The NHL awards are still a ways away, but the good people over at The Hockey News just couldn’t wait.
Is this a preview of what’s to come when the NHL doles out their shiny metal? Maybe, maybe not. But a little recognition is always good thing.
The Canucks took three of THN’s annual awards announced last week.
Roberto Luongo edged Marty Brodeur for the Patrick Roy Award as best goalie, Kevin Bieksa was anointed the breakout player of 2006-07 (the Cam Neely Award), and GM Dave Nonis was named top executive (the Sam Pollock Award).
Here are a few key excepts from Ken Campbell’s THN’s awards breakdown.
PATRICK ROY AWARD (BEST GOALIE): ROBERTO LUONGO
The difference between Roberto Luongo and Martin Brodeur was razor-thin this season. In the end, we decided to give the inaugural Patrick Roy Goaltender of the Year Award to Luongo based on his playoff-worthy play all season.
Both were at the top of their games this year; both were integral to teams that finished at the top of their divisions; and both were absolute workhorses. How do you choose when they each gave up exactly the same number of goals this season (171) and were separated in save percentage (.922 for Brodeur, .921 for Luongo) and wins (48 for Brodeur, 47 for Luongo) by the thinnest of margins?
There is one key area, however, where we believe Luongo had the edge. This season, the Vancouver Canucks were one of the most penalized teams in the league and only four teams – none of them in the playoffs – faced more shorthanded situations than the Canucks’ 436. Despite that, however, the Canucks were also the best penalty-killing team in the league with a kill rate of 86.9 per cent.
The Devils were almost as good on the penalty kill, finishing fourth at 85.2 per cent, but here’s the key difference: The Devils were at the other end of the spectrum in terms of penalties. They were the league’s least-penalized team and their league low of 271 shorthanded situations was more than 150 times fewer than the Canucks’ total.
“So if you subscribe to the theory that your goaltender has to be your best penalty-killer, then you have to give it to Luongo,” said one pro scout.
After acquiring Luongo last June, Canucks GM Dave Nonis said Devils GM Lou Lamoriello is able to sleep at night because, with Brodeur, he never has to worry about his team’s goaltending.
“Lou calls Marty at night and asks, ‘Everything OK? Good.’ Then he goes to sleep because he knows his team is going to be in every game,” said Nonis at the time. “I’d like to sleep at night.”
The way Luongo has played this season, there’s little doubt Nonis is waking up much more refreshed these days.
CAM NEELY AWARD (BREAKOUT PLAYER): KEVIN BIEKSA
There was no shortage of candidates for the Cam Neely Breakout Player of the Year Award, but when a guy scores more points in the NHL than he ever did in junior, college or the minors, that’s good enough for us.
That’s exactly what Vancouver Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa did this season. Playing his first full NHL campaign, Bieksa scored 12 goals and 42 points, was a plus player, played more than 24 minutes a game and led the Canucks with 134 penalty minutes.
Only Canucks veteran Mattias Ohlund logged more ice time than Bieksa, who stepped in quite nicely to replace the departed Ed Jovanovski. And when both Sami Salo and Ohlund went down with injuries, Bieksa elevated his game.
“The thing I like about this guy is he plays to make a difference in the game,” said one pro scout. “He’s a big-time competitor. He still has some rough spots in his game, but if he improves next year a quarter as much as he improved this year, he’s going to be a great player.”
Part of what made Bieksa’s rise so dramatic was, as a fourth round draft pick out of Bowling Green, he flew under everyone’s radar. He played just 39 games with the Canucks last season, splitting time between the AHL and the NHL. The expectations for this season weren’t overwhelming, which made the results all that much more pronounced.
“Now the question for him is,” said another pro scout, “can he keep it up?”
SAM POLLOCK AWARD (TOP EXECUTIVE): DAVE NONIS
Vancouver Canucks GM Dave Nonis, whose marquee move was acquiring an all-world goalie in Roberto Luongo last summer in exchange an all-world headache in Todd Bertuzzi, receives the Sam Pollock Executive of the Year Award.
THE HOCKEY NEWS AWARDS
Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux Awards (MVP & Best Player): Sidney Crosby
Patrick Roy Award (Best Goalie): Roberto Luongo
Teemu Selanne Award (Best First-Year Player): Evgeni Malkin
Bobby Orr Award (Best Dedenseman): Nicklas Lidstrom
Rod Langway Award (Best Defensive Defenseman: Chris Phillips
John Ferguson Award (Toughest Player): Brendan Witt
Cam Neely Award (Breakout Player): Kevin Bieksa
Guy Carbonneau (Best Penalty Killer): Derian Hatcher
Saku Koivu (Comeback Player): Dan Cleary
Pavel Bure Award (Best Shootout Shooter): Slava Kozlov
Gilles Villemure Award (Best Shootout Goalie): Ryan Miller
Scotty Bowman Award (Best Coach): Michel Therrien
Sam Pollock Award (Top Executive): Dave Nonis