The finalists for this year's NHL Awards are in, and the usual suspects are involved in most of the categories.
This may be a turnaround year though, with several players winning awards for the first time.
Jack Adams Trophy (Best Coach): Claude Julien BOS, Todd MccLellan SJS, Andy Murray STL
Two conference-winning coaches, and the underdog nominee.
Julien took his Bruins from eighth to first in the East with roughly the same roster. The Bruins' expectations were far below the Sharks this year, giving Julien an edge over McLellan. Murray would have a shot if the season started in January.
Winner: Claude Julien.
Lady Byng Trophy (Sportsmanship): Zach Parise NJD, Martin St. Louis TB, Pavel Datsyuk DET
All three are worthy, but Datsyuk is the perennial winner and has two other award nominations. A year like that should give him the hardware.
Winner: Pavel Datsyuk
Selke Trophy (Best Defensive Forward): Mike Richards PHI, Ryan Kesler VAN, Pavel Datsyuk DET
It should come down to Richards and Datsyuk, two of the premier centers in the NHL.
Datsyuk was a plus-34 and Richards was a plus-22. Richards had a flurry of shorthanded goals this year, totalling seven, including a goal scored against a five on three power play.
Datsyuk also had superior blue line support compared to Richards.
Winner: Mike Richards
Calder Trophy (Best Rookie): Steve Mason CLS, Bobby Ryan ANA, Kris Versteeg CHI
The Jackets' first playoff berth would not have been possible without Mason. In terms of value, he was far more valuable than Ryan or Versteeg.
To answer who had the best rookie season? Mason, of course—leading the league in shutouts is no easy feat.
Winner—by a longshot: Steve Mason
Vezina Trophy (Best Goalie): Steve Mason CLS, Tim Thomas BOS, Niklas Backstrom MIN
Three very different scenarios here. Mason took the starting role midway through the season and emerged as the NHL's brightest rookie. Thomas split time with Manny Fernandez the majority of the season but he rarely had an off night. Backstrom was number one the whole way through but could not backstop his team to the playoffs.
Mason played in a similar situation as Backstrom—a weak offensive team with mild expectations. But Mason took the team to the playoffs, so he beats Backstrom.
Thomas also has to get the nod over Backstrom, because he started seventeen fewer games but racked up one less win.
So between Mason and Thomas, it is a tough call. Mason had ten shutouts to Thomas' five, and Mason did not have a Chara or Wideman clearing space for him. The rookie also played in a division that had five playoff teams until the final night of the season.
Winner: Steve Mason
Norris Trophy (Best Defenseman): Nick Lidstrom DET, Mike Green WAS, Zdeno Chara BOS
This category also looks like another toss-up. Nick Lidstrom said recently he believes his run is up.
I feel the same way, but Chara and Green are hard to choose from. Chara has been a horse year in and year out. His point total is not nearly as eye-popping as Green, but Chara offers multiple dimensions. Green's notoriety came about after his seven-game goal scoring streak, a historic achievement.
So is it the smooth skating Orr like young gun in Green, or the hulking shutdown Chara, who won the NHL's hardest shot competition? Boston's success and Green's knack for giveaways on the rush is why Big Z should win it.
Winner: Zdeno Chara
Hart Trophy (MVP): Alexander Ovechkin WAS, Evgeni Malkin PIT, Pavel Datsyuk DET
This certainly would be an exciting line for Team Russia in the 2010 Olympics—unless you are from Canada.
Familiar circumstances in this category: Ovechkin won the Richard and Malkin the Art Ross again. Datsyuk was fourth in points and as mentioned before is nominated for two other awards.
Datsyuk is an outstanding player, possibly better overall than Ovechkin and Malkin when you consider his defensive play. But was he the Most Valuable Player in the league? Definitely not—maybe not even on his own team, with Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Marian Hossa and so on.
The Caps had a tremendous year, seeing Semin, Backstrom, and Green develop into even more dangerous offensive threats. The Penguins were fading from the playoffs, fired their coach, and were with Sergei Gonchar until March.
Ovechkin lined up with Semin and Backstrom for a good chunk of the year. Malkin and Crosby usually played apart because of the Penguins lack of offense. Evgeni Malkin is the most consistent scorer in the NHL.
It is reasonable to say Crosby gives Malkin more support than Ovechkin gets. But Malkin has done more with less than Ovechkin this year and possibly last year—and that is why Geno should be the MVP.
Winner: Evgeni Malkin