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…
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 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.
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.