Top 3 Dark Horses for Each Major NHL Award

Tab BamfordSenior Writer IJanuary 20, 2012

Top 3 Dark Horses for Each Major NHL Award

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    The NHL season is closing in on the All-Star Game, and this is the time of year when the best players in the game begin separating themselves for individual awards.

    We've started to see some individuals clearly establish themselves as front-runners for an invitation to Las Vegas for the 2012 NHL awards. Certainly, names like Lidstrom and Lundqvist will be in Vegas, but who else has a shot to take home some personal hardware?

    Let's take a look at who might be some dark-horse candidates for the seven major individual honors in the NHL this year.

Vezina Trophy

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    Front-Runner

    Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers.

     

    Dark Horses

    No.1: Brian Elliott, St. Louis Blues.

    No. 2: Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings.

    No. 3: Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings.

     

    Lundqvist is having a magnificent season, and he should absolutely be one of the men invited to Vegas in June. But there are three other guys that deserve legitimate consideration.

    Elliott, who just received a two-year contract, has been every bit a spark in the renaissance in St. Louis that Hitchcock has inspired, and his numbers are outstanding. He might lose some attention because he's splitting starts with Jaroslav Halak, but his sub-1.70 goals-against average and over .930 save percentage are worthy of as much notice from around the league as it was from the front office in St. Louis.

    Quick leads the NHL with six shutouts and has been forced to carry the weight for LA while Jonathan Bernier has a less-than-stellar season. He, too, has a save percentage over .930 and has kept an offensively-struggling Kings team in the playoff picture.

    Howard, like Elliott, has five shutouts and is on a team battling for the top of the Central Division. And like Elliott and Quick, his goals-against average is under two.

Calder Memorial Trophy

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    Front-Runners

    Adam Henrique, New Jersey Devils, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers.

     

    Dark Horses

    No. 1: Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche.
    No. 2: Adam Larsson, New Jersey Devils.
    No. 3: Andrew Shaw, Chicago Blackhawks.

     

    Nugent-Hopkins sprinted out to the early lead in the Calder race, but injury has allowed Henrique to catch up with him and, perhaps, take the lead. But while there are two clear front-runners in the race for the league's top rookie honor, three other young skaters have a chance to be in Vegas.

    Landeskog has been really good all year for the Avs and is among the league's rookie leaders with two game-winning goals and a plus-11 rating.

    Larsson might hurt the chances of both himself and Henrique by being in the same dressing room as the front-runner from New Jersey, but he's shown himself to be every bit a top-pair defenseman in the NHL.

    The long-shot in the race is Shaw, who might benefit from the formula used to get Michael Grabner to Vegas last year. He's late to the race, but he's already scored five goals in eight games and has set Chicago on fire; indeed, even the league's twitter account is chirping him these days. If he continues scoring at this rate, he might get an invite.

Lady Byng Memorial Trophy

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    Front-Runner

    Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning.

     

    Dark Horses

    No. 1: Loui Eriksson, Dallas Stars.
    No. 2: Jordan Eberle, Edmonton Oilers.
    No. 3: Matt Moulson, New York Islanders.

     

    St. Louis has owned this award for a while, and there's a really good chance that it'll end up back at his house this summer. But there are three young guys that might be waiting in line to take the honor away from him at some point.

    Eriksson, Eberle and Moulson have two things in common entering Thursday night's games—at least 40 points and only six penalty minutes.

Jack Adams Award

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    Front-Runner

    Ken Hitchcock, St. Louis Blues

     

    Dark Horses

    No. 1: John Tortorella, New York Rangers.
    No. 2: Paul MacLean, Ottawa Senators.
    No. 3: Kevin Dineen, Florida Panthers.

     

    Everyone has been overwhelmingly impressed by the job Hitchcock has done with the Blues, taking what appeared to be a sinking ship early in the season into a contender for the top spot in the Western Conference. Certainly, if money was on the table today, Hitchcock would be the most likely guy for the Jack Adams. 

    But there are three other guys that should receive consideration for, if not an invitation to, Vegas.

    Tortorella has the Rangers on top of the NHL and might (according to his owner) take them to a Stanley Cup championship.

    MacLean has been fantastic for the Sens, revitalizing an organization to the point that Daniel Alfredsson has joked he might not retire after the season anymore.

    And Dineen, with help from Dale Tallon's spending spree, has the one-time doormat of the Eastern Conference in Florida in the mix for a playoff spot this season.

Norris Memorial Trophy

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    Front-Runner

    Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings.

     

    Dark Horses

    No. 1: Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators.
    No. 2: Brian Campbell, Florida Panthers.
    No. 3: Dan Girardi, New York Rangers.

     

    Let's be honest, this award could probably be re-named for Lidstrom, and he'll probably win it every year until he retires. But there are a couple other front-runners we didn't name here because they're equally popular choices—Zdeno Chara and Shea Weber.

    But three other defensemen could earn an invite to Vegas this summer as an outsider.

    Karlsson was voted a starter in the All-Star Game, and he deserves it. He leads defensemen in scoring and has been a big part of the turnaround for the Sens this year.

    Campbell has been much better defensively than many fans will ever give him credit for this year. He has the second-highest point total among all defensemen, is skating the fourth-highest average ice time and is doing all of the little things it takes to win in Florida.

    Girardi's numbers aren't as gaudy (16 points, plus-ten), but he's skating the biggest ice-time average in the NHL (27:19) and has been the best defenseman on the NHL's best team to date.

Selke Award

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    Front-Runner

    Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings.

     

    Dark Horses

    No. 1: Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks.
    No. 2: Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks.
    No. 3: Ryan O'Reilly, Colorado Avalanche.

     

    Last year, Ryan Kesler won the award, and the Selke has resided in Datsyuk's living room for most of the last decade. But there are three other guys that have a legit shot at winning the award for the best defensive forward this year.

    Toews is one of the best two-way forwards in the game today. He leads the Western Conference in goals and (entering Thursday night) leads the NHL in takeaways and faceoff percentage.

    Thornton has been taken for granted for a long time in San Jose. He's among the league's top ten in takeaways and faceoff winning, and he's always killing penalties for the Sharks.

    The name not many will recognize on this list is O'Reilly, who has developed into an outstanding two-way forward for the Avs. He's right behind Toews and Datsyuk in takeaways and is winning nearly 54 percent of his faceoffs as well.

Hart Memorial Trophy

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    Front-Runners

    Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks, and Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers.

     

    Dark Horses

    No. 1: Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings.
    No. 2: Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins.
    No. 3: Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning.

     

    A lot of attention is being given to Toews and Giroux early on this year, and it's well deserved. They're among the most dynamic young playmaking forwards in the game today, and they're leading their teams in a playoff chase.

    But there are three names that, unlike some of the others awards we've talked about, are more household names that should be considered for the Hart.

    Is there a player in the game today that is taken for granted more than Datsyuk? It's hard to think of a player that's more deserving of more individual honors than he's received than Datsyuk, and he's on pace for arguably the best season of his Hall-of-Fame career.

    Malkin, meanwhile, has been forced to step into the scoring void created by, first, Sidney Crosby and then Kris Letang. He's among the league's leaders in scoring, and he might be the most important player impacting his team's playoff chances.

    Stamkos is absolutely on fire to start the year; he will be impossible to ignore if he pushes 60 goals.