The closest thing to a modern dynasty in professional hockey has shown up on NHL Saturday, the Detroit Red Wings. This was the season were the “Dead Things” broke a 42-year title drought before winning 4 Stanley Cups in the next 12 seasons while generally being quite dominant in the regular season as well. If we back up two seasons, as well, we see the real start of this successful stretch.
What does this mean for our weekly awards ceremony? Read on to find out …
1997 Hart: Dominik Hasek (original), Mario Lemieux (revised)
The NHL took a defensive turn in the mid-to-late 1990s, and the result was a goaltender winning the Hart vote. We haven’t had to deal with this in a long time, in terms of a non-forward player winning the vote, but here we are. The every hockey demographic has its own MVP Award here.
Therefore, the top candidates for our version of the Hart are the following guys: Pittsburgh Penguins star center Mario Lemieux (14.51 PS), Mighty Ducks of Anaheim right swing sniper Teemu Selänne (13.66), Philadelphia Flyers veteran left wing John LeClair (12.95), and Ducks left wing phenom Paul Kariya (12.62). With an 8-point playoff buffer in the standings, Anaheim needed either Selänne or Kariya to make the postseason—but not necessarily both. So the teammates are out of consideration.
Lemieux helped the Pens to a 9-point postseason cushion, and LeClair’s team had 28 points to spare in the standings. So, this leaves us with Lemieux again as our Hart winner for the sixth time: This ties him with Phil Esposito in our world, and now Super Mario trails only Wayne Gretzky and his 10 Hart nods in this space. Lemieux’s numbers? A league-high 122 points and 72 assists, bolstered by 65 PIMs and a plus-27 rating.
1997 Norris: Brian Leetch (original, confirmed)
Only one blue liner appeared in the NHL’s Top 10 for Point Shares: New York Rangers veteran Brian Leetch (13.14). He also finished eighth in the league for defensive Point Shares (5.61). He was a true two-way player. Leetch also won the Norris vote at the time, making it easy for us to confirm this award … especially since the Rangers only had 11 points between their postseason berth and an early offseason on the golf courses back home.
Leetch has had an interesting award history with us: He’s won a Calder, a Conn Smythe, and now a second Norris. That’s as many different awards as a defenseman can win from us, of course. His numbers this year weren’t spectacular at first glance, but they were very good all across the board: 20G, 58A, plus-31 rating, and 40 PIMs.
1997 Vezina: Dominik Hasek (original, confirmed)
Five goalies finished in the Top 8 overall for PS, lead by Vezina vote winner Dominik Hasek (17.19). He easily outdistanced the other four netminders, too: Anaheim veteran Guy Hebert (14.68), Toronto Maple Leafs starter Felix Potvin (14.09), Colorado Avalanche legend Patrick Roy (13.50), and Rangers stalwart Mike Richter (12.98). Potvin got this nod from us last year, of course, and Roy has two Conn Smythes even though he’s never won the Vezina from us.
We confirm this award for Hasek, his third from us, as his PS mark led the entire league. The Sabres won the Northeast Division, but they still only had a 17-point playoff cushion—and look at Hasek’s sabermetric value! He topped the NHL in save percentage (.930) for the fourth season in a row, and he also posted 37 wins, 5 SOs, and a 2.27 goals-against average. Without him, Buffalo is fighting for its playoff life. With him, the Sabres were a division winner and a Cup contender.
1997 Calder: Bryan Berard (original), Wayne Redden (revised)
Four rookies separated themselves from the rest of the pack: vote winner New York Islanders defenseman Bryan Berard (7.6 PS), Flyers blueliner Janne Niinimaa (7.3), Penguins goalie Patrick Lalime (7.3), and Ottawa Senators defenseman Wayne Redden (6.7). We know Philly made the postseason with plenty of space in the standings to spare, and we know Pittsburgh had limited room for error. The Isles missed the postseason by 8 points, and the Sens nabbed the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.
That really makes this about Lalime or Redden, but straight up, it’s apparent Ottawa does not make it to the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in the expansion franchise’s history without the efforts of its rookie blueliner. Redden played all 82 games and posted 4.9 DPS, which wasn’t too far behind Leetch’s mark. His offense was minimal (30 points), but with 41 PIMs and a plus-1 rating on a team that outscored by 8 goals on the year, Redden’s defensive value carries him to this award in our minds.
1997 Conn Smythe: Mike Vernon (original, confirmed)
The Red Wings finally hoisted the Cup with a 4-0 Finals sweep of the Flyers, and the Detroit goalie—veteran Mike Vernon, who ably backstopped the Calgary Flames to their lone NHL championship in 1989—won the Conn Smythe vote for his 16-4 record in the playoffs, not to mention his amazing 1.76 GAA and .927 S%. It will be hard for any skater to top those numbers, as the Philadephia scored just 6 goals in the sweep, so Vernon was at his best in the Finals.
Can anyone top him? The Flyers had three skaters post more than a point per game, but getting swept in the Finals means that’s not going to happen. And truthfully, these Red Wings were underwhelming on the scoring side, with just one skater—1994 Hart winner Sergei Federov—notching a point a game. Detroit was deep, so it didn’t have to rely on a few guys for all the scoring, and Federov was the best of the bunch with 20 points (8G, 12A) in 20 games. So, we confirm Vernon’s hardware, easily.