Ranking the Top Candidates for Every Major NHL Award in 2013-14

Steve Macfarlane@@MacfarlaneHKYFeatured ColumnistApril 9, 2014

Ranking the Top Candidates for Every Major NHL Award in 2013-14

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    USA TODAY Sports

    With a week left for teams to jockey for playoff position—or draft lottery position for the less fortunate—it's time to take a final look at what might shake down when the voting is done for the major NHL awards for 2013-14.

    The Jack Adams Award will go to the top coach, the Calder Memorial Trophy to the top rookie, the Frank J. Selke to the best defensive forward, the Vezina Trophy to the top goaltender, the James Norris Memorial Trophy to the best all-around defenseman and the Hart Memorial Trophy to the most valuable player to his team.

    There are favorites, underdogs, darkhorses and people who likely have no shot but are worth mentioning. And like anything that requires a voting system that spans the continent and features writers, broadcasters or the league's general managers, there are bound to be differing opinions.

    Here's a look at how it could all shake out. Click through to see the potential winners, finalists and some other notable names in the hunt.


    All stats are courtesy of NHL.com unless otherwise noted, and current through games played on April 8.

Jack Adams Award

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    Michael Martin/Getty Images

    The Jack Adams Award is selected by a poll of the National Hockey League Broadcasters Association and given to the coach "adjudged to have contributed the most to his team's success."

    By that measure, you could make a great case for a number of bench bosses this season. Some are coaching top teams who play a difficult style of hockey, others have turned the locker-room mentality into a winning environment. More still have done incredible things in spite of injuries to top players. 

    The vote will show which type of challenge the coaches face holds the most value with the broadcasters.


    Winner: Patrick Roy, Colorado Avalanche

    Roy has done what many people thought he would. He's altered the atmosphere and attitude of the Colorado Avalanche in his first season as NHL head coach.

    The Avalanche finished second to last in the standings a year ago and wound up with the first pick in the draft lottery, but Roy's guidance has quickly turned things around for the young squad that has found a way to mask defensive deficiencies with strong goaltending, a dangerous offense and an attitude that has seen them adopt the slogan 'Why Not Us?'

    His early shenanigans—taking standing up for his players to the extreme—unified the group in the first game of the season, and it hasn't looked back. Roy is just the fifth rookie coach to win 50 games, and as good as some other coaches have been, Roy is as close to a lock as it gets for this award.


    Finalists: Mike Babcock, Detroit Red Wings; Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning

    Babcock has coached a team decimated by injuries into playoff position and helped turn a group of young Red Wings players into the next generation of stars in the absence of Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Daniel Alfredsson and Johan Franzen. He's as good a systems coach as there is—see Team Canada at Sochi—and has arguably done the finest work of his career behind the bench this season.

    Cooper has seen his team go through similar struggles, with the Lightning's best player, Steven Stamkos, missing four months with a broken leg, and then team captain Martin St. Louis asking to be traded. Like Babcock, Cooper has guided some youngsters—including a pair of rookie-of-the-year candidates in Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson—to solid seasons to fill in for the missing star power.


    Honorable Mentions: Claude Julien, Boston Bruins; Ken Hitchcock, St. Louis Blues; Bruce Boudreau, Anaheim Ducks

Calder Memorial Trophy

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    Andy Devlin/Getty Images

    The Calder Memorial Trophy is voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association to the "player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the National Hockey League." 

    The rookie-of-the-year race is open to more than just true freshmen, but this year's race belongs to an 18-year-old stud who got the best of a pretty good crop of recent draft picks and early career breakout players.


    Winner: Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche

    The No. 1 pick in last June's NHL draft jumped right into the lineup and made an instant impact with a goal and seven points in his first six games. The 6'0", 182-pound center has shifted from his natural spot to the wing throughout the season and has gotten better as the year has progressed.

    Although a late offensive surge from 23-year-old Lightning prospect Ondrej Palat has significantly narrowed MacKinnon's lead on the rookie points race, the Avalanche freshman has been a clutch player—with five game-winning goals—and a steady force from start to finish.


    Finalists: Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay Lightning; Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay Lightning

    Palat had been somewhat under the radar before the Olympic break. Since March 8, though, the Czech prospect in his third pro season after being drafted in the seventh round in 2011 has been on fire. Palat has scored eight times and totaled 20 of his 57 points in that stretch to creep up on MacKinnon for the rookie scoring title. The winger's average ice time of 18:05 is second among rookie forwards to teammate Tyler Johnson.

    Johnson is an undersized center at 5'9" and 180 pounds and wasn't even drafted because of his stature. In his third professional season, the 23-year-old has shown he can play. Along with Palat, Johnson's offense—23 goals and 48 points through 79 games—helped the Lightning stay in the playoff hunt while superstar Steven Stamkos was recuperating from a broken leg.


    Honorable Mentions: Torey Krug, Boston Bruins; Sean Monahan, Calgary Flames; Seth Jones, Nashville Predators; Jacob Trouba, Winnipeg Jets

Frank J. Selke Trophy

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Given to the forward the Professional Hockey Writers' Association voters feel "demonstrates the most skill in the defensive component of the game," the Selke Trophy has historically been given to the most successful offensive player who also happens to be pretty darn good at winning faceoffs and putting up big plus-minus numbers.

    It's a tough one to vote on because based on the NHL's definition, you could give your nod to the biggest shot-blocking forward regardless of his position and technically be just as accurate.

    But top players face top players more and more these days in the NHL, as opposed to a third-line checking unit designed to shut down the other team's best line as it often was in the pre-lockout days. That means your stars have to be accountable in their own end.

    Some do it exceptionally better than others. Pavel Datsyuk, Ryan Kesler, Jonathan Toews and Patrice Bergeron have won it the last six seasons, and two of them will be among the front-runners again this year.


    Winner: Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings

    Kopitar may finally get his due recognition from a voting contingent that is largely based in the east and does not get the opportunity to see him play very often, in person or on TV. The Olympics and his impressive play for Team Slovenia in Sochi may have opened a few more eyes to just how good the Kings center is.

    He is the Kings' best offensive and defensive player all in one, plays against the best the other team has to offer, often starts shifts in his own zone, takes very few penalties, wins a lot of faceoffs, plays big minutes and doesn't let his defensive mindset take away from his offense. Although he's not a point-per-game player, he's one of the league's best overall.


    Finalists: Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins; Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks

    Any of these top three players could win and it would not be a surprise. It sometimes comes down to popularity and familiarity, which is part of the reason only one player on a West Coast team—Kesler—has won the Selke in more than three decades.

    Bergeron and Toews are equally deserving for all the same reasons Kopitar could win.

    Bergeron is on one of the best defensive teams in the league and is a key reason for it. His faceoff winning percentage is the best of the three, as is his plus/minus rating of plus-37. He is able to shut down other teams' top forwards and made Team Canada's Sochi Games squad for that reason.

    Toews is the reigning Selke winner and despite a late-season injury has again been one of the most impressive defensive forwards, while also earning the most points of the three likely finalists.


    Honorable Mentions: David Backes, St. Louis Blues; Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks

Vezina Trophy

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    Kathy Willens

    The NHL's definition of the goaltender most deserving of the Vezina Trophy seems simple. It's given to the goalie "adjudged to be the best at this position."

    But when NHL GMs vote on this award, they could take a great deal of statistics and personal situations into consideration. Did their team have the most trouble scoring on a certain goalie? Who's got the best goals-against average, and was it a product of the team in front of him or the netminder himself? Is save percentage a better judge of individual performance for goaltenders?

    A blend of all these things will come into play in what could be a two-'tender race playing behind very different sets of circumstances.


    Winner: Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins

    This has been Rask's to lose all season. His team is on the verge of clinching the President's Trophy with the best regular-season record, is the second-stingiest in goals allowed per game, and his statistics set the bar for those who have played more than 50 contests.

    While it's true—he's had the best set of defensive forwards and blueliners in front of him all season—Rask has set the bar among those who play regularly with a .929 save percentage and 2.06 goals-against average to package with his 35 wins.

    He's been a model of consistency, never losing more than two consecutive starts all season.


    Finalists: Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning; Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche

    Bishop's play this year might even earn him a few votes in the Hart Trophy race. He's the biggest reason the team didn't fall apart after losing leading sniper Steven Stamkos for four months with a brutal broken leg. His numbers—a .924 save percentage and 2.24 goals-against average to go with 37 wins in 63 starts—are right up there with Rask's, but not quite as glowing overall.

    Varlamov is the only goaltender to crack 40 victories this season, and his .927 save percentage is top notch when you consider the Avalanche netminder has made more than 100 more saves than his closest competitors in shots against this season.

    His team plays a high-energy game that often means risks taken lead to chances the other way. His defense is questionable at best, and still, the Avs are sitting pretty in the Central Division with a realistic shot at taking top spot in the Western Conference.

    It's entirely possible Varlamov steals this one out from under the favorites' pads.


    Honorable Mentions: Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens; Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets

James Norris Memorial Trophy

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    Matt Slocum

    Awarded to the defenseman "who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position," the James Norris Memorial Trophy is decided on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association.

    But despite the words in the definition of what makes a strong candidate, history has often given us winners who have stellar offensive numbers but don't necessarily play at the top of the pack in their own end.

    This year, that dilemma of whether to give the award to one of the top-end point producers or a blueliner who holds his own against the opposition's best forwards every night isn't so tough. 2012 Norris winner Erik Karlsson is back at the top of the pack after a gruesome injury stopped him from potential back-to-back recognition a year ago, and he's probably a better overall defender now than he was when he won the trophy, but he isn't mentioned as a clear-cut choice this season because he's a minus-15 and his team has allowed the third most goals against on average this season.

    That opens the field up to a few favorites with more notable defensive numbers to pair with the offensive touch.


    Winner: Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks

    Keith has been superb this season, posting his best offensive numbers since his 2010 Norris Trophy winning campaign. On the defensive side, he's an even better player according to Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville via NHL.com's Dan Rosen.

    His second half of the season hasn't been nearly as impressive as his first, however, leaving the door open a crack for competition from a handful of candidates who either put up big points, big minutes, play against big competition, or some combination of those characteristics.

    Keith was so dominant over the first half of the season, his edge with voters is likely safe. The Team Canada rearguard has great possession numbers in the advanced stat world that back up his play for those who have the pleasure of watching the smooth-skating, puck-moving defenseman who leads all defenders in assists.


    Finalists: Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues; Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild

    Pietrangelo is eighth in scoring among blue liners but has the best plus/minus rating of any of 10 point producers. He plays a ton of shorthanded minutes, shuts down the other team's top forwards and at 24 is a premiere all-around defenceman who will one day likely be the favorite for this award.

    Suter is a minute-munching workhorse who also happens to chip in at a better than average offensive rate. The Kings' Drew Doughty could sub in here. Or if voters are feeling especially lazy, they might give the nod to point leader Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators. But Suter averages nearly 30 minutes a night, rarely appears out of position and has contributed to the Wild allowing the fifth-fewest shots against per game and sixth-fewest goals against per contest.


    Honorable Mentions: Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings; Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators; Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames; Matt Niskanen, Pittsburgh Penguins

Hart Memorial Trophy

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    Gene J. Puskar

    The Hart Trophy is handed out by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association to the "player judged most valuable to his team. 

    Well, not quite. Many voters have historically failed to separate the most valuable to his team definition from most valuable player in the league and thus, treat the Hart the same way as the player-voted Ted Lindsay Award, which goes to the NHL's outstanding player. That has changed over the past few years, with Alex Ovechkin and Corey Perry both winning it despite not finishing atop the points race the last three seasons.

    This year, it will almost certainly revert to the top point producer. But for good reason...


    Winner: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

    Crosby has dominated the scoring race this season. In fact, there hasn't been a gap as large as Sid the Kid's 16-point advantage over Ryan Getzlaf since the 1998-99 season when Jaromir Jagr put up 20 more points than Teemu Selanne.

    Thanks to the presence of Evgeni Malkin, it is sometimes difficult to argue for Crosby as the most valuable player to his team as opposed to simply the best darn player on the planet, but when you consider how consistent Crosby has been in a year that has seen Malkin and other key players get hurt frequently, he's been as important as ever to the Penguins and kept that team in a playoff position.


    Finalists: Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers; Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning

    Giroux hasn't been the consistent force Crosby has this season, but after a slow start, he's led the Flyers into the playoffs thanks to his impressive contributions that saw him climb up to the point-per-game mark and into the top four in league scoring. He's also netted seven game-winning goals and won more than 52 percent of his draws. Take Giroux out of Philly and the Flyers have no shot at the postseason.

    Bishop has been a revelation this season. The 6'7" netminder has used his skill and considerable skill to full potential this season. He's in the running for the Vezina Trophy thanks to a .924 save percentage, a 2.23 goals-against average and 37 victories. There's no doubt he's the Bolts' MVP and arguably the most important player to any team's success in the NHL this year.


    Honorable mentions: Gustav Nyquist, Detroit Red Wings; Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks; John Tavares, New York Islanders;