NHL Award Watch: How Are the Preseason Favorites Performing?

Rob KirkCorrespondent IIFebruary 10, 2013

NHL Award Watch: How Are the Preseason Favorites Performing?

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    In every team sport, there are certain milestones and achievements awarded for individual excellence. The ultimate goal is to win a championship, but if you can pick up some individual accolades along the way, that's pretty special too.

    The NHL awards are handed out in shiny, sparkly Las Vegas in over-the-top non-hockey fashion at season's end. It appears to be an attempt to link the NHL to pop culture but usually falls miles short. Everyone likes movie stars, most people like music, a couple of people like Nickelback and no one likes Gary Bettman.

    Combining this eclectic stew into the NHL award show is unnatural and awkward, and it generates about as much interest in hockey as the Pro Bowl does for the NFL.

    The culmination of the season is arguably the greatest postseason tournament in all of sports. It is certainly more deserving than the medley that has been put before us in the past.

    That's enough of my feelings regarding the presentation of the awards. It's a disservice to those players who are in the discussion to receive said trophy or trophies.

    This preseason was unique for obvious reasons, but it still provided the same optimism as any ordinary NHL season. The delayed start saw a few teams fall flat on their collective faces and others get out in front of the pack.

    This slideshow will look at the preseason individual favorites to take home the NHL hardware and how they have fared so far. I will also offer some additional players who have stepped up and are deserving of a look for each specific award.

    Here's to hoping that we won't be seeing a Creed comeback tour during this summer's NHL awards. Enjoy now!

Hart Memorial Trophy (MVP)

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    2012 Winner: Evgeni Malkin


    2013 Preseason Favorites: Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Evgeni Malkin, Claude Giroux, Jonathan Quick, Henrik Lundqvist

    Everyone expected Evgeni Malkin to pick up where he left off last season. We were given the morsels of KHL highlights featuring Malkin and some goal-scoring exploits during the lockout. So far, Malkin has been good, but his teammate, Sidney Crosby, has been equally deserving of the same recognition.

    Steven Stamkos appears to have benefited from having some of his other teammates match his high level of play. The Lightning are the highest-scoring team in the league so far after 10 games.

    Struggling out of the gate have been Claude Giroux, Jonathan Quick and Henrik Lundqvist. These three have stumbled from the start, as have with their respective teams. It's certainly plausible to expect the top talent to rebound, but in a shortened season, the three players will have a good bit of ground to make up.


    Players who have jumped into the consideration pool with impressive starts

    Thomas Vanek, Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Patrick Kane, Carey Price, Craig Anderson

Art Ross Trophy (Scoring Leader)

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    2012 Winner: Evgeni Malkin


    2013 Preseason Favorites: Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Claude Giroux, John Tavares, Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin

    The usual suspects find themselves at or near the top of the scoring table.

    The Pittsburgh duo of Malkin and Crosby are expected to challenge for the scoring crown and are right there at the top. Tampa Bay's Stamkos is right there with them, along with teammate Martin St. Louis.

    Claude Giroux and the Sedin twins are struggling from the start, scoring below a point per game to this point. Meanwhile, John Tavares is hanging around in the top 20 scorers, and I expect him to move up the table as the season progresses.


    Players who have jumped into the consideration pool with impressive starts

    Thomas Vanek, Patrick Kane, Patrick Marleau, Jason Pominville, Henrik Zetterberg, Chris Kunitz

James Norris Trophy (Top Defenseman)

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    2012 Winner: Erik Karlsson


    2013 Preseason Favorites: Erik Karlsson, Zdeno Chara, Shea Weber, Alex Pietrangelo, Kris Letang, Brian Campbell

    There will always be the argument that the best defenseman needs to be a force on both ends of the ice. Erik Karlsson will never be a feared hitter like Weber or Chara, but he does enough in his defensive zone to merit this award in 2012. Karlsson has come miles from the defensive liability he was in his first two seasons.

    So far this season, he has been productive offensively, but has taken almost twice as many shots (50) as the next-highest total (29) at his position. With star center Jason Spezza out after back surgery Karlsson could be trying to do too much.

    Shea Weber has figured prominently in the fast start for Nashville, but he has been a statistical no-show.

    Chara has had a decent start for the red-hot Bruins and has been a key figure in the stingy Boston defense, as always.

    Meanwhile, Pietrangelo and Letang have been scoring at an impressive pace and have their respective teams out to good starts. They both sit in the top five for scoring defensemen, but are looking up at some lesser-known players in the table.


    Defensemen who have jumped into the consideration pool with impressive starts

    Kevin Shattenkirk, Andrei Markov, Tobias Enstrom, Alexander Edler, Raphael Diaz

Vezina Trophy (Top Goaltender)

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    2012 Winner: Henrik Lundqvist


    2013 Preseason Favorites: Henrik Lundqvist, Jonathan Quick, Pekka Rinne, Carey Price, Jaroslav Halak

    The 2013 season hardly started in ideal fashion for last year's three Vezina finalists. Though it's certainly reasonable for them to return to form, the goaltending stories this year belong to Craig Anderson, Roberto Luongo, Corey Crawford and Tuukka Rask.

    Pekka Rinne has found his form and anchors the league's best defense through Saturday night.

    Lundqvist might be turning the corner too. In his last five games, King Henrik is only allowing two goals per game.

    The same can be said for the reigning Conn Smythe winner, Jonathan Quick. The extended Stanley Cup hangover seems to be fading for Quick, who has also been improving in his last five games.


    Goaltenders who have jumped into consideration with impressive starts

    Roberto Luongo, Craig Anderson, Corey Crawford, Antti Niemi, Tuukka Rask

Calder Memorial Trophy (Top Rookie)

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    2012 Winner: Gabriel Landeskog


    2013 Preseason Favorites: Nail Yakupov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Justin Schultz, Mikael Granlund

    Rare is the rookie who takes the league by storm. The iconic freshmen who transcend the game, like Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin, only seem to come around every once in a while. This season's rookie crop has no transcending iconic player, but rather strength in the number of rookies making an impact.

    The Edmonton Oilers seem to boast a No. 1 overall draft pick every year, and this year is no different. The top overall pick, Nail Yakupov, has been clutch for the Oilers this young season. And defenseman Justin Schultz, who was acquired in a free-agent coup, leads the Oilers in ice time with 23 minutes per game.

    Florida rookie Huberdeau and St. Louis freshman Vladimir Tarasenko took the NHL by storm opening night with impressive debuts. Both have cooled since their red-hot opener, but each has announced his presence to the NHL impressively.

    Mikael Granlund has yet to steal any headlines from the high-priced free agents in Minnesota, but he has still shown promise.

    The favorite for the Calder thus far has been Tampa Bay's first-year wing, Cory Conacher. He leads all rookies with 12 points in 10 games and has thrived alongside the Lightning's talented veterans.


    Other rookies who have jumped into the consideration pool with impressive starts

    Cory Conacher, Marcus Foligno, Vladimir Tarasenko

Lady Byng Trophy (Gentlemanly Play)

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    2012 Winner: Brian Campbell


    2013 Preseason Favorites: Pavel Datsyuk, Martin St. Louis, Jason Pominville

    Hardly the most glamorous of awards in a sport with the violence of ice hockey. The Lady Byng isn't so much awarded to the "softest" player in the league as it is to the player who plays the sport the right way. Fairness and sportsmanship are accounted for, and the Byng is given to a player who has earned respect and the reputation as a fair player.

    It helps, of course, to be a higher-profile player who can put up some numbers. The favorites are perennially Pavel Datsyuk and Martin St. Louis, who have each won the award multiple times.

    Last year's nominees, Matt Moulson, Jordan Eberle and Brian Campbell, seemed to get their names thrown in the Byng hat simply because they had low penalty-minute numbers. If the same criteria is followed this season, we can expect to see three new names on the nomination list.


    Other players who can be taken into consideration

    Joe Thornton, Jonathan Toews, Logan Couture, Teemu Selanne

Frank J. Selke Trophy (Top Defensive Forward)

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    2012 Winner: Patrice Bergeron

    2013 Preseason Favorites: Pavel Datsyuk, Patrice Bergeron, David Backes, Jordan Staal

    The Selke Award has no particular statistic that will enable a clear favorite to be picked. Defensive play can be measured by a player's plus/minus, but in a team sport, even that statistic can be misleading.

    There are several players lauded for their defensive play, and they are consistently in the running to receive the year-end award. Pavel Datsyuk is nominated almost every year and, with respect to last year's winner Patrice Bergeron, could be declared the winner every year with a valid argument.

    Bergeron was equally deserving last year and is known as much for his complete play as his offensive prowess.

    David Backes of St. Louis also received a nomination last year, as the Blues captain embodied the St. Louis gritty style of play.

    Jordan Staal was known as a penalty-killing ace in Pittsburgh. His new role in Carolina as the No. 2 center will also include being a shutdown defensive player.


    Other players who can be taken into consideration

    Jonathan Toews, Mike Richards, Dave Bolland, Saku Koivu

Jack Adams Award (Top Coach)

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    2012 Winner: Ken Hitchcock


    2013 Preseason Favorites: Joel Quenneville, Claude Julien, John Tortorella, Dave Tippett, Paul MacLean

    Even though I have the benefit of three weeks of hockey to list my favorites for the coach of the year, I still projected that Chicago, Boston and the New York Rangers would be good enough for their respective coaches to warrant consideration.

    Tortorella's Rangers have been a disappointment, but Quenneville and Julien remain viable with the great start in each of their cities. I added Dave Tippett in to the favorites simply because no coach consistently wins with less talent and more unrest than the Phoenix Coyotes' coach.

    Paul MacLean was a nominee last year for the surprising Ottawa Senators. Faced with losing his captain, Jason Spezza, for two months this year, MacLean could be in the running again if he can lead the Senators back to the playoffs. 


    Other coaches who can be taken into consideration

    Bruce Boudreau (Anaheim), Peter DeBoer (New Jersey), Dan Bylsma (Pittsburgh)

Maurice Richard Trophy (Top Goal Scorer)

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    2012 Winner: Steven Stamkos


    2013 Preseason Favorites: Steven Stamkos, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marian Gaborik, James Neal, Alexander Ovechkin

    Steven Stamkos might etch himself a permanent spot as the Richard Trophy winner. The high-scoring Tampa Bay center has finished first or second in the NHL in goals since his rookie year. His seven goals in 10 games have him among the leaders again this year.

    Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin also warrant consideration simply because they are point-producing machines. If either one decides to specifically focus on goal scoring, Stamkos could get a run for his money. Throw James Neal into that equation too. The Penguins winger has benefited from playing alongside the two Pittsburgh centers.

    Marian Gaborik also has a nose for the net. Gaborik, who had offseason shoulder surgery, has returned with a vengeance. His 41 goals a year ago were good for third in the NHL.

    Lastly, and hardly worth mentioning, has been the colossal disappointment of Alex Ovechkin. The former goal-scoring king currently sits behind Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward in the Washington Capitals' scoring table.


    Other players who can be taken into consideration

    Patrick Marleau, Thomas Vanek, Patrick Kane, Eric Staal