HAND­ING OUT HARD­WARE

Break­ing down who should take home the NHL’s big­gest in­di­vid­ual honors

Cecil Whig - - ATHLON SPORTS -

The NHL hands out more than 15 of­fi­cial in­di­vid­ual tro­phies each sea­son. Some, such as the Art Ross Tro­phy for the league’s lead­ing scorer, are for­mal­i­ties; the num­bers tell us who wins. Oth­ers, such as the King Clancy Me­mo­rial Tro­phy (awarded for lead­er­ship and hu­man­i­tar­ian con­tri­bu­tion), are nice ideas but not worth ar­gu­ing about. But there are four big ones that are al­ways up for de­bate. Hart Tro­phy (Most Valu­able Player) Who’s in the mix: Sid­ney Crosby, Pitts­burgh; Patrick Kane, Chicago; Joe Thorn­ton, San Jose.

The de­bate: Thorn­ton isn’t go­ing to win this award, but in terms of sheer value he prob­a­bly should. When Thorn­ton is on the ice at even strength, the Sharks’ goal dif­fer­en­tial is plus-39; when he’s not on the ice, it is mi­nus-25.

But this will come down to Kane’s ca­reer sea­son vs. Crosby’s crazy sec­ond half that has car­ried the Pens into the Stan­ley Cup con­ver­sa­tion. It’s easy to say Kane has the ad­van­tage of play­ing for a dom­i­nant Cup cham­pion; but Chicago has bat­tled in­juries all sea­son, and Jonathan Toews has had the worst sea­son of his ca­reer. Kane has done the heavy lift­ing and is the league’s only 100-point scorer, 14 points clear of his clos­est com­peti­tor. Let’s not over­think this. Pre­dic­tion: Kane, but it’s closer than the scor­ing race. Nor­ris Tro­phy (Top De­fense­man) Who’s in the mix: Brent Burns, San Jose; Drew Doughty, Los An­ge­les; Erik Karls­son, Ottawa; Kris Le­tang, Pitts­burgh.

The de­bate: This one, on the other hand, is one we al­ways over­think. Even if every­one could agree on what we should be look­ing for — Is it the de­fense­man who is the best at of­fense or de­fense? Or both? — there are sev­eral guys who can make a le­git case for the award.

Karls­son would nor­mally be a slam dunk. He leads the league in as­sists and is hav­ing the best of­fen­sive sea­son by a de­fense­man this cen­tury. While Karls­son is ex­pected to pro­duce of­fense, Doughty plays the tough min­utes against top play­ers, in­clud­ing killing penal­ties (some­thing Karls­son rarely does). Also, Karls­son has al­ready won the award twice, and many feel Doughty has waited long enough.

The irony is that Le­tang may the best mix that vot­ers should be look­ing for: He’s prob­a­bly the sec­ond-best of­fen­sive de­fense­man be­hind Karls­son, and he’s good enough de­fen­sively that his pos­ses­sion num­bers rel­a­tive to his team­mates are even bet­ter than Doughty’s.

But then that is where the over­think­ing comes in. Fact is that Karls- son’s num­bers in terms of shots gen­er­ated vs. shots against are bet­ter than both Doughty and Le­tang. Crit­ics can pick apart Karls­son’s play in the de­fen­sive zone, but the other team can’t score if they are trapped try­ing to de­fend Karls­son in their own end.

Pre­dic­tion: It feels like Doughty will win, and his game is wor­thy of the award. But we’d vote for Karls­son. Vez­ina Tro­phy (Top Goalie) Who’s in the mix: Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay; Corey Craw­ford, Chicago; Braden Holtby, Wash­ing­ton; Hen­rik Lundqvist, N.Y. Rangers.

The de­bate: Holtby looked like he would run away with this one, but it’s not an easy choice. He could still set the NHL record for wins, and his other num­bers are among the league lead­ers. But he strug­gled in Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary, let­ting oth­ers into the dis­cus­sion.

Lundqvist hasn’t al­ways been at his best but is as valu­able as ever. Bishop ranks among the top three in goals against av­er­age, save per­cent­age and shutouts. Craw­ford leads the league in shutouts and the Black­hawks have strug­gled since he got hurt.

Pre­dic­tion: Holtby. De­spite a slump, his over­all num­bers are still good. If he sets the wins record, it’s a no-brainer. Calder Me­mo­rial Tro­phy (Rookie of the Year) Who’s in the mix: Jack Eichel, Buf­falo; Shayne Gostis­be­here, Philadel­phia; Con­nor McDavid, Ed­mon­ton; Artemi Pa­narin, Chicago.

The de­bate: Pa­narin prob­a­bly ended any real de­bate with back-to­back four-point games over the week­end and a three-point game on Tues­day. That gave him 75 points to­tal and 0.96 points per game, pretty close to McDavid’s 1.05 points per game in his 43 games.

While some as­sume McDavid would have run away with this had he not got­ten hurt, it’s a good bet he would have hit a wall and slowed down at some point. It hap­pened to his fel­low teenager Eichel, although he is fin­ish­ing strong while lead­ing rookie for­wards in ice time per game. Even Pa­narin strug­gled in March de­spite be­ing five years older.

Gostis­be­here, 22, wasn’t called up un­til Novem­ber but will get some votes — and right­fully so. While his scor­ing pace also slowed in March, his points per game are right there with Eichel’s de­spite be­ing a de­fense­man, and he has keyed the Fly­ers’ run to the playoffs.

Pre­dic­tion: Pa­narin.

The Hart Tro­phy vote may come down to Chicago’s Patrick Kane vs. Pitts­burgh’s Sid­ney Crosby.

John Gworek Athlon Sports Se­nior Edi­tor @JohnG­worek

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