Philadelphia, PA – It's only days away from the end of the NHL regular season and the race for the league's top award -- the Hart Memorial Trophy -- is anything but decided.
There are no shortage of options when trying to determine who was the most valuable player during this sprint of a season. Of course, Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby would've coasted to the second Hart of his career if he didn't miss significant time due to an injury, a fact that, sadly, has probably robbed "Sid the Kid" of more than one MVP over the last few seasons.
Considering he's still leading the NHL in scoring by one point over Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis despite missing all of April so far, it would make sense if Crosby won the Hart this season anyway. However, with Pittsburgh already assured of the top playoff spot in the East, it's obvious the stacked Penguins have gotten along fine without their captain and star forward, so maybe this isn't Crosby's year after all.
New York Islanders centerman John Tavares has another problem altogether, but his 2012-13 performance may be a more traditional fit for the Hart. Tavares is third in the league with 26 goals, but tied for 14th in total points. Still, without Tavares, it's nearly impossible to imagine the Isles even being close to making the playoffs, let alone actually getting into the tournament.
Then there is Washington's Alex Ovechkin, who earlier this season absorbed some of the harshest criticisms he's ever had to face as an NHLer, only to completely restore his reputation as the sport's most lethal scorer over the last month or so. Along the way, Ovechkin managed to reach 30 goals for the eighth time in eight NHL seasons despite the lockout-shortened schedule and also vaulted his Capitals from 14th in the conference to what could be another Southeast Division title.
Playoffs or not, Ovechkin's return to dominance should land him the third Hart of his career, and first since 2008-09.
Although Ovechkin would be my pick, the Hart could wind up going to any one of five players -- the three mentioned above, or either Chicago forward Jonathan Toews or Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. It wouldn't be surprising to see Toews take Tavares' spot among the three finalists along with Crosby and Ovechkin. If nothing else, it would give the Western Conference a representative and also acknowledge how much Toews' two-way play has meant to Chicago's superb regular season.
Unfortunately, Bobrovsky, like many other goaltenders before him, could be left out of the Hart finalists, a group that usually consists of three forwards. But, before you shed a tear for the man known as Bob, winning his first Vezina Trophy should work nicely as a consolation prize.
With the Hart Trophy covered, here are some thoughts on other major awards:
VEZINA TROPHY (Best Goaltender)
Winner: Bobrovsky, Columbus
Other finalists: Craig Anderson, Ottawa; Henrik Lundqvist, NY Rangers
Not unlike the Hart race, this year's Vezina Trophy hunt could've turned out differently if not for an injury to the early favorite. Even with Ottawa's Craig Anderson missing well over a month of the season due to an ankle injury, he should warrant a finalist spot for this trophy, but it's pretty clearly Bobrovsky's year.
Anderson has a .941 save percentage, 1.71 goals against average and three shutouts over just 22 games this season, but Bobrovsky will win the award for practically willing Columbus to the playoffs down the stretch. Even if Columbus ultimately comes up short in its quest for the second playoff berth in club history, the team's goaltender is the only real choice for the Vezina.
Acquired from Philadelphia for a trio of draft picks last summer, Bobrovsky shocked the league with easily the best season of his three-year NHL career. The 24-year-old is 19-11-6 with a .930 save percentage, 2.06 GAA and four shutouts heading into his club's final two games of the regular season.
It's safe to say nobody saw Bobrovsky's breakout season coming, especially Flyers GM Paul Holmgren, who thought he stole three draft picks from Columbus before watching his former netminder blossom into a bona-fide goaltending star.
Even if his team struggled more than most expected in 2013, New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist -- last year's winner -- should be a Vezina finalist for the fifth time in his eight NHL seasons.
Best of the rest: Antti Niemi, San Jose; James Reimer, Toronto.
NORRIS TROPHY (Best Defenseman)
Winner: P.K. Subban, Montreal
Other finalists: Kris Letang, Pittsburgh; Ryan Suter, Minnesota
P.K. Subban irked some Montreal fans by missing the first four games of this season due to a holdout, but since signing a two-year, $5.75 million deal with the Canadiens, the young defenseman has done nothing but prove he's worth way more than that.
Subban, who won't turn 24 years of age until next month, turned in a Norris- worthy season six years after the Habs stole him in the second round of the 2007 draft. Prior to this season, Subban's play was marked by brilliant moments followed by bouts of inconsistency, but he finally put it all together in 2013 and his improvement is the biggest reason for Montreal's surprise run to the playoffs after finishing last in the East in 2011-12.
Through 39 games, Subban leads all NHL defensemen with 11 goals and 36 points while also sporting a plus-nine rating. His 36 points also places him second on Montreal in scoring this season, and that fact might've gotten Subban into the Hart Trophy race if it wasn't such a close field already.
Pittsburgh's Kris Letang, like his teammate Crosby, may have claimed this award for himself if not for injury problems, but that would've only been because he likely would've passed Subban in points. Letang's injury essentially prevented the Norris from turning into a race for the most points by a defenseman, a scenario that has played out too many times in recent years. Plain and simple, Subban meant more to Montreal than any other player this season and he certainly is more valuable to the Habs than Letang is to the Pens.
Minnesota's Ryan Suter deserves a finalist spot for getting out from under Shea Weber's shadow in Nashville and turning in a strong first season with the Wild, but he doesn't deserve the hardware over either Subban or Letang.
Best of the rest: Dion Phaneuf, Toronto; Duncan Keith, Chicago.
ADAMS TROPHY (Coach of the Year)
Winner: Bruce Boudreau, Anaheim
Other finalists: Joel Quenneville, Chicago; Jack Capuano, NY Islanders
In what could be the only race harder to predict than the Hart, this season's Adams Trophy could go to any one of several head coaches.
If you like to see the award go to a bench boss from one of the dominant teams, then Chicago's Joel Quenneville or Pittsburgh's Dan Bylsma are excellent choices. Prefer someone who did admirable jobs under more difficult circumstances? Then perhaps you'll throw support behind Ottawa's Paul MacLean, Toronto's Randy Carlyle, Montreal's Michel Therrien or Jack Capuano of the New York Islanders.
For my money, however, the one guy who combined over-achieving with dominance, was Anaheim's Bruce Boudreau. The Ducks improved incrementally when Boudreau took over the reins from a fired Carlyle during the 2011-12 campaign, but few people predicted Anaheim's huge leap forward in 2013.
Playing in perhaps the toughest division in the NHL, the Ducks outplayed the likes of the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings for the second Pacific Division title in their history and first since 2006-07, when Anaheim also claimed its only Cup.
Boudreau's team stumbled down the stretch a bit after a red-hot start, but winning the Pacific in surprise fashion is enough to give him the edge for the Adams.
Best of the rest: Dan Bylsma, Pittsburgh; Michel Therrien, Montreal.
CALDER TROPHY (Rookie of the Year)
Winner: Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida
Other finalists: Brendan Gallagher, Montreal; Jonas Brodin, Minnesota.
The truncated season didn't prove to be the best showcase for rookies, but the one player who most consistently stood out among the pack was Jonathan Huberdeau. Too bad he played for a team that was awful from the start.
Huberdeau, the third overall pick of the 2011 draft, led all NHL rookies with 14 goals this season, a total that also placed him in a tie for second on a Florida roster that was hobbled by injuries.
The Quebec native had a chance to lock the Calder up, but he's only scored twice over the last 20 games, a fact that hampers his momentum heading into the award season. Still, Huberdeau easily generated the most excitement of this year's rookie crop and voters will likely remember him when the time comes.
Montreal's Brendan Gallagher, meanwhile, has played an important role for a playoff-bound team and is just one goal (13) and three points (25) behind Huberdeau heading into the final days of the regular season.
Minnesota's Jonas Brodin is gaining serious momentum for the Calder, as he's been very impressive skating on the Wild's top defensive pairing with Suter. As steady as he's been, however, Brodin is currently ranked seventh in points among rookie defensemen and his solid plus-five rating isn't nearly enough to make up for the lack of scoring.
Best of the rest: Cory Conacher, Tampa Bay/Ottawa; Brandon Saad, Chicago.