Saturday, December 12, 2009

Guest Spot - First Quarter Awards

Guest writer Tony Cappuccino gives us a quarter-post awards and prediction column, below...

The Boston Bruins swept through the NHL Awards Banquet in Las Vegas last summer: Tim Thomas, Zdeno Chara and Claude Julien all took home hardware (as well as a Jennings Trophy that the slightly-less deserving Manny Fernandez also had a share of). Just beyond the quarter post of the 2009-2010 NHL Season, Caveman takes a look at how that awards ceremony would unfold were it held this evening.

Vezina Trophy (Best Goaltender): Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres

While Marty Brodeur’s pursuit of every mark in the goaltending record book has taken center stage this season, Ryan Miller has quietly pieced together a masterful first quarter to the 2009-2010 campaign. He is currently first in save percentage (.935) and goals against average (1.90), second in shutouts (3) and third in wins (16). All of this while 10th among goalies in Time Played, and little defensive help. Miller has single-handedly led the Sabres to a Northeast Division lead for much of the first few months of the season, and is surely giving all USA Hockey fans some excited jitters in what is proving to be an exceptional run up to the Olympics in February. Ryan Miller is the clear winner of the quarter-pole Vezina.

Finalists: Ilya Bryzgalov, Phoenix Coyotes (17-8-1, 1.99GAA, .925 Save percentage; Responsible for backstopping the rise of the Coyotes), Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils (Setting records on a weekly basis with no signs of slowing; 18 wins are first in the NHL. 2.11GAA, .922 save percentage, and pacing the Devils to first place in the NHL-best Atlantic Division).

Calder Trophy (Best Rookie): Jon Tavares, F, New York Islanders

The number one overall pick in Jon Tavares has more than lived up to his billing on Long Island, easily securing the Calder Trophy at this point in the season. Tavares l

eads all rookies in games played, goals, points, and his six power play goals—also first among rookies—have reinvigorated the Islander power play. More importantly, Tavares has injected life and competition into a bottom-dwelling franchise. One could argue that the Islanders are suffering from Penguins disease—pick high enough in the draft for years on end and you’re bound to win a few games eventually—but Tavares is proving to be a very special player who will be the identity of this hockey club for years to come.

Finalists: James vanRiemsdyk, F, Philadelphia Flyers (Stake rose early with Philadelphia’s success, and Philly’s struggles correspond with his droughts; Leads all rookies with 13 assists), Simeon Varlamov, G, Washington Capitals (Exceptional numbers: 12-1-2, 2.21GAA, .924 Save percentage, but can’t win the award while splitting time with Jose Theodore).

Norris Trophy (Best Defenseman): Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks

The Norris Trophy is less of a numbers game than the other awards, and Duncan Keith will be glad for that. Despite not being much of an offensive power—a respectable 5-18—23—Keith is the rock on a defensive corps that

was tasked with solidifying shaky goaltending this season. The results have been nothing less than outstanding—command of first place in the Central Division, just 64 goals against in 28 games, and a 13-year contract extension for Keith. In a tight contest, Duncan Keith emerges as the quarter season Norris winner.

Finalists: Mike Green, Washington Capitals (Defensive lapses becoming fewer; Again excusable for outstanding offensive numbers—5-25—30 in 29 games; Team’s success largely driven by Gre

en’s ability to move the puck), Dan Boyle, San Jose (Outstanding defensive player dominates all facets of the game; Leads NHL in TOI (26+ minutes per game), third in points among defensemen (25), best defenseman on the NHL’s best team at this point in the season).

Jack Adams Trophy (Best Coach): Joe Sacco, Colorado Avalanche

First-year coach Joe Sacco has returned the Colorado Avalanche to prominence after a noticeable and embarrassing absence from the upper echelons of the Western Conference. Second only to San Jose at this point in the season, Sacco has made use of young players incredibly well, and has finally extracted performance from his goaltenders—a problem that has plagued the team since the lockout. A familiar set of names prowls the bench alongside Sacco—Sylvain Lefebrve, Adam Deadmarsh, Jocelyn Thibault, and Steve Konowalchuk—and all deserve equal credit in earning Sacco the quarter mark Jack Adams.

Finalists: Dave Tippett, Phoenix Coyotes (A close second to Sacco; Has led team from off-season

public embarrassment to a playoff seed in the loaded Western Conference; Makes excellent use of talented and young players), Jacques Lemaire, New Jersey Devils (Same face, different year; In the league’s toughest division and again losing star players through free agency, Lemaire oversees a monster of a franchise whose identity comes and goes with Marty Brodeur; First in the Eastern Conference, and a franchise record for consecutive wins on the road (10).)

Hart Memorial Trophy (MVP): Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres

In my opinion, the MVP trophy too often goes to the league’s best player. Generally, the player makes those around him better, but rarely does the MVP go it alone. In other words, if you could possibly vote for two players on the same team for MVP, then neither is the MVP (see Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, et al). Therefore, for the reasons mentioned above for his Vezina-winning performance, Ryan Miller is the Hart winner at the quarter mark. Miller has little defensive help, and the Sabres are far from an offensive powerhouse (73 goals for is second lowest in the conference in futility on to Carolina). Miller’s contribution to the team’s 62 goals against (second best only to Brodeur’s defensive-minded Devils) is the only reason for the team’s success in the early going.

Finalists: Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings (Leading the resurgent Kings—just four points behind San Jose---by jumping out to an early season NHL-points lead; Since fallen to 7th with 14-21—35 numbers, 15 power play points, Ryan Smyth’s 23 points are second on the team.), Marian Gaborik, New York Rangers (The oft-injured Gaborik is the steal of the off-season for the Rangers; 21-17—38 in just 27 games; Second in team time-on-ice, first among forwards; team struggles at defensive end continue, but Gaborik is lone answer to offensive problems).

If the playoffs started today:

1) Washington def. 8) Montreal 1) San Jose def. 8) Dallas

2) New Jersey def. 7) Ottawa 2) Colorado def. 7 ) Nashville

3) Boston def. 6) Ottawa 3) Chicago def. 6) Phoenix

5) Atlanta def. 4) Buffalo 4) Calgary def. 5) Los Angeles

1) Washington def. 5) Atlanta 1) San Jose def. 4) Calgary

2) New Jersey def. 3) Boston 3) Chicago def. 2) Colorado

2) New Jersey def. 1) Washington 1) San Jose def. 3) Chicago

1) San Jose def. 2) New Jersey

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