Moving closer to 21st-century hockey now on NHL Saturday, we are going to town on the 1998 season, where the Detroit Red Wings won a second straight Stanley Cup, overcoming adversity in the process. No longer the Dead Things of the past, Hockeytown became the center of the professional hockey in North America universe, much to the chagrin of some other cities, especially those in Canada.
So, on with the awards ceremony for the season … it’s always a guaranteed fun time.
1998 Hart: Dominik Hasek (original), Peter Bondra (revised)
Hockey changed in the 1990s, as it transitioned from wide-open scoring to a clamped-down, tight defensive focus. As a result, the leading point total in this season was just 102 points, and for the second season in a row, a goaltender won the Hart vote. But you know our rules, so we have to re-assign this hardware, and it will be tough. Six forwards separated themselves from the rest of the pack, so let’s see if any of them end up as worthy of this trophy in our eyes.
The six—Mighty Ducks of Anaheim right wing Teemu Selänne (13.29 Point Shares), Philadelphia Flyers left wing John LeClair (13.11), Vancouver Canucks right wing Pavel Bure (12.90), Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Jaromír Jágr (12.63), Washington Capitals right wing Peter Bondra (12.09), and New York Islanders right wing Ziggy Pálffy (12.06)—demonstrated an interesting shift in the game’s offensive philosophy as defensive schemes focused on shutting down the dominant centers of the past.
Anaheim missed the postseason, as did Vancouver; in fact, those were the two worst teams in the Western Conference. The Isles also failed to qualify for the Cup playoffs, so this comes down to LeClair, Jágr, and Bondra: The Flyers had a 13-point cushion for their postseason berth, while the Pens had a 16-point buffer. With just 10 points in the standings to spare, the Caps had the closest call here. Since all the PS marks are roughly in the same neighborhood, that means we see Bondra as the move valuable.
It’s a close call with LeClair, so we don’t argue against that pick; we’re just going with the Washington sniper. His numbers for the season—including a league-high 52 goals and 13 game-winning goals—are solid across the board: plus-14 rating on a team that only outscored its opponents by 17 goals overall, in addition to 44 PIMs and a 1.6 defensive PS mark.
1998 Norris: Rob Blake (original), Teppo Numminen (revised)
For the first time ever in our miniseries, no blueliner finished in the NHL Top 10 overall for Point Shares. That’s amazing, in light of the defensive shift in the game’s overall philosophy. Los Angeles Kings defenseman Rob Blake won the Norris vote despite finishing with just 8.8 PS on a playoff team with a 10-point margin of error. That’s not impressive value, so we’re going to revise this award now.
Better options for the Norris include Detroit star Nicklas Lidström (11.6 PS), his linemate Larry Murphy (11.3), Dallas Stars defense duo Sergei Zubov (11.0) and Darryl Sydor (10.3), New Jersey Devils antagonist Scott Niedermayer (10.8), St. Louis Blues phenom Chris Pronger (10.3), and Phoenix Coyotes veteran Teppo Numminen (10.2). The Dallas and Detroit guys cancel each other out, so we’re left with Neidermayer, Pronger, and Numminen.
The Devils had the best record in the Eastern Conference with a 25-point playoff cushion, while the Blues cruised into the Western Conference postseason by 21 points. Meanwhile, the Coyotes only had a 9-point buffer in the West, so we’re going to give this hardware to Numminen, who finished ninth in the voting at the time. His numbers—11G, 40A, 30 PIM—are solid, but his plus-25 rating on a team that was outscored by 3 goals overall is pretty impressive.
1998 Vezina: Dominik Hasek (original, confirmed)
There is no doubt on this award, as Buffalo Sabres superstar goalie Dominik Hasek topped the NHL overall in Point Shares by close to 5.5 points (18.63). The next-closest goaltender posted just 12.77 PS. This is Hasek’s fourth Vezina in five years from us, and we’ve confirmed every one of his vote wins, too. This was the fifth consecutive year he led the league in save percentage (.932, a career best), and Hasek also registered a whopping 13 shutouts in 72 games—both of those numbers being career highs, too.
1998 Calder: Sergei Samsonov (original, confirmed)
Six different rookies out up 5.0-plus PS marks, led by Red Wings defeseman Anders Eriksson (6.2). The Calder vote winner was Boston Bruins left wing Sergei Samsonov (5.5), but he was followed closely by Calgary Flames defenseman Derek Morris (5.4). Three other first-year blueliners came in at 5.1 PS each, and we will look at them if we have to, since the reality is that none of these rookies probably made a difference of the postseason or the offseason for their teams.
In fact, with the Red Wings rolling to 103 points and the Flames missing the playoffs entirely, it’s our belief that Samsonov deserved this award in light of the dogfight for postseason seeding in the Eastern Conference and the Northeast Division. So we will confirm his award, for the following numbers: 22G, 25A, and a plus-9 rating.
1998 Conn Smythe: Steve Yzerman (original, confirmed)
For the fourth year in a row, there was a sweep in the Finals, as the Red Wings dropped the Capitals in four straight, with Detroit veteran center Steve Yzerman winning the Conn Smythe vote. The first three games were decided by one goal each, and then the Red Wings busted out a 4-1 victory in the clincher. Yzerman posted 24 points in 22 playoff games as the only skater on the team to finish with more than a point per contest.
Washington goalie Olaf Kolzig was pretty amazing throughout the whole playoffs with a 1.95 GAA and a .941 S%, but when your team gets swept in the Finals, it’s hard to give much Conn Smythe love. But it does show that the Caps were not an easy out in the end, despite the sweep. We will confirm Yzerman’s award, as these were the two best players of the postseason, and Detroit got an “easy” championship in the end. He won our nod for the 1984 Calder, so this was a long journey for Stevie Y.