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2010-2011 FOTB NHL Awards

Another NHL regular season is almost complete, and so it’s time for the First Off The Bench NHL Awards for the 2010-2011 season. The NHL is technically a couple games from the end of the season, but with the majority of the playoff teams decided, it’s unlikely that any of the winners below will lose their hold on these fictional awards before the games run out. For the purposes of this list, we’re going to ignore any award that is decided by stats, such as the Presidents Trophy, Art Ross and Rocket Richard.

MVP: C Sidney Crosby, PIT (41GP, 32G, 34A, 66P)

This is probably my most contentious pick, and yet in my mind it was the easiest one to make. He will not win the real Hart trophy because he has only played half the season, but a close look at his accomplishments this year indicate that he deserves the MVP title over anyone else.

Crosby will finish the year somewhere between 25th and 30th place in overall NHL scoring. This means he will outscore over 500 other NHL players in a half-seasons worth of work. However, it’s through looking at some different statistics from his season that you can really get a sense of just how much better he was than his fellow players in 2010-2011.

My favourite argument in Crosby’s defense is the “Goals Created” statistic, one that tries to provide an explanation of a player’s importance to his team, as a component of their overall offense. Taken from hockey-reference.com, it’s calculated by adding goals scored to 0.5 times assists, then multiplying by team goals divided by team goals plus 0.5 times team assists. He’s in approximately 20th place with 26.5 goals created, behind Vancouver forward Daniel Sedin’s 37.5 goals created. Translated to a full season, Crosby ends up with 53 goals created, 41% above second place Sedin, an unequivocal statistical destruction of his opponents.

You can look at the other more conventional stats too, and they all support Sid the Kid. His goals per game rate was 0.78, well above Sedin’s second-place 0.59, his assists per game was a close-second to Daniel’s brother and linemate Henrik Sedin, and his overall points per game (1.61) was 0.36 above the next closest finisher.  That would equate to a final scoring total of 25-30 points higher than his next highest competitor over the course of a full season.  The last time the gap between first and second place was even 20 points was 1998-99, when Jaromir Jagr was 20 points up on Teemu Selanne (who would win the “Old men aren’t supposed to play like that” award this year if we had one).  Simply dominant, and well within the criteria for “most valuable”. Until the award says MVP82, number 87 has the edge.

And the most important reason why he’s my MVP for the 2010-2011 season? The impact he’s going to have on the culture of the game regarding head shots and concussions. Every year it seems more and more stars are being sidelined with both preventable and incidental head injuries, but this is the first example of a player of Crosby’s magnitude missing significant playing time.

To put it bluntly, the whole situation has been an embarrassment to Gary Bettman and the NHL. Crosby might have had his most impactful season on the league this year, and he will have done it by only playing half the games. If the stuck-in-the-1970’s NHL ever decides to begin addressing some of the serious issues surrounding the health of its players, my bet is that in retrospect we will look at this season by Crosby as a major catalyst for that change.

Vezina: G Tim Thomas, BOS

No real debate here. 2.02 GAA. .938 save percentage. 9 shutouts. A career-best 15.5 Goalie Share Points (the number of points that a goalie contributes to his team’s overall standing). That GSP number especially indicates that the Bruins could have missed the playoffs with a mediocre goaltender, because they are 8 points up on the 8th place team in the Eastern Conference as of today. Critics have often used a strong Boston defense in front of Thomas as a reason for his inflated statistics, but this point is irrelevant when you consider that he’s only 17th in the league in games played (55), but 9th in shots against. The numbers he’s put up, combined with the workload he’s faced in the games he’s played, makes this award a no-brainer.

Jack Adams: Jacques Lemaire, NJD

Maybe the hardest real-life award to vote on, because the criteria changes every year. Does it go to the coach on a really good team who maximized opportunities with the talent he was given? (Alain Vigneault – Vancouver Canucks) Should it be handed to someone underrated who always produces winners? (Mike Babcock – Detroit Red Wings) Maybe someone who played with a severely depleted roster that was missing two of the best four or five players in the league, and still managed to finish on the top half of playoff teams in the conference? (Dan Byslma – Pittsburgh Penguins)

Nope. Lemaire should win this one in a cakewalk. His record since taking over the Devils shortly before the new year has been 28-15-3, and that includes a relatively mediocre finish to the season. I think in this case it’s irrelevant that the Devils didn’t make the playoffs, because they’ve been the strongest team in the league for the majority of his second stint with the Devils this season. In a refreshing turn of events, his arrival proves that coaches of pro sports teams are not just glorified cheerleaders. Their ability to change the performance of a couple dozen athletes almost overnight is a rare skill that often goes overlooked by the media and general public.

Most improved: F Sergei Kostitsyn, NASH (75GP, 22 G, 27 A, 49 P)

Great to see the younger Kostitsyn starting to fulfill some of the promise he showed when he put up gaudy numbers in the OHL a couple years ago. This year he’s first in the league in shooting percentage, putting up an unreal 24.2% shooting percentage as of this article, ahead of Crosby’s 19.9% rate of scoring. Kostitsyn only put up 18 points last year, so he qualifies for this award based on the more than doubling of his total point production for a Nashville squad that does not score buckets of goals.

Side fact: If Crosby shot that percentage (19.9%) while putting up Ovechkin’s total of 356 shots, he would have 71 goals, with a couple games to play. Worth remembering.

Honorable mention to G James Reimer of TOR.

Goal of the Year: F Jordan Eberle, EDM

In my view, several criteria have to be met for this award. First up is the “I couldn’t do that at home in slow motion if I tried 200 times” clause. Secondly, it has to be a meaningful goal in some way – which means a goal to cut a deficit to 7-1 doesn’t count here. Bonus consideration is always provided for milestone goals (100, 200, 500).

Using this framework, Jordan Eberle’s 1st NHL goal on October 7th, 2010 vs. the Calgary Flames is the clear-cut winner for 2010-2011. The move itself was absolutely filthy, with a nice toe drag to backhand finish. It gets elevated because it was his first career NHL goal, the Oilers were playing their provincial rivals the Calgary Flames, and it contributed to an Oilers win. Most of all, it’s the goal of the year because of how the fans reacted to this one. I knew several people at that game who said the lid blew off Rexall Place after that goal. The excitement of the new wave of Oilers arriving was still fresh at this point, and this move might have been the defining moment of their arrival.  Oh, and it was shorthanded too.  Link below.

Personality of the Year: F Paul Bissonnette, PHX

AKA BizNasty2Point0 on Twitter. I’m just getting into the social media site, and he’s my favourite feed to follow. BizNasty’s refusal to conform to the politically correct expectations of athletes on social media is awesome, although he’s definitely helped by the lower expectations of being a role-player.

Prospect of the Year: D Adam Larsson, Skellefteå AIK

For the majority of this past year there have been four consensus picks available for the number one overall slot. Besides Larsson, there is C Sean Couturier of Drummondville (QMJHL), C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of Red Deer (WHL), and LW Gabriel Landeskog of Kitchener (OHL).

Each player has their own unique skill set and strengths. Couturier is the large (6’4”) playmaking centerman that every NHL team has on its “need now” list, and he was helped by a relatively strong World Junior tournament performance. Nugent-Hopkins has shaken off concerns about his size to be considered the most complete player entering the draft this year (although he will likely have to shift to wing at the pro level). Landeskog has been drawing comparisons to Mike Richards of the Philadelphia Flyers, and his strong 2-way game seems to be the most ready for the NHL out of the four draft leaders.

Larsson gets the nod here because he projects as a number 1 defender for the next 15 years, something that both the Oilers and Avalanche, the two contenders for the first overall pick, desperately need as part of their rebuilds. Larsson is a big body who has developed a reputation for being calm in all three zones of the ice. His acceleration could use some work, and it’s a bit concerning to see his point totals drop off this year in the Swedish Elite League, but there’s no doubt teams will take him very early on because of the chance of him developing into another Nick Lidstrom.

Next week, NHL playoff matchups and predictions will be coming to FOTB, stay tuned.

Follow David on Twitter @DavidFOTB

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  1. April 7, 2011 at 2:53 pm

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