Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Awards -- The Norris Trophy

The citation for the Vezina Trophy states…

"The James Norris Memorial Trophy is an annual award given to the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position. The winner is selected in a poll of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association at the end of the regular season."

The Finalists…

Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings

Mike Green, Washington Capitals

Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks


The Case for Drew Doughty

20-year olds are not supposed to play this position this well. 30-year olds generally don’t. On the offensive end of the spectrum, Doughty finished second among defensemen in goals, third in points, 11th in plus-minus, tied for second in power play goals, and first in game-winning goals. But Doughty also finished 25th,in hits, more than Anton Volchenkov and Zdeno Chara. He scored seven of his 16 goals in 32 games (of 82 total) against the other seven teams making the playoffs out of the Western Conference and 25 of his total of 59 points. He was very consistent, home or away, compiling an 8-22-30 line at home and an 8-21-29 line away from Staples Center. He also became quite a workhorse as the season wore on. In 41 games in the 2010 portion of the season, he logged fewer than 25 minutes of ice time only 13 times. And it is rare to find a defenseman this young given such heavy power play responsibility – only six defensemen in the league logged more average power play time than did Doughty.

The Case for Mike Green

Mike Green established a record for goals scored in consecutive games by a defenseman in the 2008-2009 season and finished with 31 goals, establishing himself as the top offensive defenseman in the NHL and earning himself a nomination as a Norris Trophy finalist. This year, Green might have had a better all around year. He didn’t have the consecutive goal streak (not that such things happen regularly for any player), but he still finished with 19 goals to lead all NHL defensemen. He also led in assists, total points, power play goals, power play assists, and total power play points. “Game Over Green” tied for second in game-winning goals, was second in plus/minus, and was in the top-ten in average ice time. Not generally thought of as a big hitter, he did finish in the top-40 in that statistic, ahead of Robyn Regehr, Ed Jovanovski, and Chris Pronger, to name three defensemen you might not think would finish behind Green. He also finished among the top dozen defensemen in takeaways. And he was more than solid against playoff-caliber competition, going 8-19-27, plus-29 in 24 games against the other seven teams in the East making the playoffs.

The Case for Duncan Keith

When you are tops in ice time on the team that allowed the fewest shots on goal in the league, you might be thought to have had a part in that. Add to that the fact that you finished sixth among NHL defensemen in goals, second in assists and points, and ninth in plus/minus, you are contributing in the offensive end of the ice as well. That’s the season Duncan Keith had for the Chicago Blackhawks. On top of that, Keith finished in the top-25 in blocked shots and in the top-ten in takeaways. His takeaway-to-giveaway ratio of 0.76 was the best among the three finalists for the Norris. Keith had a fine record among playoff-eligible teams in the West, finishing 7-23-30, plus-6 in 32 games. He had a remarkable consistent season, too. If you discount the months of February and April for the small number of games played in each, he recorded 13 or 14 points in each of the other four months of the season.

The citation states that this award goes to the best “all-around” defenseman. In that respect, Green probably gets less credit than he is due, but some of his statistics (his assist and plus/minus numbers) are also undoubtedly a product of a very prolific offense playing with him. Doughty could be said to have a balanced game, but it also was one with some holes in it, too. He had by far the worst takaway-to-giveaway ratio among the finalists, and he also had a distinct propensity to commit obstruction types of penalties (16 of his 27 minors were for hooking, holding, and tripping; the comparable numbers were 12 of 27 for Green and 12 of 23 for Keith). These are the equivalent of picking nits – as finalists, Green and Doughty had excellent years. But in the end, the best “all around” performance by a defenseman was that of…

Duncan Keith

Awards -- The Vezina Trophy

The citation for the Vezina Trophy states…

"The Vezina Trophy is an annual award given to the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at this position as voted by the general managers of all NHL clubs."

The Finalists…


Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils

Ilya Bryzgalov, Phoenix Coyotes

Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres

The Case for Martin Brodeur

Four thousand, four hundred, ninety-nine minutes. A year after being limited to 31 games due to injury, at a time when some might be entertaining thoughts that Brodeur was winding down or should be getting his minutes pared back, he stood once more at the top of the heap in minutes played among goaltenders (more than 400 minutes ahead of second place Bryzgalov), not to mention winning more than 40 games for the eighth time in his career. He also led the league in wins and shutouts. And, on a team that finished 19th in goals scored per game, having him playing at a high level was instrumental in the Devils finishing on top in the Atlantic Division and second in the Eastern Conference. Brodeur also raised his game against top competition. In games he played against teams from the Eastern Conference that would make the playoffs, Brodeur was 20-8-3, 1.93, .932, with three shutouts. He did not allow more than three goals in consecutive games, thus avoiding the slumps in goal that would have put more pressure on an offensive of somewhat limited effectiveness. And, this being a regular season award, it is worth noting that he finished very strong. He allowed one or no goals in six of his last seven games (4-1-2, 0.98, .946, and two shutouts). Brodeur remains at the top of his game.

The Case for Ilya Bryzgalov

It would be convenient to dismiss Bryzgalov’s performance, relative to the other finalists, as his being the product of a very structured system or that this was something of a fluke year, given his career to date. Nevertheless, Bryzgalov finished third among NHL goaltenders in wins, sixth in goals against average, ninth save percentage, second in shutouts, and did so for a team that few picked to finish in the top-eight of the Western Conference, let alone challenge for the top spot in the conference into the final week of the season. And Bryzgalov had a much smaller window of error (Phoenix was plus-0.16 in goals scored/goals allowed per game) than his fellow finalists (New Jersey was plus-0.36, Buffalo plus-0.37). He also came up large against tough competition, finishing 14-8-5, 2.28, .924, with two shutouts against the other seven teams to make the playoffs in the West. Only once in 2009-2010 did he lose more than two consecutive games in regulation – a three-game losing streak wrapped around the Olympic break. But he followed this up by finishing the season 10-2-2, 2.01, .930, and two shutouts. Phoenix surprised a lot of people this year, and no player was more important in that result than Bryzgalov.

The Case for Ryan Miller

Ryan Miller is no stranger to individual awards as a goaltender, dating back to his days in college – three times CCHA goaltender of the year, twice CCHA player of the year, Hober Baker Award winner, Baz Bastien Memorial Trophy winner as the AHL’s top goaltender, NHL All-Star, starting goaltender for Team USA in the 2010 Winter Olympics. But in four seasons since the lockout, Miller more or less lurked on the edges of “elite” status as an NHL goaltender, perhaps a second tier goalie compared to a Brodeur or a Luongo. This year, Miller stepped to the top rung of the ladder for the Buffalo Sabres. Fourth in wins, second in goals-against average, second in save percentage, seventh in shutouts, and among goaltenders playing in at least half of his club’s games, the best save percentage while shorthanded. Here is a subtle indication of Miller’s excellence this year and his ability to keep his club in games – in the 26 losses he sustained this year (regulation and extra time), he still had a save percentage of .900. Miller did not have as good a win-loss record against playoff teams against his competitors (13-10-4 against top-eight teams in the East), but his 2.29 goals-against average and .929 save percentage were consistent with his numbers against the rest of the league. If there is a blemish on Miller’s record, it is a five-game stretch in mid-February when he went 0-3-2, 3.56, .919. That constituted the run-up to the Olympics, which might have been a distraction for the Team USDA number one goaltender. Otherwise, he lost consecutive games in regulation only twice all season. From start to finish, and the distractions that might have taken him off his game, Miller was the foundation upon which the Sabres won a Northeast Division title and secured a third place finish.

For each of these goalies it might be said that in their absence their teams would have difficulty making the playoffs. But this is likely less true for two of them than the other. Bryzgalov’s Coyotes and Brodeur’s Devils did play on teams that had a defensive focus that Buffalo did not have. And along these lines, the Sabres had a few defensemen who were starting to look the part of being on the far side of 30 while trying to break in another (albeit gifted one) in his first pro season. There is little to clearly rate one ahead of another, but given his situation and the greater responsibility he had to keep his own net clean, the winner is…

Ryan Miller


Well, to be more accurate, I'm not going to get all bent out of shape about it...

The schedule that is.

The full schedule for the NHL regular season has been released.  As fans pour over the details, you'll probably read in other places concerning other teams (maybe even the Caps, too) that there are too many long road trips, too many back-to-back games, games too close together against arch-rivals, a first meeting against a tough opponent coming too late or too early...



The Caps play 41 at home, 41 on the road, so all I care about concerning the schedule are that the Caps:

1.  Play an entertaining and effective game over the 82-game season;
2.  Suffer no debilitating injuries over the course of it; and
3.  Finish in the top-three at the end of it (i.e., win the Southeast)

The real season -- the one you should really care about, Caps fans -- starts around April 10th.

Awards -- The Calder Trophy

The citation for the Calder Trophy states…

"The Calder Memorial Trophy is an annual award given to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the National Hockey League. The winner is selected in a poll of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association at the end of the regular season."

The Finalists…

Matt Duchene, Colorado Avalanche

Tyler Myers, Buffalo Sabres

Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings

The Case for Matt Duchene

The third-overall pick in the 2009 draft finished atop the rookie leader board in goals and points, and he was third among all rookie forwards in average ice time. Except for a seven-game drought to start the month of November, Duchene did not go more than three consecutive games without registering a point. Duchene was also quite the road warrior, finishing the 2009-2010 season 16-15-31 in 41 road contests. In fact, he led the Avalanche in goals scored on the road. He also had a knack for putting up numbers against playoff teams – three goals against Vancouver (tied for his high against a single team), going 1-3-4 against San Jose, three points in four games against Phoenix. He also finished among the top-20 rookie forwards in hits, blocked shots, and takeaways. He was a consistently high performer for an overachieving team.

The Case for Tyler Myers

It is said by many that defensemen take the longest to learn their trade among any of the positions in hockey. If that is the case, the 12th-overall pick from the 2008 draft is among the fastest learners in his sport. Myers made the jump straight from juniors (Kelowna of the WHL) in 2008-2009 to the Sabres this season, where he played in all 82 games and led all rookie defensemen in average ice time (minimum 40 games). He also led all rookie defensemen in goals, assists, and points. He finished second in plus/minus and power play points. He showed a grittier edge, too, finishing the season fourth among rookie defensemen in hits, first in blocked shots, and third in takeaways. He managed to record points against 12 of the other 14 teams in the Eastern Conference. On a club that emphasized holding opponents in check (fourth best goals allowed per game), Myers led the Sabres’ defense in average ice time, shorthanded and even-strength ice time. Myers suffered a bit of a slump in February (1-0-1, minus-3) in seven games, but he came out of the Olympic break with a rush, ending March 3-11-14, plus-11 in 16 games as the Sabres were going 10-5-1 and cementing a place in the playoffs. In his first year, he was the cornerstone defenseman that made goalie Ryan Miller’s job just a little bit easier.

The Case for Jimmy Howard

“Number one goaltender for the Detroit Red Wings.” It isn’t exactly a position with no pressure attached to it. The Wings ice enough talent to make the goaltender’s job a bit easier than in might be in other cities, but the expectations of the club and by their fans negates whatever relief a goalie might enjoy from the talent in front of him. There is no hiding in Detroit from bad performances. Howard did not take the reins of the number one spot right away – he appeared in only five of the first 15 games the Red Wings played. Chris Osgood held the top job, going 6-2-3, 2.77, .902 in his 12 appearances over that stretch. But Osgood allowed five goals to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a 5-1 loss on November 7th. Howard got the call in the next game, and he allowed only a Rick Nash goal in a 9-1 win. Starting with that game, Howard did not go consecutive games on the bench over the remainder of the season. He would finish the year topping all rookie goalies in games and wins, and finish second among rookie goalies in goals against average, save percentage, and shutouts. He was amazing down the stretch, not losing a game in regulation after March 9th and going 13-0-2, 1.89, .926, with two shutouts to end the season. Instead of following the lead of the talented skaters in front of him, he was leading them to their tenth straight 100-point season, precisely what the Wings and their fans expect.

Trying to pick the “best” from among players that play different positions – forward, defenseman, goaltender – adds another layer of subjectivity to what is always a very subjective process. Duchene played for a team that struggled down the stretch (8-10-3 after the Olympic break). Howard played for a team that found its offensive game late (3.25 goals a game over their last 16 contest). Myers played in front of an elite goaltender who was maintaining his high performance level late in the season (Ryan Miller did not allow more than three goals in any game after the Olympic break). But in the end, it would seem as though Myers was more an integral part of his team’s success than were the others, even given Howard’s excellent numbers. And, he plays what might be the most difficult position to master. That is why, if we had a pick for the Calder Trophy, we would pick…

Tyler Myers