The NHL offseason is almost over—training camps are set to begin across the continent during the next few weeks and the first preseason games shortly thereafter. Hockey has returned...almost.
But while there is still time, I'd like to take this opportunity to hand out all of the major NHL awards before a game is ever played in the 2011-12 season. Some of these predictions are a little crazy, some of them are far more likely than others, but all are meant in good fun.
The Stanley Cup is not included, as it is not a major individual award.
Enjoy! As always, comments are welcome and appreciated.
1. Evgeni Malkin, 117 Points
2. Alexander Ovechkin, 114 Points
3. Daniel Sedin, 109 Points
While Sidney Crosby recovers from post-concussion syndrome for much of the first-half of the season, the reinvigorated Malkin goes on a scoring tear. "Geno" and newly-signed Penguin Steve Sullivan find instant chemistry on Pittsburgh's top line, and the results are stunning, to say the least. All of Malkin's rehabilitation, training and condition pay off in a big way as he ends the season with a career-high 117 points and his second Art Ross Trophy. The Penguins manage to win the fiercely-contested Atlantic Division crown due in large part to Malkin's heroics down the stretch.
Alex Ovechkin finds his groove in the Capitals' new system and returns to form. He still struggles a bit on the defensive end but manages to re-discover his scoring touch. "Ovie" shoots a much improved 12-percent and manages to put himself in contention for a couple other NHL awards.
Daniel Sedin lights up the Western Conference for a second straight year, determined to prove that his play in the Canucks' 2011 Stanley Cup Final loss was an aberration. NHL analysts confirm the Sedin twins are the player version of the Washington Capitals: regular season champs and postseason chumps.
Alex Ovechkin, 57 Goals
Steven Stamkos, 56 Goals
Evgeni Malkin, 52 Goals
Alex Ovechkin captures his third Rocket Richard trophy after a fantastic 2011-12 NHL season. He manages to shoot a far more respectable 12.2-percent and re-establishes himself as one of the NHL's best snipers. Ovechkin's leadership and determination allow the Capitals to clinch the best record in the East, again.
Steven Stamkos continues to do what he does best: take passes from Martin St. Louis and direct them to the back of the opposition's net. With a shiny new contract and a newfound desire to prove himself as a complete player, Stamkos goes on a scoring tear to start the season and another to end the season. In the Lightning's final regular season game, Stamkos hits the post on an open net. The miss costs him a share of the Richard Trophy.
"Geno" proves he is a superstar in his own right, registering 52 goals without Sidney Crosby. He carries the Penguins offense for much of the season and injects himself in the conversation for "Best Russian in the NHL."
1. Brayden Schenn, Philadelphia Flyers
2. Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche
3. Adam Larsson, New Jersey Devils
Flyer fans quickly forget about the offseason loss of Mike Richards, due in large part to the stellar play of newly-acquired Brayden Schenn. The youngest Flyer quickly establishes himself as an exceptional two-way player, recording a whopping 57 points and a strong plus-20 rating in his first full NHL season. Schenn's physical style, on-ice leadership and elite skill-set make him a fan-favorite in Philadelphia quickly.
The Av's newest Swede quickly develops great chemistry with Paul Stastny and helps Colorado remain surprisingly competitive in the cutthroat West. Landeskog's two-way play and intangibles are invaluable during the Av's unexpected late-season surge and playoff berth.
Adam Larsson's play makes the Oilers and Panthers reconsider their selections in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. The silky-smooth young Swede proves to be better than advertised, quickly establishing himself as one of the Devil's top-three defenseman. He goes on to lead all Devil blueliners in points (37) and plus/minus (+15).
1. Loui Eriksson, Dallas Stars
2. Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings
3. Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lady Byng Memorial Trophy is finally awarded to someone not named Datsyuk or St. Louis when it goes to rising star Loui Eriksson of the Dallas Stars. Eriksson carries the Stars' offense following the departure of Brad Richards and records a career-best six PIMs throughout the entire season. His charitable work and major contributions to the Dallas-Fort Worth area are finally recognized. Both Datsyuk and St. Louis tell reporters Eriksson was the best choice for the award this season.
Datsyuk and St. Louis continue to do what they do: play hockey at a high level while managing to be excellent human beings on and off the ice. Both also comment they already have enough Lady Byng awards to fill their mantelpieces and are happy to not have to find room for another.
1. Chris Pronger, Philadelphia Flyers
2. Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks
3. Ryan Callahan, New York Rangers
With Mike Richards and Jeff Carter gone, Chris Pronger takes on the "C" for the new-look Philadelphia Flyers and leads them to the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. His influence on the team's personality is clearly evident, as all of the Flyers seem to have taken on his grit, determination and passion for the game. The Flyers become the third team Pronger has captained (St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks), tying him with the award's namesake, Mark Messier.
Jonathan Toews is a bit of a surprise selection, but his extraordinary leadership of the Blackhawks, both on and off the ice, vault him into contention. Despite several new faces and some rather public locker room conflicts, Toews manages to establish himself as the team's leader.
The Rangers' Ryan Callahan finally gets the respect he deserves from the rest of the NHL community. His heart, grit, passion and team-first attitude are clearly evident from the first game of the season through the last. He helps Brad Richards acclimate himself to life in the Big Apple (Marian Gaborik later confesses he owes Callahan quite a few dinners) and proudly serves as the Captain of the Rangers.
1. Shea Weber, Nashville Predators
2. Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings
3. Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins
The Predators' Captain finally gets the Norris monkey off his back after yet another stellar season. Weber posts career-highs with 61 points (23G, 38A) and a plus-15 rating while racking up 75 PIMs and two short-handed goals. His exceptional play, leadership and defensive prowess allow him to narrowly edge out Detroit's Lidstrom, who vows to return for one more NHL season.
Speaking of Lidstrom, he continues to be his excellent self in 2011-12, posting another 60-point season and another solid plus/minus rating. The ageless wonder continues to do it all for the Red Wing's blue line and the game of hockey in general, but falls just short of his eighth Norris.
The Bruins' Captain has a strong start to the 2011-12 season, but his play falls off down the stretch. He manages to notch 51 points and an NHL-leading 292 hits, but it isn't enough to beat out Lidstrom or Weber.
1. Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit Red Wings
2. Mike Richards, Los Angeles Kings
3. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
The Selke Award returns home to Pavel Datsyuk, who wins it for the fourth time in the seven seasons since the NHL lockout. Datsyuk's stellar play at both ends of the ice cements his status as the best player in the world (with Crosby still recovering from post-concussion syndrome).
Freed from the media spotlight and the chains of the Flyer captaincy, Mike Richards re-discovers his passion for the game of hockey in Los Angeles. He quickly establishes himself as the best player on the Kings team with stellar play at both ends of the ice. He leads the NHL in short-handed goals, is second among centers in hits, third in blocked shots and fifth in turnovers forced. He also manages a career-high 82 points playing alongside former Flyer Simon Gagne and much-maligned Dustin Penner.
Claude Giroux is the surprise finalist. With the departure of Richards, Giroux steps up as the team's Mr. Everything. Already known as a strong penalty killer and elite offensive playmaker, Giroux displays a newfound defensive prowess. His tenacity and elite skating ability, coupled with his stellar vision allow him to emerge as a shut-down defender. He also manages a career-best 90 points and a strong plus-20 rating. He finishes third in the voting.
1. Dave Tippett, Phoenix Coyotes
2. Kevin Dineen, Florida Panthers
3. Dan Bylsma, Pittsburgh Penguins
Coming off an offseason that saw him lose his best player in goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, Coyotes coach Dave Tippett performs a minor miracle in leading the 'Yotes to their third consecutive playoff berth. He is helped a bit by the sale of the franchise and some money from the new ownership group (led by surprise buyer Mark Cuban of the Dallas Mavericks) and the emergence of prospect Oliver Ekman-Larsson as a bona-fide top-four defenseman. Somehow, Tippett pulls all of the young pieces together, keeps the ship afloat during the very public sale negotiations and manages to lead his team to a solid 45-29-8 record and a sixth-seed in the Western Conference.
Kevin Dineen of the Florida Panthers somehow manages to put all of GM Dale Tallon's newly acquired pieces together, leading the Panthers to their first playoff berth in over a decade. He manages to successfully cope with the departure of franchise net-minder Tomas Vokoun and eventually exacts revenge on behalf of the Panther franchise, bouncing Vokoun's Capitals in the first round.
The Penguins' Dan Bylsma continues to work his magic in Pittsburgh, successfully coping with the absence of Sidney Crosby. His game-by-game approach, emphasis on playing a two-way game and positive outlook help the Penguins re-capture the Atlantic Division, if only by a hair.
1. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
2. Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres
3. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators
"King Henrik" is finally awarded a much-deserved Vezina after another spectacular season. The rest of the Rangers organization finally figures out that they should play some defense in front of Lundqvist, and the results are something to behold. Lundqvist records ten shutouts to go along with a pristine .931 SV% and 2.21 GAA.
Ryan Miller also reaps the benefits of an excellent defense, posting his best season since 2009-10 with seven shutouts, a .929 SV% and 2.24 GAA. He leads the Sabres to an unexpected Northeast Division title, their first since his last Vezina in 2009-2010.
Pekka Rinne continues his dominance in 2011-12, posting some stellar numbers (.927 SV%, 2.27 GAA, 8 shutouts) and backstopping the Predators to yet another playoff berth. Rinne's second consecutive nomination cements his status as one of the NHL's top net-minders.
Ilya Bryzgalov finishes a close fourth in the final voting. Boston's Tim Thomas struggles with a "lower-body injury" and is riddled with inconsistency. Vancouver's Roberto Luongo, despite another strong season, is snubbed by the voters, presumably due to his lack of "big game prowess."
1. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins
2. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
3. Shea Weber, Nashville Predators
Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins wins this one fairly easily, as his spectacular play in the absence of Sidney Crosby allows the Penguins to win another Atlantic Division championship. Geno's combination of offensive wizardry, leadership and newfound defensive skill are invaluable to the Penguins down the stretch. Malkin's newly-developed face-off prowess and physicality inspire the Penguins to add a new dimension to their game. The voters note that Malkin is willing to do whatever is necessary to help his team win.
Ovechkin's rebound season and Rocket Richard trophy aren't enough to land him another Hart Trophy. Voters are slightly turned off by his lack of defensive skill and his incomplete two-way game. However, his brilliant offensive play and leadership are enough to narrowly place him ahead of a surprise selection, Shea Weber.
Weber is one of a select few blueliners to be a finalist for the NHL's Hart Trophy. His stellar two-way play, leadership, determination and defensive prowess are enough to convince the voters that the Norris Trophy winner also deserves to be in contention for the League MVP award.
1. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins
2. Daniel Sedin, Vancouver Canucks
3. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
The tradition of the Hart Trophy's "companion" award continues, with the Lindsay Award (formerly Lester B. Pearson Award) going to that season's Hart Trophy winner for a fourteenth time.
The only surprise is Daniel Sedin replacing Shea Weber as a finalist, due in large part to Sedin's spectacular regular season. Shea Weber is fourth in the voting, narrowly missing "finalist" status.