15 May 2016

NHL Awards 2015/16 - meet the contenders

The NHL continues to perform due diligence on its potential expansion, a necessarily lengthy process to ensure that, by the end of it, intercontinental drift has caused Quebec City's location in the Arctic Circle to make it unsuitable as a franchise destination (further complicated by FIFA's likely decision to award it a World Cup at that time).

As such, then many, many NHL fans residing in Las Vegas will have to remain satisfied by the city's hosting of the NHL's annual awards show, the only televised showbiz event where the average uneducated viewer is more likely to have heard of the attending Nate Prosser than the celebrity invited to sit next to him.

Anson Carter's emotional speech in 2015 after receiving a special award in recognition of being the last living player to have been traded for Jaromír Jágr

Here is the usual quick rundown of the main awards (those that are voted on) and those in contention:

Hart Memorial Trophy

Voted on by: Members of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association
Supposed to be awarded to: The player adjudged most valuable to his team
In practice, normally awarded to: A high-scoring forward, since goalies and defensemen "have their own awards", unlike high-scoring forwards

Jamie Benn (Dallas Stars)
While he might not be able to ridicule every single one of the pundits who predicted that he could not repeat last season's performance after coming off two hip surgeries, the Stars captain certainly mocks a bunch.

Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins)
Lauded for his drive to make improvements in a different facet of the game each year, seamlessly adding "scoring like a third liner" to his armoury over the first six weeks of the season.

Patrick Kane (Chicago Blackhawks)
Immense value to his team demonstrated by the vast improvement in its handling of the next serious criminal allegation against one of its players to come along, from mostly atrocious to pretty incompetent.

Ted Lindsay Award

Voted on by: Members of the National Hockey League Players' Association
Supposed to be awarded to: The most outstanding player in the NHL
In practice, normally awarded to: "Whatever means the lowest escrow"

Jamie Benn (Dallas Stars)
As a fifth round draft pick out of western Canada, was not considered a can't-miss prospect by any means, but against all expectations, once he headed south, he stayed there.

Braden Holtby (Washington Capitals)
Born in the city of Lloydminster, which unusually has a provincial border running through the middle of it, perhaps explaining teammate Mike Richards' refusal to come and visit.

Patrick Kane (Chicago Blackhawks)
During the season, lives in Chicago's Trump International Hotel and Tower, a somewhat embarrassing association to carry for the extremely wealthy, poorly behaved, mulleted sociopath with questionable attitudes towards women.

Although aware his name now appears on the base of the Art Ross Trophy, an uncomfortable Jamie Benn characteristically refuses to look down

James Norris Memorial Trophy

Voted on by: Members of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association   
Supposed to be awarded to: The defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position
In practice, normally awarded to: The Canadian defense player who demonstrates throughout October the greatest all-round ability to be "due" in the eyes of 90% of the press

Brent Burns (San Jose Sharks)
The dominant offensive year from the blue line that everyone had been waiting for since first converted to a defenseman in his wookie season.

Drew Doughty (Los Angeles Kings)
Always destined for stardom, received a hockey stick for his first birthday and had skates by the age of two, enough to secure a second place Norris vote from Pierre LeBrun in the 1992/93 season.

Erik Karlsson (Ottawa Senators)
Last year's winner trying to defend the trophy, apparently by staying 200 feet away while Mark Borowiecki stands in front of it by himself.

Vezina Trophy

Voted on by: General Managers of all NHL clubs
Supposed to be awarded to: The goaltender who is adjudged to be the best at this position
In practice, normally awarded to: The goaltender who is adjudged to be the best at wins, GAA and clutch wins

Ben Bishop (Tampa Bay Lightning)
The giant goalie has had an interesting career path: First NHL appearance was caused by Sarah Palin's carpet, trade to Ottawa was a result of a kitchen knife accident, stolen by the Lightning due to Cory Conacher sustaining an impression of Martin St. Louis for a few months.

Braden Holtby (Washington Capitals)
Career progression has seen him move from a stint in the AHL to now matching the season wins record set by the Devils' iconic goalie, a sentence which is the first and only time anyone has considered the words "Hershey" and "shared with Martin Brodeur" in close proximity.

Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles Kings)
The subject of fierce debate between traditional hockey observers and the new analytics movement, the two-time Cup winner is a polarising figure, in that he tends not to occupy the middle ground between the posts.

Calder Memorial Trophy

Voted on by: Members of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association 
Supposed to be awarded to: The player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the National Hockey League
In practice, normally awarded to: The player selected as the highest point-scoring forward in what might be his third year of competition in the National Hockey League after what might be no or several years of competition in another professional league

Shayne Gostisbehere (Philadelphia Flyers)
Drafted four years ago while at college, an event now recognised as being the only positive thing to happen to a hockey player associated with a Union in 2012.

Connor McDavid (Edmonton Oilers)
Looking to become the first Oiler to win the Calder, a fact explained by Wayne Gretzky's ineligibility in his first NHL season and the team being completely bereft of opportunities to make high draft picks in almost 12 months.

Artemi Panarin (Chicago Blackhawks)
Nicknamed the "Bread Man" by his Blackhawks colleagues, on account of stories of how people in Russia would line up to see him at work.

KHL veteran Artemi Panarin (far left) was first courted by the Blackhawks while attending the 2015 awards ceremony as a guest of the Toews family

Frank J. Selke Trophy

Voted on by: Members of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association 
Supposed to be awarded to: The forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game
In practice, normally awarded to: The forward who is considered by PHWA members to be the best defensively, based on a balanced analysis of zone-starts, Corsi %, quality of competition, usage and shot prevention while shorthanded and penalty differential, though an insignificant minority might just look at reputation and plus-minus.

Patrice Bergeron (Boston Bruins)
Led the Eastern Conference with 389 defensive zone faceoff wins, a tally he will definitely shatter repeatedly in the years to come, according to Bruins GM Don Sweeney.

Ryan Kesler (Anaheim Ducks)
Led the league with 441 defensive zone faceoff wins, a tally he will definitely shatter repeatedly in the years to come, according to hopefully returning Ducks coach Randy Carlyle.

Anže Kopitar (Los Angeles Kings)
As the NHL's official announcement on the Selke finalists notes, the Slovenian's candidacy was boosted by a strong plus-34 rating, bringing his career mark of plus-79 just above the universally recognised threshold for elite defensive ability, Alexander Ovechkin's plus-78.

While taking it with his usual good grace, Patrice Bergeron enjoyed Brad Marchand's superglue-on-the-Awards-photoshoot-chair prank slightly more the first three years in which it happened

Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy

Voted on by: Members of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association 
Supposed to be awarded to: The player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey
In practice, normally awarded to: The player who missed the most games through injury the season before, especially if injury caused by incident of vehicular donutshopicide

Pascal Dupuis (Pittsburgh Penguins)
Carved out a more than respectable career after only playing six games with the New York Rangers in the 2006/07 season, but pales in comparison with the accolades received by a player who joined that select group five years later.

Jaromír Jágr (Florida Panthers)
Among the many remarkable statistics about the legendary Czech, perhaps the most amazing is that when he was born, not a single one of his current Panthers team-mates had yet been born.

Mats Zuccarello (New York Rangers)
Recovered from a brain injury that required speech therapy, making it the second most painful thing to happen to a Norwegian in the NHL.

Lady Byng Memorial Trophy

Voted on by: Members of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association 
Supposed to be awarded to: The player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability
In practice, normally awarded to: The player adjudged to have had the fewest penalty minutes when the voters quickly skim down the list of top 20 scorers five minutes before the deadline to send in their ballot

Aleksander Barkov (Florida Panthers)
The Lady Byng typically awarded to more diminutive skaters, the young Finn being listed at 6-3, 212 lbs would likely make him the largest player to ever win the award, or at least the largest at the time of winning it, as a snacking Brett Hull reminds me.

Loui Eriksson (Boston Bruins)
Although not a consideration in the voting for the award, the impending UFA took no penalties at all during the playoffs for the team the rebuilding Bruins assuredly traded him to at the deadline.

Anže Kopitar (Los Angeles Kings)
The Kings' perennial top scorer, recently rewarded with a long term, $80m contract, featuring a full no-movement clause in the first four years, after which he will submit a list of seven cities with which he is willing for Dean Lombardi to arrange his arrest.

Jack Adams Award

Voted on by: Members of the NHL Broadcasters' Association 
Supposed to be awarded to: The coach adjudged to have contributed the most to his team's success
In practice, normally awarded to: The coach adjudged to have coached either the most injured team or the team with the best PDO/shootout-fuelled record.

Gerard Gallant (Florida Panthers)
As a player for Detroit, averaged 37 goals and 236 penalty minutes a season over a productive four-year stretch in the late 1980s, ranking 10th on the Red Wings and 150th in the league in both categories at that time.

Lindy Ruff (Dallas Stars)
17 years after the career disappointment of losing a Cup final elimination game to a goal that should not have been allowed, has been working closely with Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen to ensure Stars games feature as many legitimate goals as possible.

Barry Trotz (Washington Capitals)
Played a part in the suspension of Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn while head coach in Nashville during an ultimately unsuccessful playoff series, so was a natural fit at the Verizon Center, the home of meaningless banners.

Whatever the outcome of the Jack Adams voting, Barry Trotz is considered the overwhelming favourite in the "Award Finalist Looking Most Like the Merged Faces of the Other Two Finalists" category

General Manager of the Year Award

Voted on by: General Managers of all NHL clubs and a panel of NHL executives, print and broadcast media 
Supposed to be awarded to: The top National Hockey League General Manager
In practice, normally awarded to: The National Hockey League General Manager Most Likely To Be Fired Within A Couple Of Years As A Direct Consequence Of Short-Term Moves That Led To Being A Finalist For The Award

Brian MacLellan (Washington Capitals)
With a playing career that featured a World Championship silver medal and time spent as a line-mate of Marcel Dionne, a Hall of Fame scorer who never played beyond the second round of the playoffs, the former assistant was considered to have impeccable credentials to guide the Capitals when hired as GM.

Jim Nill (Dallas Stars)
Along with NHL Hall of Famer Lanny McDonald and the rock band Nickelback, the Stars GM is one of the most famous exports of the small town of Hanna, Alberta, as well as being the second most respected musical export of the small town of Hanna, Alberta, behind NHL Hall of Famer Lanny McDonald.

Jim Rutherford (Pittsburgh Penguins)
The vastly experienced GM has been praised for his acceptance of the increasing role of analytics, but made clear when hired that he would still rely heavily on "Gut Decision", that being the name of the hot dog emporium close to Consol Energy Center now thought to be behind the impressive form of his key acquisition.

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