The finalists have been announced for all the NHL awards and each one has a front-runner. But never bet against the dark horse, because often, they are the most deserving.
What follows are my dark horse picks for each of the NHL awards: Hart Memorial Trophy (MVP), Vezina Trophy (Best Goaltender), James Norris Memorial Trophy (Best Defenseman), Frank J. Selke Trophy (Best Defensive Forward), Calder Memorial Trophy (Best Rookie), General Manager of the Year and the Jack Adams Award (Best Coach).
Though the Tampa Bay Lightning didn't make the playoffs, Steven Stamkos is a dark horse to win the 2012 Hart Memorial Trophy.
Since the award is based on which player is most valuable to his team, Stamkos certainly has a shot.
When Stamkos contributed, Tampa Bay was 34-21-5. That's a decent .567 winning percentage.
But the Lightning were 4-15-3 when he didn't register a point, a paltry .182 winning percentage.
The difference (.385) is better than that of fellow finalist forward Evgeni Malkin (.700 with and .409 without, a .291 difference), the favorite to win the Hart. It's also far and above fellow finalist goalie Henrik Lundqvist (.629 with him and .667 without him, a .038 difference).
Basically, when Stamkos was able to overcome stringent defense against him by tallying a point he made the Lightning a competitive team.
Meanwhile, Malkin played alongside a stable of above-average Pittsburgh Penguins players who could win without his presence. And Lundqvist relied purely on the phenomenal New York Rangers defense for his wins.
In a sports world where making the playoffs matters more than making a difference, Stamkos is an under the radar choice for the Hart Trophy—but he certainly deserves the award.
The clear favorite to win the Vezina Trophy is Henrik Lundqvist, but Jonathan Quick deserves the nod.
Lundqvist, the New York Rangers netminder, is the first goalie to be nominated for the Hart Trophy in five years. But he is not the most valuable man in net.
The Kings goalie ranked second in goals against average this season (1.95), and turned 100 more shots aside than Lundqvist.
The other finalist, Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne, was more of a workhorse during the season, playing in a league-high 73 games. But he was the worst of the three in GAA (2.39) and save percentage (.923).
Lundqvist played with a much better offense. Los Angeles was second-to-last in goals per game at 2.29 while the Rangers tallied 2.71 a game and the Predators scored 2.83 a game.
In the 34 losses Quick sustained, the Kings netted two goals or fewer in 15 of them and one goal or less in nine.
The skaters in front of him made Quick a dark horse rather than the front-runner, but he should win the Vezina Trophy.
Nashville Predators defender Shea Weber finished second in Norris Trophy voting a season ago, but is the dark horse to finish first this year.
The Predators captain spent the fifth-most time on the ice per game in the NHL (26:09).
Three minutes and 31 seconds of that time per game came on Nashville's power play, which was the best in the league.
Stabilizing the power play is an important aspect of a defender's job, though actually scoring isn't. Which is why it's insignificant that Weber had the fewest points of the three finalists.
Weber was also tops on his team with 177 hits and 140 blocked shots.
Detroit Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk could hardly be called a dark horse, because he's won it three times and been a finalist five straight years.
Highlighting Bergeron's all-around importance on the ice was his second-best faceoff winning percentage (59.3, just 0.1 behind the leader) despite taking the fourth-most faceoffs over the course of the season.
Tied for the points lead among rookies despite missing 20 games, Edmonton Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins should win the 2012 Calder Trophy.
The first pick in the 2011 NHL draft, Nugent-Hopkins tied No. 2 pick and fellow finalist Gabriel Landeskog with 52 points. The other finalist, New Jersey Devil Adam Henrique, totaled 51 points in 74 games.
A bad shoulder kept Nugent-Hopkins out much of January, but he best fulfills the Calder Trophy's purpose of picking "the most proficient" rookie.
Fifty-two points in 62 games is more impressive than the same tally in 82 games.
Nugent-Hopkins did more with less, and for that he should hoist the Calder Trophy.
The first playoff berth since 2000 merits Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon the GM of the Year award.
The big moves by fellow finalist David Poile of the Nashville Predators were re-signing a player and working some trade deadline magic. For Doug Armstrong of the St. Louis Blues, the moves were veteran acquisitions and the decision to swap coaches midseason.
But Tallon's work was far more hefty, bringing in 10 new players before the season.
He overhauled a Panthers team that finished last in it's division the past two years.
Newcomers included stellar defenders Brian Campbell and Ed Jovanovski as well as winger Tomas Kopecky, who, along with Stephen Weiss, formed the leadership core for Florida. That means Tallon added three of the four alternate Panthers captains.
Tallon also signed former player Kevin Dineen to be head coach.
Tallon gave Miami a reason to care about hockey again. For that, he deserves the GM of the Year award.
Paul MacLean was an NHL head coach for the first time this year, which makes his contention for the Jack Adams Award all the more impressive.
Previously a perennial playoff club, the Senators had soured during the time of the last coach (Cory Clouston) and missed the playoffs two of the past three seasons.
MacLean came in and re-opened the lines of communication, leading to an 18-point improvement from a year ago. That meant a move from 13th in the conference to a playoff berth.
According to NHL.com, the NHL Broadcasters Association (which votes on this award) favors coaches who are most surprising in their performance. For that reason, MacLean has the edge for the Adams Award.