With the 2010-11 regular season about to wrap up, Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun hand out their award winners:
Burnside: A tough call here with Daniel Sedin having such a stellar season en route to his first Art Ross as the league's top point producer. But Corey Perry has been crucial in keeping the Ducks' playoff hopes alive despite the absences of Ryan Getzlaf for a long stretch and No. 1 netminder Jonas Hiller in recent weeks. Perry almost certainly will win the Rocket Richard Trophy as the top goal scorer and be top-five in points. But his clutch play, game-winning goals, third-period goals and point production since the All-Star break push him over the top for me.
LeBrun: My short list consists of Jonathan Toews, Carey Price, Tim Thomas, Pekka Rinne, Daniel Sedin, Marc-Andre Fleury, Martin St. Louis and Corey Perry. In the end, I find myself going back and forth between Perry and Sedin. I may change my mind again before I fill out my official NHL ballot on Monday.
The dilemma: Sedin, to me, clearly has had the most outstanding season in the NHL, but the award is meant for the player most valuable to his team. Perry's league-leading 47 goals (and third-ranked 93 points) on a surprising Ducks team really strikes you, especially with Getzlaf's monthlong injury. Where would Anaheim be without Perry? Then again, despite having last season's Hart winner (brother Henrik) as Sedin's linemate and a No. 2 center who earned MVP consideration earlier this season (Ryan Kesler), where would the Canucks be without Daniel Sedin's 100 points and plus-28 rating?
Winner: Sedin (by a hair).
Burnside: We understand that Tim Thomas likely will win this award based on conversations with GMs who vote for the top goaltender. Fair enough. But the fact that Thomas will have played significantly fewer games than other top netminders (he was 17th in that category as of this writing) leads me in a different direction.
Although Fleury, Ilya Bryzgalov and Henrik Lundqvist all deserve more than a little consideration, we're going with the Nashville workhorse, Rinne. Only Antti Niemi in San Jose has won more games than Rinne since the end of December. Rinne, who is second in the league in save percentage and goals-against average behind Thomas, is the catalyst to what will be Nashville's sixth playoff appearance in the past seven playoff seasons.
LeBrun: My candidates are Thomas, Price, Rinne, Fleury, Roberto Luongo, Henrik Lundqvist, Bryzgalov and Jonathan Quick. Really, I've never had a debate here. Thomas has put up the kind of season that reminds one of Dominik Hasek in his heyday. No-brainer for the Vezina this season, although I don't get an official vote because the GMs vote on this baby.
Burnside: Although Logan Couture may end the season behind Carolina's Jeff Skinner in points and may get edged by the Isles' terrific first-year sniper Michael Grabner in goals, our vote goes to the young San Jose center. When the Sharks were floundering earlier this season, it was Couture who provided clutch performances in spite of his youthfulness. Whatever coach Todd McLellan has asked, Couture has delivered.
LeBrun: A sizable and impressive group of 2010-11 rookies, which included Couture, Skinner, Corey Crawford, P.K. Subban, John Carlson, Cam Fowler, Grabner, Tyler Ennis, Sergei Bobrovsky, Michal Neuvirth and James Reimer. I think Subban's 14 goals deserve more attention, but this will end up being a 1-2 battle between Skinner and Couture when the Professional Hockey Writers' Association votes come in. It's totally a toss-up and both kids deserve the award, but I'll go with the player who added defensive responsibilities to his game on top of the offense he provided.
Burnside: An incredibly close race with Anaheim's Lubomir Visnovsky leading all blueliners in points, Shea Weber having a tremendous second half in Nashville and Zdeno Chara and Keith Yandle making a case in Boston and Phoenix, respectively. But for me, Nicklas Lidstrom's continued blue-chip level of play for a Detroit Red Wings team that once again has had to battle significant injuries gives him the edge. As one NHL GM pointed out to me this week, the fact that he isn't playing as much with Brian Rafalski has put more pressure on Lidstrom, but he still does it all at the highest level. As for those who point to Lidstrom's plus/minus (he is minus-1 through 79 games), never mind. The stat means next to nothing.
LeBrun: For a while, it appeared Lidstrom was going to run away with his seventh Norris Trophy in a cakewalk, but hard-charging Visnovsky of the Ducks has made it quite a race with his league-leading 66 points among defensemen. I also point to his plus-15 rating. And that's what Lidstrom's detractors are pointing to, the Wings captain's minus-1 rating as of Wednesday morning. But I attribute that more to the team's defensive struggles this season and not the legend's own play.
Chara also deserves strong consideration, while Kris Letang, Yandle and Weber also have merit. In the end, I find myself vacillating between Lidstrom and Visnovsky. In the end, even at age 40, "The Perfect Human" still rocks.
Burnside: No slight to defending coach of the year Dave Tippett, who has done another outstanding job in Phoenix, or John Tortorella or Barry Trotz or any of the eight to 10 coaches who deserve a look for this award. But we've got to figure the Penguins' bench boss deserves the hardware. Dan Bylsma has kept his squad afloat and headed toward the top of the Eastern Conference standings despite the long-term absences of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Enough said.
LeBrun: Luckily, I don't have to vote on this one for real. It is again a deep list of worthy candidates, and I don't envy the broadcasters who have to vote on this. My list includes Trotz, Bylsma, Tippett, Guy Boucher, Alain Vigneault, Todd McLellan, Bruce Boudreau, Tortorella and Lindy Ruff. Tippett and Trotz (Nashville) have once again worked miracles with the talent they've got. In his first NHL season, Boucher has coached the Bolts to a surprising season. Vigneault probably won't get a sniff, but all he did was coach Vancouver to its greatest season in 40 years. McLellan has overseen the best second-half turnaround in the league. In the end, I see this as a three-way fight between Bylsma, Tippett and Trotz, but it's hard to ignore the terrific work by a coach who lost two of the best players in the world halfway through the season.
Burnside: The Canucks are the top defensive team in the NHL, and Kesler is the defensive catalyst among the Canucks' forwards, especially now with penalty-killing/faceoff specialist Manny Malhotra out with an eye injury. Kesler is second in the NHL in faceoffs won (tied with Antoine Vermette of Columbus and behind Toews of Chicago). Kesler also has managed to chip in 37 goals, tied for fifth in the NHL.
LeBrun: Until a scary eye injury ended Malhotra's season and threatened his career last month, I had him penciled in with my first-place vote on my ballot for the Selke. He was having the exact kind of season the Selke Trophy should recognize: faceoffs, penalty killing, shutdown work, blocked shots, you name it. All the best in your recovery, Manny. In his absence, my list of contenders consists of Patrice Bergeron, Vernon Fiddler, Darren Helm, Frans Nielsen and Kesler. And my winner is long overdue.