(Andrew D. Bernstein/Paul Bereswill, Getty Images)

Before the Stanley Cup was even brought onto the ice in Los Angeles, Jonathan Quick was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the 2012 postseason. Less than a week from now, the NHL will have their awards show in Las Vegas and the NHL’s stars will humbly accept the league’s top honours. Also, someone will shamefacedly accept the Mark Messier Award for Leadership somewhere far away from the stage where real awards are given out.

Prior to that, however, there’s an even less real award to present: the Dino Ciccarelli Award for the best performance by a rookie in the playoffs. It’s not a real award because I made it up about a month ago, but I think it should exist. So now, at least in the hockey blogosphere, it does.

I had 4 nominees and 3 honourable mentions in my original post, but it became a two-horse race by the end of the playoffs. Your winner of the 2012 Dino Ciccarelli Award is…

…Braden Holtby.

The player who gave him a run for his money was Adam Henrique, who led all rookies in scoring with 13 points and played a crucial role for the New Jersey Devils in their run to the Stanley Cup Final. Henrique had a lot of things going for him, but Holtby was better than him at every step, excepting the fact that Henrique’s team got further than the second round. An individual’s performance can’t be judged on the basis of his team’s performance, however, and blaming Holtby for not scoring enough seems a little wrong-headed.

Henrique was good, but not Ciccarelli-good, which is a phrase that has never before been uttered by a human being. (Andy Marlin, Getty Images)

Henrique was 14th in scoring in the playoffs and his plus-12 rating was 3rd behind Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown. His 5 goals tied him for 12th amongst all skaters in the postseason. Holtby, however, was 3rd in save percentage and goals against average in the playoffs while facing the second highest shots per game behind Mike Smith.

Compared to past performances, Henrique’s pales in comparison to last year’s best rookie in the playoffs, Brad Marchand, who had 19 points in 25 games, finished 2nd in goals with 11, 3rd in plus/minus with a plus-12, and left his mark all over the Stanley Cup Final with his aggravating style of play. Holtby, on the other hand, is one of only three goaltenders to post a sub-2.00 GAA and a save percentage above .920 at the age of 22 or younger. The other two: Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy.

What was most impressive about Henrique’s playoff performance is that he did it while starting the majority of his shifts in the defensive zone. If you check the Devils’ player usage chart for the playoffs, you’ll see Henrique on the far, far left, meaning he started a higher percentage of his shifts in the defensive zone than anyone else on the Devils. Henrique played a lot of tough minutes and delivered.

You know who else played a lot of tough minutes? Braden Holtby. As I mentioned above, Holtby faced the second most shots against per game in the playoffs, but he also had to deal with the pressure of close games. All but one of his 14 games were decided by one goal, with the only exception being his lone stinker, giving up 3 goals on 14 shots in game one against the Rangers. Without Holtby, the Capitals don’t even win a game let alone come one game short of the Eastern Conference Final.

The one area where Henrique might be considered to have the edge is narrative. Henrique built up a reputation for being clutch by scoring two of the biggest goals of the playoffs for the Devils. He scored not one, but two game 7, overtime, series-winning goals, one against Florida in the first round and one against the Rangers to propel the Devils into the Stanley Cup Final. He also scored the gamewinning goal in game 4 against the Kings. If his overall point totals had been just a little bit better, those “clutch” goals might have put him over the top.

Holtby also soundly defeated Henrique in the "highest squirt from a water bottle" contest. (Bruce Bennett, Getty Images)

But Holtby has plenty of narrative weight in his corner as well. For starters, he outdueled last year’s Conn Smythe and Vezina Trophy winner, Tim Thomas, leading the Capitals to an upset win over last year’s Stanley Cup winning team. Then, in the second round, he went toe-to-toe with Henrik Lundqvist, the likely winner of this year’s Vezina Trophy. Combine that with the previously mentioned statistic comparing him to Roy and Brodeur and you have a compelling narrative of the rookie walking amongst giants.

If that’s not enough, he became a father just before game 7 against the Rangers and still allowed just 2 goals on 31 shots, giving the Capitals a chance to win. The fact that he performed as well as he did while his fiance was due to give birth at almost any moment speaks volumes about his mental fortitude.

Speaking of mental fortitude, Holtby gets bonus narrative points for inspiring the best animated gif of the 2012 postseason.

So that’s it: Braden Holtby was the best rookie of the 2012 NHL playoffs and the first ever winner of the Dino Ciccarelli Award. What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Thinking that Dwight King got robbed? Sound off in the comments.

Comments (18)

  1. That….that is just silly.

  2. You’ve robbed Henrique of his second trophy in a week!!

    The timely goals he scored were so important to his team’s success. He wasn’t relied on as a scoring threat but was the Devils most consistent player when looking at all 4 series.

    To be honest though, I personally don’t like goaltenders receiving every award under the son. Yes, it’s the most difficult job on the ice but in my opinion, Brown deserved the Smythe and I’d give Henrique the Dino.

    Nice article though. I hope to meet you when I win Drafted 6 lol.

  3. Ugh. This is like awarding the Conn Smythe to the losing team.

    Sure, maybe it’s not right to punish Holtby for not making it past the Rangers. But in my experience, you don’t remember player’s performances when your team doesn’t even make the conference finals. What are the odds that, 5 years from now, we’ll look back and say “Hey, remember that one series in 2012 that Holtby won for us? He was good!”? I say, slim.

    Flip side, you have Adam Henrique scoring not one, but two OT winners to decide the series. He was in the right spot to knock home what’s going to go down as a legendary goal in NJ against the Rangers in OT of the Eastern Conference finals to win the series and bury “Matteau” once and for all. Sure, he didn’t lead the playoff point race, but the goals he did score were MASSIVE, and much more memorable. Devils will get a nice banner to put up, and will have Henrique’s goal to lord over the Rangers for the time being. That’s much more important than a goaltender’s performance in the first round, as good as it was.

  4. It’s an incredibly close call in my opinion. Neither the Devils nor the Capitals get very far in the playoffs without Henrique and Holtby, respectively.

    In the end though, I think you’re right. As big of a piece as Henrique is to the Devils plan, Holtby is critical to Washington to the extent where I’m willing to suggest that they lose in five games to Boston (maybe four) if they have Neuvirth in net.

  5. Daniel, you can’t compare ranks between goalies and forwards. Let’s assume only 16 goalies played in the playoffs. And just use the top 3 lines per team as a comparson for Henrique(144 forwards). So Holtby was 3rd in save percentage (top 8%) and Henrique was 14th in points (top 10%).
    You say that Holtby did something only Roy and Brodeur have ever done. What about a rookie scoring 2 OT goals? Only Jacques Lemaire (1968) and Claude Lemieux (1986) have done that.
    I never thought a fake award would stir up so much emotion.

  6. way to claim making up the dino ciccarelli award, :\ I swear I heard it before from elsewhere more than a month ago. far more than a month ago.

    • I wasn’t sure if it was an original concept or not, but I exhausted my Google Fu and couldn’t find anything. So yeah, I’m claiming it as my own. Deal with it. ;)

  7. One thing we can all agree on: you were right about King not scoring another goal after his fifth.

  8. Hi!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. So you have arrived at the wrong decision. There has to be some relation between how far a players team got and who the award goes to. Holtby should be stricken from the list of nominees for not making it out of the second round. I don’t believe the Conn Smythe was ever awarded to a player not in the finals, and only 5 times to players who made the finals but lost the cup. Although, I have considered that this is an award for rookies and that fewer rookies play in the playoffs, consideration for the Dino Ciccarelli Award could go to a player making it to at least the conference finals but no less.

  10. Holtby did take his team to the second round and kept them in it. He was the best goalie available to the Capitals. But Adam Henrique scored a huge goal against the Panthers in game 7, double OT to take them to the second round, scored the GWG against the Rangers to go to the finals, and another in LA to win game 4 in the finals. Henrique may have scored only 5 goals, but 3 were game winners, 2 were series clinchers. Holtby was incredible and did do something only an elite few goalies did. Both have their respective reasons to win this trophy. I would have gone with Henrique in the end though.

  11. Dino’s bummed you guys. He and I thought that this award was all about picking fights, wearing awful shirts and being an overall badass during the playoffs. The concept is terrific, but I think it should be awarded to the biggest asshole in the playoffs.

    Rookie or not. The biggest asshole!

  12. Two things to think about:

    Is the value based on a per-game basis or is it total? (Malkin led the league in points, but Crosby had the most points per game during the regular season) Or is it based on value over replacement level (in which save percentage says Holtby holds a significant edge)?

    Because of overtimes and such, Holtby played the most minutes of any goalie outside the final four of Quick, Smith, Lundqvist, and Brodeur (he’d even played more than Quick had heading into the Finals) and faced the fifth-most shots as well. An NHL-average tender (for this year, I’ll use Johan Hedberg, 15th on the NHL.com save% leaders list at .918) would have let in seven more goals than Holtby did on those 429 shots faced going strictly by save percentage.

    Henrique had 13 points in 24 games, which is a 44-point pace per 82. The 3 GWGs translate to 10 per 82. That sounds similar to what Erik Cole did in 2010-2011: 26-26-52 with 9 GWG. Brodeur put up a .987 behind Henrique at 5on5, helping his plus-minus a lot. With Henrique on the ice, the Devils’ offense performed around its average, 2.2 goals per 60 of 5on5.

    Essentially, outside of the 2 OT series winners and the SCF Game 5 winner, you’re not looking at a whole lot. Second liner (6th on the Devils in scoring rate in the playoffs). I think you have to be careful not to overvalue overtime goals–if Henrique doesn’t score, it’s still a 50-50 game (I’d argue better than that, actually, both times, since I think New Jersey was just a better team than both Florida and New York).

    Furthermore, you have to think, what is the goalie equivalent of a GWG? Is it stealing a game? Holtby did that a few times, including in a Game 7 in the first round that went to overtime. Trouble is, as a skater, no one remembers if you played poorly if you only do it once or twice. If you play poorly once or twice as a goalie, though, everyone remembers only those performances. Slimmer margin for error.

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