I've decided to be trendy and write a post explaining who I would pick for each of the major NHL awards. I'll list my three finalists for each award along with a winner, explaining why I chose who I chose. I'll also list other candidates who came close in some of the categories. One thing I'll clarify is how I chose Hart, Norris, and Vezina candidates. I hate the idea of "most valuable" which I think is basically nonsense, so I've thrown out that criteria entirely. Instead, I've decided to give one award to the forward who has had the most outstanding season (Hart), one to the defenceman who's had the most outstanding season (Norris), and one to the goalie who's had the most outstanding season (Vezina). For the other three awards I'll be giving them out using standard definitions. Nominees are listed alphabetically.
There were a number of players I considered for this who didn't quite make the cut, including Phil Kessel, Steven Stamkos, Alexander Ovechkin, and John Tavares. I was left deciding between Taylor Hall and Jonathan Toews for my final spot, and I eventually gave the nod to Toews. As should be apparent, that means the award really came down to two players for me: Crosby and Datsyuk. My criteria for this award were that a player had to score a lot of points while driving competition without getting sheltered minutes. Datsyuk had the most consistent season out of all of these players, with tremendous puck possession against top competition while finishing 10th in the league in points. In the end though, Crosby's season was just too impressive. He finished 7 points ahead of Datsyuk and 8 ahead of Toews while missing 1/4 of the season and was a solid driver of possession as well. So Crosby is my pick for the Hart.
Winner: Sidney Crosby.
My criteria for this award was pretty simple: a defenceman had to play top competition while still driving possession relative to this teammates. Bonus points were awarded for doing this in difficult zone starts. I considered a couple of players who didn't make the cut here, most notably Niklases Kronwall and Hjalmarsson, but I think the three I've nominated were a cut above the rest. This mostly came down to OEL and Chara. Chara had incredible possession numbers (Corsi On of +14) but I'm giving the nod to OEL on account of playing more difficult competition on a worse team.
Winner: Oliver Ekman Larsson
Judging goalies is a lot harder than judging other players, so I've basically applied two criteria here: a goalie had to have one of the top save percentages in the league, and he had to do it while playing a lot of minutes. Antti Niemi was very close to making this list, but he didn't quite make the cut. Bobrovsky clearly had the best SV% and he played a ton of minutes, so he's the obvious choice for this one. I think he's going to be a more or less a unanimous choice on everyone's list.
Winner: Sergei Bobrovsky
None of the forwards here really stood out too much to me. Huberdeau, for example, got incredibly sheltered minutes, and none of the rookie forwards was on pace for that many points. Brandon Saad was the best of an uninspiring bunch to me based on his scoring and the fact that he drove possession without being sheltered, but he also played with Jonathan Toews who likely boosted his numbers. Dillon and Brodin had very similar seasons, jumping directly onto the top defensive pairing, facing difficult competition and still driving possession. The big difference here is age: Dillon is three years older than Brodin. Brodin also played more minutes and scored more points. A 19 year old who can jump onto a top defensive pairing and control play is extremely impressive, so Brodin is the winner here.
Winner: Jonas Brodin
What I was looking for here was forwards who played in difficult situations but still managed to drive possession. I didn't look at the penalty kill at all for a couple of reasons: the first is that the PK is a very small part of the game in terms of ice time and the second is that teams don't necessarily put their best defensive forwards on the PK out of fear that they'll get injured or have their effectiveness at even strength reduced (check out the difference between Datsyuk's regular season PK time vs playoffs for some idea of how coaches manage this). I think of "good defence" differently than some people. "Good defence" is often used as shorthand for "gritty guy who blocks shots and chips the puck out of the zone" but that's not what I see as good defence. To me, good defence is the ability to get the puck away from the opposing team and move it up ice. To that end, a player has to have good possession numbers to be considered good defensively to me.
Bergeron's ability to drive play is pretty remarkable, with a Corsi On of +27 (!) with only 42% offensive zone starts; one strike against him is that he did not face especially difficult competition. Datsyuk's ability to dominate possession against some of the toughest competition in the league is extremely impressive, though his higher than average zone starts temper that somewhat. I think it's somewhat unfair to hold that against him too strongly though, because one of the reasons he has highish OZS is because he's so good at driving play that Detroit takes a ton of offensive zone faceoffs. To count that against him would be, in effect, punishing him for being so good. That said, David Backes is the winner here. He faced the second toughest competition among all forwards in the league (after Nikolai Kulemin), he got 42% o-zone starts, and he still managed to have a positive Corsi Rel on a dominant possession team. As an aside, Boyd Gordon of the Phoenix Coyotes would have been my 4th player on this list. If he hits UFA this summer, the Leafs (or any other team) would be smart to snatch him up.
Winner: David Backes
Nominees: Ken Hitchcock, Joel Quenneville, Michel Therrien
To me this is Therrien's award and it's not really close, which pains me to say since he's the coach of the worst team in pro sports and I've written in the past that he's a terrible coach who torpedoed a great Penguins team. He took a team that finished 4th last in the NHL in Fenwick Close last year (46.8%) and turned them into one of the top teams this year (53.6%). Other than a couple of players who came back from injury (Gionta and Markov), the Habs made no significant roster additions this off-season, but the team still improved dramatically. I don't know how much of that can be attributed directly to Therrien, but it's quite an impressive turnaround, and unlike teams like the Ducks or Leafs who stormed into the playoffs riding the percentages train, the turnaround in Montreal is based on solid underlying numbers and looks sustainable.
Winner: Michel Therrien
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So those are my picks. Feel free to chime in in the comments with your own or to tell me I'm stupid for not giving the Selke to Jay McClement.