led all defenceman in both points and goals, showing the type of two-way play that earned him such a major contract. That contract was the source of a lot of criticism this season, as two straight disappointing seasons point wise led many to question whether he'd ever get his game back. Well, this post-season has firmly concluded that Doughty is back and playing at the level he was during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, a time when he was one of the best players in the entire tournament.

The Martin Brodeur AwardBest goalie

Jonathan Quick

This picture pretty much sums up Jonathan Quick's playoff performance.
The Mark Messier AwardBest leader

Mike Richards

By adding a Stanley Cup to his résumé, Mike Richards has now won at every conceivable level. He has won the Memorial Cup and the Calder Cup, plus Gold medals at the World Junior Championship and the Olympics. There is certainly a reason for this. Richards plays the type of hockey that it takes to win in the playoffs.

Richards isn't the captain of the Kings, but there is no doubt that teammates feed off the way Richards plays. When you see Richards out there doing everything he does—killing penalties, throwing big hits, shutting down the opposition's best players—you just can't help but try to match his effort.

A Stanley Cup just proves what everyone already knows: Mike Richards is a winner. Well, everyone except Philadelphia.

The NEW Joe Thornton AwardBiggest career transformation

Ilya Kovalchuk

Throughout his career Ilya Kovalchuk has been labeled as a one-dimensional, me-first type of player, which is one of the reasons why it was so odd to see the New Jersey Devils, one of the classic team-first organizations, sign him to such an outrageous deal. That deal also gave people a lot of reason to criticize Kovalchuk, especially after the Devils tanked so badly last season.

However, Kovalchuk was a completely different player this season, and that carried over into the playoffs. Some thought the intensity of the playoffs, both physically and mentally, would be too much for Kovalchuk, yet he proved all doubters wrong.

Even when Kovalchuk was apparently invisible, like Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final, he still managed to add contribute. In that game it was a couple of assists and a body-check to set up the game-winning-goal. May all our failures be so glorious. He also played through a debilitating back injury that was certainly holding him back, yet still managed to finish second in playoff scoring.

Although Kovalchuk only managed one point in the Stanley Cup Final, he was not alone in his disappearance. Zach Parise only scored once, and Patrik Elias was missing all playoffs, not just the Final.

Kovalchuk won't be remembered for being shut-down during the Final; instead, he will be remembered for changing from a one-dimensional sniper into a true hockey player.

The OLD Joe Thornton Award - Biggest disappearing act of the playoffs

Patrik Elias

After scoring 78 points in the regular season, the third highest total of his entire career, Elias absolutely vanished during the playoffs, scoring 8 points in 24 games. What happened? He was second to only Kovalchuk in points during the regular season, yet during the playoffs he had as many points as noted sniper Alexei Ponikarovsky.

This isn't someone with a major reputation as a playoff no-show, either. Before this season, Elias had 117 points in 138 career playoff games and two Stanley Cup rings. What gives?

The Butch Goring AwardBest late season pickup

Jeff Carter

After acquiring Mike Richards during the off-season, many pegged the Kings as Stanley Cup contenders. Well, those people were right, but not right away. It took five months of scoring almost nothing until GM Dean Lombardi pulled the trigger on a deal to bring Jeff Carter to LA. From that point on, the Kings went 30-9-3, which translates to 123 points over a whole season, and improved their offense by about a goal a game.

Carter himself wasn't totally responsible; he only scored 9 points in the final 16 games of the regular season. However, putting Carter in the top-6 put players back in roles better suited for their skills and made the team much better as a whole. His arrival also sparked Dustin Penner, who was paired with Richards and Carter, and the lumbering winger revived his career with a strong playoffs.

Plus, Carter came through in the playoffs. He was his usual inconsistent self, something that drove fans in Philadelphia crazy, but he scored in bunches, including a hat-trick against the Coyotes in Game 2 of the Western Conference Final, and two against the Devils to clinch the Stanley Cup. His 13 points in 20 Stanley Cup games don't look like much, but he was scoring at a 33-goal pace.

The Teemu Selanne AwardBiggest career resurrection

Martin Brodeur

Unfortunately, a 6-1 shell-shocking in the deciding game isn't exactly the best career send-off, and it really hurt his save percentage, but this post-season showed that Martin Brodeur was back, at least temporarily.

Before the playoffs started it looked as if Brodeur had hung on for a couple of seasons too long. His save percentage the last two years was under .910, residing in the bottom-third of the league. He no longer looked like a back-bone of a championship squad, something that three straight first-round playoff exits, and an awful Olympics, made painfully obvious.

But the playoffs have a funny way of making things that are seemingly painfully obvious into the exact opposite. Brodeur turned into vintage form, outdueling the best goalie in the East, Henrik Lundqvist, in the Conference Final, and then giving the best goalie in the West, Jonathan Quick, a formidable challenge, at least until getting killed in the Game 6 (notably most of the damage done being on the power play).

Seeing Brodeur pad-stacking and poke-checking like he was 10 years younger, turning in a world-class performance at 40, might not be a true career resurrection because it could all be over, but it means the Brodeur we watched the last few seasons will fade away and we can all fondly remember Brodeur as we should­—on the top of his game.

The Ken Dryden AwardBiggest breakout star

Adam Henrique

Not many rookies get pencilled in on the top line, but that's where Adam Henrique found himself throughout this season. He tallied an impressive 51 points, good for second among all rookies.

His strong play carried over into the post-season, scoring 12 points, and ending two series with overtime goals. With the potential loss of Zach Parise in the off-season, it will be up to Henrique to take on a greater offensive role for the team, and by the looks of it, he's ready.

The Marian Hossa AwardLeast clutch player

Steve Bernier

Bigger name players failed to show up for entire series, namely Marian Gaborik, who scored one measly goal over six games against the Devils in the Eastern Conference Final, but it was later reveled that Gaborik was playing through a torn labrum which will see him miss five to six months.

However, no lack of scoring, no matter how apparent, tops Steve Bernier taking a brutal five minute major penalty for boarding in a crucial elimination game. He essentially handed the Cup to the Kings, who proceeded to score three power play goals while Bernier sat in the dressing room.

Perhaps Rob Scuderi turned and put himself in a vulnerable position, but he certainly didn't dive, as emotional Devils fans complained about on Twitter immediately following the play. Bernier was barreling in at a crazy clip and ran him right through the boards from behind. It was a dumb penalty and one that cost New Jersey the Stanley Cup.

If you're looking for a scapegoat, it's Bernier. Still, it must have felt awful to sit in the dressing room and hear the crowd roar three times, knowing that you are completely responsible. Even worse, hearing the buzzer sound and knowing you have to face your despondent teammates as they walk in for intermission. Tough way to end your season.

The Bobby Baun AwardToughest player

Ryan McDonagh

McDonagh was a horse in the playoffs. In game 3 against the Capitals, he played over 53 minutes in a triple overtime victory. Through the first three rounds he led the playoffs with 62 blocked shots. At times it looked like John Tortorella was just leaving McDonagh on the ice and swapping partners. McDonagh's personal mantra must be "live every day like it's triple overtime".

The Fernando Pisani AwardBiggest surprise

Bryce Salvador

For a player with just over 100 points in his career, Salvador really came alive during the playoffs. He scored 14 points in 23 games, five more than he scored in 82 regular season games, and led all Devils in scoring during the Stanley Cup Final. He was second only to Drew Doughty in points by a defenceman and was second among Devils defencemen in ice time.

It's especially nice to see after the 36-year-old missed all of last season with a concussion. His play also came at the right time as he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1st.

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