The choice would have been easy if Sidney Crosby stayed in one piece, played the entire season and cruised to another scoring title. If he’s healthy, he’s the most valuable player with no questions asked.
Voting for him became tricky after he suffered a broken jaw March 30 that left him sidelined going into the playoffs. Sometimes, the true value of a player emerges when he’s not in the lineup. The Penguins were without Crosby for a quarter of the season, barely flinched and finished atop the conference by a mile.
And that leads voters to a few questions. Should a player be punished for not playing a full season when it comes to postseason awards? Or because he had a good team around him? Or because he doesn’t play the most valuable position, which is goaltender?
Alex Ovechkin scored 22 goals in his final 21 games and carried the Capitals to another division title with a 16-3-2 finish. They were lost while he struggled early in the season, and his streak was directly related to their turnaround. He finished with a league-high 32 goals, putting him on pace for 54 goals in a full season, and 56 points in 48 games.
What to do?
After much consideration, Crosby still ended up being my choice for the Hart Trophy. Ask me tomorrow, and it could change to Ovechkin. With a little shove, I could be convinced that Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky was the MVP.
Bobrovsky would have received stronger consideration if the Jackets made the playoffs rather than falling short. He posted a 21-11-6 record with a 2.00 goals-against average, a .932 save percentage and four shutouts for a lousy team. Columbus is nowhere near the playoff race without him.
He’s my choice for the Vezina Trophy, given to the NHL’s top goaltender, just ahead of Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers netminder had a 24-16-3 record with a 2.05 GAA and .926 save percentage while playing with a much better collection.
Here are my other award winners:
Norris Trophy (top defenseman): PK Subban, Canadiens. He had a late start after a contract dispute before showing he was worth every nickel. He had 11 goals and 32 points in 42 games. His point total would have been second among all Sabres’ skaters, and his goal total would have been second.
Selke Trophy (top defensive forward): Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks. He’s one of the best all-around players in the NHL but doesn’t get the credit he deserves for defense. Toews is rarely out of position, kills penalties and can keep up with anyone. He also was plus-28 and won 59.9 percent of his draws. The Blues’ David Backes deserved consideration, too.
Calder Trophy (top rookie): Cory Conacher, Senators. Nail Yakupov and Jonathan Huberdeau tied for the rookie scoring lead with 31 points, but Conacher (11 goals, 29 points) was better. The former Canisius College star made a smooth transition after being traded from Tampa Bay to Ottawa, which can be difficult for anyone.
Lady Byng (most gentlemanly): Matt Moulson, Islanders. The left winger had 44 points (15 goals) in 47 games while averaging 19 minutes. He had two minor penalties all season. Diehard Bills fan Logan Couture had only two minors while scoring 21 goals for the Sharks. Both are very good and very clean.
Jack Adams (top coach): Paul MacLean, Senators. Ottawa was ravaged by injuries, but you didn’t hear them leaning on that excuse. He lost his top two skaters, Jason Spezza and Erik Karlsson, for nearly the entire season. Goalie Craig Anderson also was sidelined for an extended period. The Senators still made the playoffs.
Gryba has a gripe
Senators defenseman Eric Gryba’s hit on Canadiens unsuspecting forward Lars Eller was horrifying, but it didn’t warrant a suspension. What might have looked like a headhunting expedition was actually a defense exhibition.
Gryba stepped in the play and flattened Eller with a shoulder. He didn’t raise his elbow or leave his feet, which is what players are taught in their first day of checking.
The Habs were furious, even more when Senators coach MacLean came to Gryba’s defense and suggested Eller shouldn’t have had his head down. MacLean could have been more sensitive, but he was right.
“I don’t care what that bug-eyed, fat walrus has to say,” Canadiens forward Brandon Prust said.
If someone is looking to assess blame, they should start with Raphael Diaz for throwing Eller the suicide pass up the middle. It left him searching for the puck in his feet and left him vulnerable for the big hit Gryba delivered.
Flyers set for changes
Look for the Flyers to be among the busier teams in the offseason after GM Paul Holmgren managed to survive a miserable year in which they missed the playoffs. Even when they’re in good shape, Holmgren doesn’t mess around.
Former Sabres captain Danny Briere is a primary candidate for a buyout, which would free them of his $6.5 million cap hit even though he has only $5 million left in actual dollars left on his contract. Management anticipated this point six years ago, which is why his eight-year deal worth $52 million was front-loaded with big money.
Ilya Bryzgalov, thought to be the answer when they signed him to a nine-year, $51 million deal, also could be bought out. He has seven years and $34.5 million remaining on the contract, so it would mean paying him $23 million to hit the road. Several teammates want him out of town ASAP.
The Flyers are desperate for a top defenseman. It would likely mean trading away Matt Read or Sean Couturier and a draft pick. Brayden Schenn would give them even more in return, but it would mean picking up a star.
Vanek to Minnesota?
We’ll see how it all shakes out, but I would be surprised if Thomas Vanek landed anywhere but Minnesota after his seven-year contract worth $50 million expires.
Vanek already made more money than he imagined before signing the deal. No matter where, or if, the Sabres trade him, his top priority after the 2013-14 season will be finding a team that can contend for a Stanley Cup title.
It would not be surprising if he accepted less money after next season for an opportunity to play for a good team. The Wild already have Zach Parise and Ryan Suter locked into long-term deals and appear committed to winning a Cup by any means possible.
Vanek spends his offseasons in Minnesota, his wife’s home state. The chances would improve greatly if Jason Pominville, his linemate in Buffalo, signed an extension for the same reason.