The Cup has been hoisted, the parade has been marched, and the Los Angeles Kings are NHL champions – again. But the ticker tape had barely settled when the offseason kicked off with a bang: a wave of contract extensions, firings, hirings, and general activity has swept through the league over the past few weeks. (The new champs have been at the center, with playoff hero Jonathan Quick undergoing wrist surgery while his front office rewarded Marian Gaborik’s dominant postseason with a seven-year contract.) Before we fully close the book on 2014 and look to the future, however, let’s review some of the year-end awards, the bulk of which were handed out this week.
Hart Trophy (MVP) – Sidney Crosby’s name has been etched into this trophy since midseason, and there was no last-second surprise here. The Kid bounced back from a couple injury-plagued years to notch the fifth 100-point season of his career, and in doing so captured the MVP and the Art Ross Trophy (points leader) for the second time each. The pure playmaking ability of a healthy Sidney Crosby is unparalleled in the league today and with his landslide victory (128 of 137 first-place votes for the Hart), he was rewarded for it. Sid gets more than his share of criticism – lacks toughness, plays dirty, subpar defense, all those embarrassing recent playoff exits – but when it comes to overall influence on the game, there’s none better.
Norris Trophy (Best Defenseman) – This trophy can carry different meanings year by year. Sometimes it’s awarded to the most dominant scoring defenseman, like PK Subban last year; sometimes it goes to the baddest defensive presence in the league, like Zdeno Chara in 2009. With Duncan Keith, the Blackhawks’ alternate captain and the anchor of one of the league’s best defenses, you get the best of both worlds. Keith finished with 61 points despite finding the net only six times, and his 55 assists led all defensemen. His coast-to-coast speed and quick stickwork make him a ferocious defender who can streak down the ice and turn a takeaway into a beautiful setup pass for a teammate. He’s a huge reason Chicago finished with this year’s fourth-best goal differential.
Selke Award (Best Defensive Forward) – …And here’s the reason Boston finished with the best differential, the only team to score a full goal per game more than they allowed. Patrice Bergeron is the epitome of a complete player: the best defensive forward in the league, possibly the best faceoff man, and nothing shabby in the offensive zone either. This year he notched the most faceoff wins, led his team with 30 goals while dishing out 32 assists, and had the second-best plus/minus rating in the NHL, allowing him to retake the Selke from the unwilling grip of Jonathan Toews. Of course Bergy will be the first to tell you that it all means squat after getting ungraciously bounced from the second round of the playoffs, but the recognition is still appreciated for the heart and soul of the Bruins.
Vezina Trophy (Best Goalie) – In probably the most uncertain of the major awards, Tuukka Rask edged out Semyon Varlamov in a battle of brick walls. There was a good case for Varlamov to take it home – despite facing over 2000 (!) shots on goal, he made 100 more saves than the next closest goaltender and still ended up with the third-best save percentage. Tuukka may have benefited from the better defense but his overall dominance all season long was enough to beat out Varlamov, who even came in fourth in MVP voting. Those league-leading seven shutouts didn’t hurt, either.
Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year) – Another runaway winner, Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon left nothing up for debate, tallying 63 points and leading all rookies in virtually every statistical category. Last year’s #1 overall pick made an immediate impact with his five game-winning goals and clutch play, and at only 18 years old he’s drawn comparisons to Wayne Gretzky’s rookie year. He, Varlamov, and Coach Roy are the reasons why the Central Division has suddenly become the scariest in hockey.
Adams Award (Best Coach) – Yes! The legendary former goalie, notorious hothead, and all-around crazy person Patrick Roy exploded onto the coaching scene with his former squad and took home the well-deserved hardware. Signing with the second-worst team of last year and immediately leading them to a division title over forces of nature Chicago and St. Louis – is that good? Roy delighted hockey fans when he nearly fought opposing coach Bruce Boudreau in his VERY FIRST GAME, and never looked back. He coached Varlamov to a season for the ages, capitalized on the talent of wunderkind MacKinnon, and generally blew expectations out of the water. Look for the Avalanche to stay dangerous while this guy is steering the ship.