The Bear Cave

June 18, 2009 7:27 AM

NHL Awards Show takes Center Stage in Las Vegas

Over the past nine months, hockey fans around the continent have had plenty to cheer about, as the 2008-09 season created memories that will last a lifetime. For some fans, those memories involved firsts, such as Sidney Crosby's first Stanley Cup, or the Columbus Blue Jackets' first ever appearance in postseason play. For other fans, this season can be looked at as another chapter in history, as the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens met in the playoffs for the 32nd time. On Thursday night, the NHL will close the book on this past season, as the Awards Show takes place in Las Vegas.

I'm all about having fun with these types of nights, so rather than just stating the awards and the finalists, I am going to give my thoughts on who I believe should walk away with hardware in hand.

HART MEMORIAL TROPHY (regular season most valuable player): finalists- Pavel Datsyuk (Detroit Red Wings), Evgeni Malkin (Pittsburgh Penguins), Alexander Ovechkin (Washington Capitals). In my opinion, there is no better place to start than the Hart Trophy. Although some fans might believe that Sidney Crosby belongs on this list for finishing third in scoring, these three candidates are certainly worthy. Not to take away from what Pavel Datsyuk did, but I think this trophy comes down to Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin. These two players battled it out for the scoring title, with Malkin scoring the most points and Ovechkin netting the most goals. At the end of the day, I see Ovechkin earning the hardware, as 56 goals is an incredible accomplishment, and let's face it, who doesn't like seeing a player light the lamp as frequently as he does?

JAMES NORRIS MEMORIAL TROPHY (top defenseman): finalists- Zdeno Chara (Boston Bruins), Mike Green (Washington Capitals), Nicklas Lidstrom (Detroit Red Wings). For me, the Norris Trophy is probably the closest battle, as each player has an aspect that is better than the other two. If you like offense, Mike Green is your guy, as he led the way with 31 goals and 73 points. If crushing hits and tough play in the defensive zone are your game, say no more, Zdeno Chara will gladly step up his game. If you're a fan of two-way players, Nicklas Lidstrom has been making a career out of that style. I really want to pick Chara, but I'm going to take Green. I am a big fan of offense, and just imagine what his totals would have looked like if he didn't miss 14 games with an injury. Close to 40 goals and 80 points from the blueline? Yikes!

VEZINA TROPHY (top goaltender): finalists- Niklas Backstrom (Minnesota Wild), Steve Mason (Columbus Blue Jackets), Tim Thomas (Boston Bruins). After picking against a Bruin for the Norris Trophy, I will not be making that mistake twice. Niklas Backstrom had the most wins out of the three finalists, beating out Thomas by one and Mason by four. However, Backstrom played in a lot more games than the other two, and his team missed the playoffs, so I have a hard time with him winning the trophy. Steve Mason will likely earn a different piece of hardware, and although he certainly deserves to be a finalist, his .916 save percentage doesn't wow me. Yes, that means I am taking hometown favorite Tim Thomas. 36-11-7, a 2.10 goals against average (first overall), and a .933 save percentage (first overall) are completely worthy of the Vezina Trophy. The Bruins were a spectacular team in front of him, but Thomas was the star in a good chunk of his victories.

FRANK J. SELKE TROPHY (top defensive forward): finalists- Pavel Datsyuk (Detroit Red Wings), Ryan Kesler (Vancouver Canucks), Mike Richards (Philadelphia Flyers). Something tells me that I shouldn't be booking a flight to Detroit in the near future, as I am picking the Red Wings to leave Las Vegas with nothing in hand. Nothing against Pavel Datsyuk, but I really enjoy what the other two players bring to the table. Ryan Kesler's physical presence makes him a pest to play against, while Mike Richards continues to impress with remarkable penalty killing. Look no further than Richards' seven shorthanded goals as an example, and that is one of my reasons for selecting him to win the Selke Trophy.

LADY BYNG MEMORIAL TROPHY (most gentlemanly player): finalists- Pavel Datsyuk (Detroit Red Wings), Zach Parise (New Jersey Devils), Martin St. Louis (Tampa Bay Lightning). Stop the presses! Well, maybe not that drastic, but at least tell the engraver to change the name on the award. After back-to-back victories by Pavel Datsyuk, I think the Lady Byng Trophy is changing hands this season. Because he tends to get overlooked quite a bit, I'd really like to see Zach Parise walk away with the hardware. However, in looking at the penalty minute totals, I have to believe that this award will go to Martin St. Louis. The Tampa Bay forward only spent 14 minutes in the sin bin, meaning that he was whistled for a mere seven minor penalties. That's impressive, and that's definitely sportsmanship, especially considering the frustration he must have felt from playing with what turned out to be an ugly team on the ice.

CALDER MEMORIAL TROPHY (top rookie): finalists- Steve Mason (Columbus Blue Jackets), Bobby Ryan (Anaheim Ducks), Kris Versteeg (Chicago Blackhawks). In my eyes, the race for the Calder Trophy comes down to two players. Okay, so maybe one. Kris Versteeg is my favorite out of the three, as he once wore the uniform of the Providence Bruins. However, Bobby Ryan scored more points in fewer games, so I think that eliminates Versteeg. Ryan's 31 goals and 57 points in 64 games should put up a fight, but this trophy belongs to Steve Mason. Mason carried the Blue Jackets to the playoffs with a remarkable season, posting 33 wins, ten shutouts, and a 2.29 goals against average. One would argue that 21-year old wrapped up this award relatively early in the year.

JACK ADAMS AWARD (coach of the year): finalists- Claude Julien (Boston Bruins), Todd McLellan (San Jose Sharks), Andy Murray (St. Louis Blues). Once again, there is a member of the Bruins in the running, and once again, I am picking him. My reasoning? Consistency and expectations. I don't take anything away from Todd McLellan, as his Sharks beat out the Bruins by one point for the President's Trophy. However, let's face it - did anyone really expect San Jose to finish outside of the top four in the Western Conference? The talent was there, it was just a matter of execution. My knock on Andy Murray in St. Louis is the consistency factor. Don't get me wrong, the Blues' turnaround was certainly impressive. However, let's flip the streaks around. If they had started strong and finished weak (similar to the 2007-08 Ottawa Senators), there's a good chance Murray is looking for a new job at the moment. Claude Julien converted an eighth-place team into a first-place team, and kept them there for the duration of the season. Case closed.

LESTER B. PEARSON AWARD (most outstanding player as voted by NHLPA): finalists- Pavel Datsyuk (Detroit Red Wings), Evgeni Malkin (Pittsburgh Penguins), Alexander Ovechkin (Washington Capitals). The easy answer to this award would be to duplicate my thoughts on the Hart Trophy, giving Alexander Ovechkin his second piece of hardware on the night. However, I'm going to take a different approach, as this is an award voted on by the players. Remember all of Ovechkin's outrageous celebrations? Although some were in favor, there were certainly those who didn't appreciate being on the receiving end. This might end up costing the Great Eight, as I think the players will vote in favor of Evgeni Malkin.

BILL MASTERTON MEMORIAL TROPHY (the player "who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to ice hockey"): finalists- Chris Chelios (Detroit Red Wings), Steve Sullivan (Nashville Predators), Richard Zednik (Florida Panthers). Although nobody will question Chris Chelios' dedication as a 47-year old still loving the game as if he was 21 again, the Masterton Trophy tends to go to a player who has overcome an obstacle. Last season, that player was Boston's Phil Kessel, who battled cancer to return to the ice. After missing nearly two full seasons of hockey, Steve Sullivan certainly makes a case for this award. However, I have to go with Richard Zednik. If not for the tremendous job done by the training staff in Buffalo, Zednik's life could have been in serious jeopardy, never mind his hockey career. Fighting back from a scary situation such as that takes a ton of courage, and I certainly tip my cap.

While some players will get to feel the element of surprise, there are a few others that know they will be taking the stage on Thursday. With 113 points during the regular season, Evgeni Malkin will be accepting the Art Ross Trophy as the league's leading scorer. With 56 goals, Alexander Ovechkin is the winner of the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy for lighting the lamp the most times. Finally, Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez will be taking home the William Jennings Trophy for the fewest goals allowed during the regular season.

Thursday's show begins at 7:30 for those watching on Versus in the United States, and 8:30 for those watching on CBC in Canada. The night will begin with guests arriving on the red carpet at the Palms Hotel at 6:15, and that will be followed by a No-Limit Texas Hold 'em poker game for charity.

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