Top Shelf: Handing out the 2013-14 NHL Awards

The Sports NetworkApril 10, 2014 

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - It's a matter of days before the regular season comes to a close, so that means once again it's time to hand out the NHL Awards.

The biggest prize -- the Hart Memorial Trophy -- should be an easy one to predict thanks to Sidney Crosby running away with the league's scoring title. The guy with the most points doesn't always deserve the MVP, but Pittsburgh's superstar centerman should get the nod considering he has over 100 points while nobody else has reached 90 at this stage.

The race for other major awards like the Vezina, Adams and Calder aren't nearly as cut and dried, but what follows is one man's attempt to separate the winners from the also-rans:

HART TROPHY (MVP)

Winner: Crosby, Pittsburgh

Other finalists: Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim; Claude Giroux, Philadelphia

As often as Crosby is referred to as the "best player in the world," one would think he'd have more than one Hart Trophy in his collection. Of course, injuries are the only reason he's in line to win just his second league MVP and first since 2006-07.

Crosby leads everybody with 103 points on 36 goals and a league-best 67 assists. His next closest competitor for the Art Ross Trophy, awarded annually to the leading scorer, is Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf, who has 87 points to his credit.

With everything Crosby has been through injury-wise over the last several years, it would be unthinkable for the voters to go with anybody else for the Hart. Thanks to Pittsburgh's injury problems this season (which for once did not include Crosby on the shelf for any significant time period), the 26- year-old saw his linemates change numerous times throughout the season, but "Sid the Kid" remained productive no matter who was skating to the left and right of him.

Getzlaf, a big, strong two-way player, deserves to be in the final group of three as does Philadelphia's Claude Giroux, who overcame a miserable start to the season to lead the Flyers to the playoffs. Philly's captain guaranteed the Flyers would make the playoffs after a 1-7-0 start to the season, and he was the biggest reason that came true. Giroux didn't even score a goal until the 16th game of the season, but he was as hot as anybody in the latter stages of the campaign and currently has 27 markers and 81 points through 79 games.

Washington captain Alex Ovechkin, who won his third Hart last season, barely deserves a mention despite his league-leading 50 goals. The Russian sniper failed to get his team to the playoffs, and even if you don't think plus-minus means a whole lot in the era of advanced statistics, his minus-34 rating should preclude him from breaking into the finalists.

Perhaps, Getzlaf and Giroux could win a Hart someday, but Crosby has taken all the drama out of this season's race.

Best of the rest: Tyler Seguin, Dallas; Gustav Nyquist, Detroit

VEZINA TROPHY (Best Goaltender)

Winner: Semyon Varlamov, Colorado

Other finalists: Tuukka Rask, Boston; Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay

This could turn out to be a huge awards season for the Colorado Avalanche, and rightfully so. Picked by few people to make the playoffs, the club not only qualified for the postseason but also is still in the running for the Central Division title along with the St. Louis Blues and defending champion Chicago Blackhawks.

Outside of head coach Patrick Roy, Varlamov has been the biggest reason for Colorado's surprisingly superb regular season. The 25-year-old Russian is 40-14-6 on the season with a 2.41 goals against average and .927 save percentage, all while facing 1,973 shots -- over a 100 more than the next- closest goaltender.

Rask has better pure numbers than Varlamov with a 2.06 GAA, .929 save percentage and a league-best seven shutouts -- five more than his Colorado counterpart. But the Finnish netminder also benefits from playing behind Zdeno Chara and the NHL's stingiest defense in Boston. It's clear Varlamov needed to do more to help his team win on a nightly basis and that's why he should get the nod.

Bishop is another intriguing option for Vezina. He came up huge for the Lightning while star sniper Steven Stamkos was sidelined for months with a broken leg, anchoring Tampa Bay to a playoff berth for the first time since 2011.

Best of the rest: Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus; Carey Price, Montreal

NORRIS TROPHY (Best Defenseman)

Winner: Duncan Keith, Chicago

Other finalists: Ryan Suter, Minnesota; Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay

Ottawa's Erik Karlsson leads all defensemen with 72 points and is one behind Nashville's Shea Weber for the league lead with 20 goals, but 2013-14 isn't the year for either of those guys to be included in the Norris conversation. Both D-men saw their team miss the playoffs and Karlsson had all kinds of issues playing in his own zone.

Although he only has six goals, Chicago's Keith is second among NHL blueliners with 61 points and is in line to pick up his second Norris after winning the award after the 2009-10 campaign. Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville has said numerous times that Keith is having his best season.

Everybody knows about the Blackhawks' loaded forward group, but Keith is the guy constantly pushing the puck up ice to put the scorers in position to do what they do best. Keith also is an extremely disciplined player who rarely puts his team in tough spots. His 28 penalty minutes through 79 games also is a clear indication of a defenseman with a knack for making smart decisions without the puck.

Suter's stamina is becoming the stuff of legend. The Wild blueliner is averaging an eye-popping 29 minutes, 43 seconds of ice time per game, or 2:26 more than Karlsson, the next player on that list. However, Suter's 43 points (eight goals, 35 assists) are on the low side and could prevent him from taking home the Norris.

Hedman, 23, is quietly having the best season of his young career and is growing into the No. 1 defenseman Tampa Bay believed he would become when it selected him second overall at the 2009 draft. The 6-foot-6 Swede is a Norris winner in the making, but it may be a season or two before he can land the defensive prize.

Best of the rest: Drew Doughty, Los Angeles; Zdeno Chara, Boston

ADAMS TROPHY (Coach of the Year)

Winner: Patrick Roy, Colorado

Other finalists: Craig Berube, Philadelphia; Mike Babcock, Detroit

Roy obviously has the benefit of name recognition, but that doesn't mean the Hall of Fame goaltender doesn't actually deserve this award. From the very first game of the season when Roy nearly pushed a glass partition on top of Anaheim head coach Bruce Boudreau, the rookie NHL coach has demanded everyone's attention.

Those expecting Roy and his upstart Avalanche to melt down as the season wore on, were left disappointed. A four-time Stanley Cup winner on the ice, the legendary netminder has demanded the same passion from his players that he showed during his days manning the crease for Montreal and Colorado.

Colorado doesn't have to win the Central Division for Roy to win this award, but it would make his Adams case iron-clad.

When Berube was named to replace the fired Peter Laviolette after an 0-3 start, it was fair to roll one's eyes at a decision that seemed to be all about the insular nature of the Flyers organization. Add to the mix Berube's past life as an NHL goon and it was all too easy to write him and the slow- starting Flyers off in October.

Instead, "Chief" has installed a sense of defensive responsibility in Philadelphia that was lacking toward the end of Laviolette's tenure with the club. It just goes to show you, there's more than meets the eye when sizing up a guy who used to throw punches for his pay.

Forget about Babcock's role in leading a stacked Team Canada to a second straight Olympic gold medal, getting Detroit back to the playoffs for a 23rd consecutive season was the challenge. The Red Wings fought through injuries all season, but Babcock steadied the ship even when key players like captain Henrik Zetterberg and star forward Pavel Datsyuk missed huge chunks of the season.

Quite simply, it was another amazing job done by perhaps the best hockey coach in the world.

Best of the rest: Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay; Todd Richards, Columbus

CALDER TROPHY (Rookie of the Year)

Winner: Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado

Other finalists: Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay; Olli Maatta, Pittsburgh

MacKinnon appeared to have this trophy locked up months ago before Palat made a strong case for the Calder down the stretch. In the end, Colorado's impressive 18-year-old still deserves the rookie award more than anyone else.

Many critics snickered when the Avs picked MacKinnon No. 1 overall at last summer's draft over defenseman Seth Jones, but few people are laughing now. Jones, the top prospect according to scouts, wound up falling to fourth to Nashville and had a solid rookie season, but it's fairly obvious MacKinnon was the most NHL-ready player at the draft.

MacKinnon leads all rookies in goals (24), assists (38) and points (62), and the centerman has done so while playing a big part in Colorado's 2013-14 resurgence. He's even been asked to take on a bigger role since centerman Matt Duchene went down to injury last month and hasn't skipped a beat.

Palat, meanwhile, has 22 goals and 35 assists and has recorded 42 of his 57 points since the start of January.

Maatta, a 19-year-old defenseman, has displayed poise beyond his years in 2013-14 while playing a sizeable role for the Penguins, who were without key blueliners Kris Letang and Paul Martin for more than half the season. The young Finn looks like he could be a mainstay at the back end in Pittsburgh for years to come.

Even more impressive is Maatta has managed to contribute nine goals and 20 assists over his 76 contests while playing a steady game in his own end.

Best of the rest: Torey Krug, Boston; Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay.

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