I hope the holidays are treating you well. As you already know, the Fifth Feather is in a giving mood. That’s probably because we’ve been on the receiving end of some Christmas cheer recently. Fifth Feather Girl, Elizabeth, helped us with a slight site redesign over the weekend, and I appreciate her services. So, a big Fifth Feather Thanks must go out. Thank you, Elizabeth.
And, don’t be alarmed: we may undergo some other redesigns in the next few weeks, but rest assured, our readers will receive the same comments, analysis and hard work from the Fifth Feather.
So, what better way to show my Christmas time gratitude than by giving holiday season NHL Awards? Without further ado, let me give some (fake, no strings attached) hardware:
HART TROPHY (awarded to the player judged best in the league)
There’s a large stable of players who deserve this award as of Christmas: Evgeni Malkin, who already has 16 more points than Chicago’s Patrick Kane with 55, Sidney Crosby, Zach Parise, Mike Richards, and even Patrick Kane himself, who leads the Western Conference in vote getting for forwards and scores big, important goals on an almost nightly basis. But, look no further than last year’s winner as my early pick for the Hart. Alex Ovechkin, who plays with such reckless abandon media members and fans in D.C. have recently asked him to settle down, is quite simply the most dominating force in the game. After battling family issues early in the season, AO is now averaging well over a point a game, and has 20 goals through 32 games. He’s also incredibly ugly, which likely helps.
VEZINA TROPHY (presented to the league’s top goaltender)
This may be the most interesting of the trophy presentation come springtime. With Martin Brodeur set to miss much of the season with an injury and Roberto Luongo battling his own undisclosed health problems, only Evgeni Nabokov is healthy from last year’s finalists. But, with a save percentage only one thousandth a point better than the Islanders’ Joey McDonald, he isn’t exactly setting the world on fire this season. Of starting goaltenders who have played at least twenty games, only Mike Smith of Tampa Bay, Nicklas Backstrom of Minnesota and Carey Price of Montreal have save percentages of at least .920. My early pick is Mike Smith of the lowly Lightning.
NORRIS TROPHY (awarded to the top defenseman in the league)
While the Hart Trophy is normally awarded on the basis of goals and assists, plus-minus is typically a good predictor of success for the Norris. In fact, Nicklas Lidstrom, the winner of the last three Norris Trophies, has led the league in plus-minus the past two seasons. And, while there are other intangibles that go into voting for the league’s best defenseman, this is largely the only statistical predictor. Therefore, as a threshold matter, we can exclude Dion “Sloppy Seconds” Phaneuf, Scott Neidermayer and Chris Pronger, who have plus-minus of -9, -3 and +2, respectively. That leaves defending champion Nicklas Lidstrom, Duncan Keith, Shea Weber and Zdeno Chara, who all have very strong plus-minus rankings, as my finalists. Of these four, Keith leads all NHL defensemen in plus-minus with +17; he’s also fourth overall in average time on ice and tied for 23rd in points among defensemen, only ten points off the lead. Lidstrom is a +13, and he’s twelfth in average time on ice and tied for tenth for points among defensemen. Weber, who’s second among defensemen in points, is 22nd in average ice time and is a +12. Finally, Chara is 5th overall in average ice time, and he’s +10 with as many points as Keith.
Since I can’t tell the difference among my finalists, I’ll give it to the most valuable: Duncan Keith.
CALDER TROPHY (given to the rookie judged top in the league)
As surprisingly effective as Kris Versteeg has been this season, Derek Brassard has 25 points, and he’s a +12 on a team under .500. Patrik Berglund of the Blues can tell a similar story. At this point, it’s Brassard.
Update: Thanks to Kevin for passing along today’s announcement from Columbus that Brassard’s shoulder injury is much more severe than initially thought. Though it first appeared he would be out only a couple weeks, he now will miss the rest of the season following surgery. Perhaps this puts Versteeg in the early driver’s seat for the Calder. It also may open the door for guys like Blake Wheeler, Drew Doughty or Mihail Grabovski. And, yes, Kevin, let’s hope I haven’t jinxed anyone else mentioned in this article, but thanks for reading and commenting.
LADY BYNG TROPHY (given to the league’s most gentlemanly player)
Patrick Kane’s purposeful high stick to the face of Nick Foligno likely disqualified him for the award given to the league’s most gentlemanly player. Unless Pavel Datsyuk burglarizes a suburban Detroit home or spears a nagging defender before May, the three-time winner has this one in the bag.
SELKE TROPHY (given to the league’s best defensive forward)
Two of last year’s finalists, Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, are ‘Wings, and Detroit has already surrendered almost 100 goals. This sounds like John Madden territory to me, but perhaps Jonathon Toews will be among the finalists.
JACK ADAMS TROPHY (presented to the league’s best coach)
Having by far and away the league’s best record is a good predictor that Todd McClellan will take this one home. As we discussed last week in this space, though, watch out for Q, and Mike Babcock likely has too many weapons for consideration.
So, John, I hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday. Rest easy this holiday season knowing that Blackhawks are legitimate candidates to receive each of the trophies listed above: Kane for Hart; Khabibulin for Vezina (though it’s a long shot); Keith for Norris; Versteeg for Calder; Kane for Lady Byng; Toews for Selke; and Quennville for Jack Adams. Let’s just say it should be a fun 2009.
And, John, if I’m dead wrong about any of the awards above, let me know. Until then, be safe, and have happy holidays.