Throughout the playoffs, the NHL has been parcelling out announcements of the post-season award nominees. This has led to the usual debates: did Player X get snubbed for Award Y? Should the Hart be for the player most valuable to his team or for just the best player in the league? Do purely offensive defencemen belong in the discussion for the Norris trophy?
For some fans whose teams didn’t make the playoffs or got bounced in the first round, these arguments can be a welcome distraction, if they still want to think about hockey at all.
But what I find interesting is that the Selke award is the only one that still has all three nominees in the playoffs. At least one nominee for all the other major awards either didn’t make the playoffs or got knocked out in the first round.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that this is really indicative of some overarching trend (Teams with Selke nominees are better suited for the playoffs than teams with Hart nominees!) or that the players nominated for the Selke are better than those nominated for the Hart. After all, only one Selke nominee in 2012 made it to the second round of the playoffs, namely David Backes, whose Blues were subsequently swept by the eventual Cup winners, the Los Angeles Kings.
Heck, Rod Brind’Amour won the Selke in 2006-07 when his team, the Carolina Hurricanes, missed the playoffs altogether.
Still, it’s worth looking at how the nominees for each award have performed in the playoffs. While playoff performance doesn’t factor into the NHL awards — the voting has already been completed and the winners decided — it’s fun to look at the small sample size and high-pressure situations of the playoffs and see how the supposed best players in the league stacked up.
We’ll start with the Calder. The odds are against Calder nominees from the start, as teams that have ice time to spare for a rookie to shine generally aren’t particularly good. This season saw two exceptions, however, as Brandon Saad from the Chicago Blackhawks and Brendan Gallagher from the Montreal Canadiens both stood out on Division (and Presidents’ Trophy) winning teams. Jonathan Huberdeau’s Florida Panthers didn’t make it to the playoffs however.
Ironically, Gallagher outplayed Saad in the first round, scoring 2 goals and becoming a burr under the saddle of the Senators, but the Canadiens couldn’t overcome injuries and lost in 5 games, while the juggernaut Blackhawks didn’t need anything from Saad to advance past the Wild.
While defence may win championships, just one Norris-nominated defenceman remains in the playoffs. Kris Letang has been superb for the Penguins, scoring 7 points in 7 games, just one point behind Zdeno Chara for the playoff lead among defencemen. He’s also playing over 27 minutes a night to lead the Penguins and, despite getting most of his points on the powerplay, has a plus-4 rating at even-strength, second on the team. I’m not sure what more you could expect from Letang, really.
P.K. Subban put up points as well, scoring 4 points in 5 games, but he let his discipline get away from him, particularly in game 3, when he took a few minor penalties and also earned a game misconduct for a total of 25 penalty minutes. The only game in which he didn’t take a penalty was game 1. That said, Subban certainly wasn’t the problem in Montreal.
You could argue that Ryan Suter was part of the problem in Minnesota, though I wouldn’t be so uncharitable. Suter led the league in ice time per game, averaging 31:37, but only managed 5 shots in 5 games and didn’t record a single point. The Wild were out of their depth against the Blackhawks and it showed in Suter’s underlying possession statistics, which were badly in the red. The Wild were unlikely to pull off the upset against the Blackhawks, but better results from Suter certainly would have helped.
Both of the Vezina nominees that made the playoffs are still around. Sergei Bobrovsky carried the Bluejackets to within one point of the post-season, but fell just short, meaning my early season prediction that they would make the playoffs also fell just short.
Henrik Lundqvist and Antti Niemi are going strong, however. Lundqvist put up a stellar .947 save percentage in the first round against the Capitals and posted shutouts in games 6 and 7 to ensure the Rangers made it to the second round. That’s the kind of goaltending you expect from a Vezina winner.
Niemi wasn’t quite as good, though he didn’t have to be in the Sharks 4-game sweep of the Canucks. He still has a fantastic .932 save percentage, even after a game 1 loss to the Kings in the second round.
There’s only one Hart Trophy nominee remaining: Sidney Crosby, who has a solid 9 points through 6 games while averaging nearly 21 minutes per game. This one’s interesting because of how much importance Hart voters seem to place on making the playoffs in the first place. The argument goes thusly: how valuable can a player be if he isn’t valuable enough to carry his team to the playoffs?
There were a number of people upset that Steven Stamkos was in the top three in voting for the Hart last season, for instance. He may have scored 60(!) goals, but the Lightning were 8 points out of a playoff spot. It’s ultimately a silly argument: Stamkos was immensely valuable for the Lightning, even if his team wasn’t good enough to get into the post-season. He finished second in league scoring this season, behind his teammate Martin St. Louis, but neither of them earned a Hart nod, as the Lightning once again missed the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Alex Ovechkin was fantastic down the stretch for the Capitals to lead them into the playoffs, winning the Rocket Richard for most goals in the process, but put up just 2 points in 7 games in the first round, as the aforementioned Lundqvist shut out the Capitals in the final two games of the series. The other Hart nominee, John Tavares, was much better, tallying 5 points in 6 games. He just had the misfortune of facing Crosby and the powerhouse Penguins.
Finally, the Selke nominees, all of whom made it to the second round.
Patrice Bergeron is the defending Selke winner and he has been very good for the Bruins in the playoffs, leading the team in Corsi without getting the feather-soft offensive zone starts of Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton, David Krejci, or Tyler Seguin. Add in his three points in game 7 against the Leafs, including both the game-tying and game-winning goals, and you can see a potential Conn Smythe run being formed.
Bergeron’s performance even has Jaromir Jagr comparing him to Ron Francis.
Pavel Datsyuk has 7 points in 8 games for the Red Wings and also leads his team in Corsi, though other players take the bulk of the defensive zone starts off his hands. He had three points in a must-win game 6, including an assist on the overtime game-winner. He was held without a shot against the Blackhawks in game 1, however, which is not a particularly good sign if the Red Wings want to pull off the upset.
Datsyuk will have to out-battle his fellow Selke-nominee, Jonathan Toews, who was frequently matched up against Datsyuk in game 1. Toews hasn’t done much offensively in the playoffs so far, with just 3 assists in 6 games, but, like Bergeron and Datsyuk, leads his team in Corsi and is relied upon to match up against the best players the opposition has to offer.