Before the NHL actually begins announcing its three finalists for each of the major post-season awards this week, let me share my ballot for the five biggest awards: the Hart Trophy, Norris Trophy, Vezina Trophy, Calder Trophy, and Jack Adams Trophy. And let's see how much my opinion changed from mid-season "Halfway Home" Awards that I shared with you 40 or so games into the 2009-10 campaign.
1) Henrik Sedin (Vancouver Canucks): He is the guy who fueled the top scoring team in the Western Conference. Sedin led the NHL with 112 points and did it with far less fanfare than players named Crosby and Ovechkin. A brilliant playmaker, Sedin led the NHL with a Gretzky-like 83 assists, 14 more than runner-up Joe Thornton.
2) Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins): He didn't make my Top Three at mid-season, but Sid the Kid turned in a fantastic year, including a career-high 51 goals which tied Steven Stamkos for the league-lead. His 109 points were tied for second most in the NHL, the second highest total of his five-year career to date. Quite simply, Crosby is the heart and soul of the defending champs, and proved it with Evgeni Malkin sidelined a fair amount this season.
3) Alex Ovechkin (Washington Capitals): My mid-season MVP faded after the Olympics, and earning another NHL suspension did not help his cause. Still you can't overlook his 50 goals, 109 points, 7 game-winners, and plus-45 over 72 games worth of action. Ovie would have led the league in scoring had he played every game like Sedin had. Ovie's true measure of greatness may lie, not only in his points production, but in how other Caps thrive because he attracts so much attention from the opposition (read: Nicklas Backstrom, another true Hart contender).
MIS-SEASON HART: Ovechkin, Sedin, Patrick Marleau/Joe Thornton
1) Mike Green (Washington Capitals): My runner-up at mid-season, Green gets the nod over Duncan Keith because the numbers are just a bit better. Green led all NHL defensemen with 19 goals, 57 assists, and 76 points. He also recorded 10 power play goals and was 7th among all players with 35 power play points. In addition he logged big minutes and his defensive play is underrated.
2) Duncan Keith (Chicago Blackhawks): We're plitting hairs here because Keith, my mid-season pick, could easily snag this award, too. He is the better defensive defenseman when compared to Green, leading one of the league's stingiest defensive teams, plus he was second among all NHL defensemen with 69 points. Perhaps the difference here is that Green is a dynamic power play performer and Keith is a very good one. Simply put, just a terrific all around year for Keith.
3) Drew Doughty (Los Angeles Kings): I didn't want to go 1-2-3 in my voting and have it match how these three defensemen were 1-2-3 in defensemen scoring, so I kept trying to find a reason why Doughty should not be a finalist for this award, and failed to come up with a legit one. The sophomore sensation recorded 59 points, scored nine goals on the power play, played 25 minutes a night, and was a plus-20 for a Kings squad that only had a plus-22 goal differential this season.
MID-SEASON NORRIS: Keith, Green, Chris Pronger
1) Ryan Miller (Buffalo Sabres): This has nothing to do with his great play in the Olympics. From start to finish this year, Miller (above photo) was the best goalie in the NHL, leading the Sabres back into the post-season and to a Northeast Division title. Among goalies who played at least 50 games this year, Miller was the leader in goals against average (2.22) and save percentage (.929), while ranking fourth with a career-high 41 victories. Focused, poised, and spectacular, Miller is the hands-down winner of this award.
2) Ilya Bryzgalov (Phoenix Coyotes): There are many reason why the Coyotes are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2002, but none are bigger than the play of Bryzgalov, who set career-highs in games played (69), goals against average (2.29), wins (42), and shutouts (8). He gave this team its confidence with his spectacular early-season play and then showed tremendous consistency throughout the year.
3) Martin Brodeur (New Jersey Devils): Marty is just amazing, playing in a league-high 77 games at the age of 37 this year, while leading the Devils to the Atlantic Division crown. Brodeur surpassed 600 career wins, 1,000 games played, and set the all-time shutout record this season, while finishing with a terrific 2.24 goals against average. Brodeur led the league with 45 victories and 9 shutouts. The Hall-of-Fame can wait, though. Brodeur is far from finished.
MID-SEASON VEZINA: Miller, Brodeur, Craig Anderson
1) Tyler Myers (Buffalo Sabres): Like teammate Ryan Miller and the Vezina Trophy, Myers was my mid-season Calder pick and he holds on for the top spot now, as well. The rookie defenseman played in all 82 games, averaged 23:44 of ice-time, faced the opposition's top line every night yet still was a plus-13, and finished with 48 points, 3rd most among all NHL rookies. Myers is a stud in all facets of the game, and his towering 6'8" frame and all-around game remind many of Boston's Zdeno Chara, who has been quick to point out that Myers is way more advanced at age 20 than he was at that age.
2) Jimmy Howard (Detroit Red Wings): I wrote a column during the season saying that the Red Wings needed to go out and find a veteran NHL goalie in order to make the playoffs because Howard was too inconsistent. Well, I was wrong. Howard grew stronger as the year progressed and turned in an impressive 37-win rookie campaign. He also posted an excellent 2.26 goals against average in 63 appearances, making me eat my words as the Wings once again reached the post-season. Shocker that Ken Holland and Mike Babcock were right and I was wrong.
3) Tuukka Rask (Boston Bruins): This one I got right. Coming out of the pre-season I truly believed that Rask would supplant Tim Thomas as the Bruins' No. 1 goalie during the season, and, though coach Claude Julien took some time before coming to the same realization, that is excatly what happened. Rask's final numbers (1.97 goals against, .931 save percentage, 5 shutouts, and 22 wins in 45 appearances) were outstanding.
MID-SEASON CALDER: Myers, John Tavares, Evander Kane
Jack Adams Trophy:
1) Dave Tippett (Phoenix Coyotes): This is a slam-dunk. Tippett took over the 'Yotes late in training camp, instilled his system quickly and decisively, and then guided the club to a 50-win season and the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference. I thought he was an excellent coach in Dallas. I know he is an outstanding coach in Phoenix.
2) Joe Sacco (Colorado Avalanche): It was a bit of a struggle at the end, but Sacco, a rookie NHL head coach, was able to prod the Avs into the No. 8 seed out West after a great start to the season. Confidently and deftly using as many as five rookies in his every-day lineup, Sacco guided the Avs to a surprising 95-point season.
3) Cory Clouston (Ottawa Senators): I didn't think much of Ottawa's playoff chances this year, but perhaps I overlooked Clouston's 19-11-4 record after taking over the Sens with 34 games to play a year ago. They didn't make the playoffs last season, but the Sens made strides under Clouston. Ottawa followed up by battling Buffalo for the Northeast Division title, settling for a No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference and a 94-point finish.
MID-SEASON JACK ADAMS: Tippett, Sacco, Scott Gordon