Normally today’s the day I fill out my NHL Awards ballot and submit it to Ernst & Young to be counted among the ballots of other voting members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.
Unfortunately, this season I will not be voting. Some of you might’ve already read about the boycott many of us are taking part in to protest the New York Islanders’ treatment of banished blogger Chris Botta.
While I do not know Chris personally, my status as an independent blogger just like him compels me to join with the PHWA chapters that cover New York, New Jersey, Long Island and other teams — including writers from the Boston Herald – in withholding my vote.
Now instead of boring you with more details of boycotts and access restrictions, I’m just going to give you my year-end award winners. I’ll give you winners for four of the individual awards I would’ve voted on through the PHWA (I’ll skip the much-hated Lady Byng) and also winners for the Jack Adams and Vezina Trophy, which are picked by the league’s broadcasters and the league’s general managers, respectively.
Here you go:
Zdeno Chara, Boston
I’ll be accused of being a homer with this pick, but season-long favorite Nicklas Lidstrom was a minus for the season for the first time in his career. There’s been a lot of push for Nashville’s Shea Weber of late, and he’s definitely worthy of strong consideration with his 48 points and plus-7 rating. But no defensemen struck a better balance between offense and defense this season than the Bruins’ captain.
Chara was a plus-33 despite matching up against the best of the best offensive players every single night, and he still contributed 44 points. Had the Bruins’ power play been more respectable, there probably would’ve been some more secondary assists to pad his total. As it was, he did his part by scoring eight of his 14 goals on the power play. For the entire season, Chara was the best defenseman in the NHL.
Logan Couture, San Jose
To me, this is just a two-player race between Couture and Jeff Skinner of Carolina. That San Jose qualified for the postseason and Carolina missed out impacts my decision a little. But more pertinent to this discussion to me is that of Couture’s 32 goals (one more than Skinner), eight were game-winners. Couture’s 56 points were seven less than Skinner, but the Sharks center was plus-18 and won 53.4 percent of his faceoffs.
Manny Maholtra, Vancouver
To me, this was a toss-up between Maholtra and his Vancouver teammate Ryan Kesler. With 73 points, a plus-24 rating and 57.4-percent success rate on faceoffs, Kesler — a former Selke nominee — is the sexier pick.
Maholtra took more than 200 fewer draws than Kesler, but was more proficient (61.7 percent). He led the team that finished third in penalty-kill success in shorthanded ice time (just ahead of Kesler among forwards) and was second to Kesler among forwards in blocked shots. Had he not missed 10 games, Maholtra probably would’ve led the team in that department. More important, those in the know that I’ve talked to and stories I read by people that see a lot more Canucks games say that although Kesler is still a great two-way player, Maholtra was the one called upon to take the tougher defensive shifts more often. He still managed to be plus-9.
Daniel Sedin, Vancouver
Anaheim’s Corey Perry made a valiant run to 50 goals that got the Ducks in the playoffs and put his name right up there with Sedin for MVP. However, I don’t want to punish Sedin just because he was consistent all season and his team dominated well enough to wrap up the Presidents’ Trophy with a week to go in the season.
Many will get caught up in the drama of Perry and the Ducks’ plight, but for me the Art Ross Trophy winner with 104 points (the only 100-point scorer in the league) was the best player all year on the best team and he should be rewarded. He was also plus-30 on the season and scored just one game-winning goal less than Perry’s 11.
Now for the ones the PHWA does not vote on:
Jack Adams Award
Alain Vigneault, Vancouver
I’m going to be accused of turning The Bruins Blog into The Canucks Blog. Sure, this award usually goes to the coach that turns a team around after a bad season the year before or leads an injury-sacked team higher in the standings than it should go. For doing a lot despite injuries, Pittsburgh’s Dan Bylsma is a popular pick. But consider that the Canucks won the Presidents’ Trophy with a back line that hardly ever had all six of its expected players in uniform. In fact, the Canucks’ defense corps is still pretty beat up. Then you figure in time missed by Alex Burrows and Maholtra up front, and Vigneault obviously had to work some magic to get lesser players to serve as a productive supporting cast in front of the league MVP and one of the league’s best goaltenders.
Tim Thomas, Boston
No one can accuse me of homer-ism with this pick. Thomas led the league in goals-against average (2.00) and also won the save percentage title with a single-season record of .938. He also picked up nine shutouts and was the most dominant puck-stopper in the league from start to finish for a team that finished third in its conference.
Pekka Rinne of Nashville, Carey Price of Montreal, Roberto Luongo in Vancouver and Henrik Lundqvist with the New York Rangers also had great seasons and would have made this vote tighter had Thomas not produced a super-human effort this season.