Remember that one time that professional hockey in North America was canceled? We do. But now, NHL Saturday is back to bring you the next season of award winners in the sport. Yes, it’s 2006 time! It’s like the whole year in between this column and last week’s column never happened. Ahem.
Back to the best show on ice … without skipping a single shift!
2006 Hart: Joe Thornton (original), Jaromír Jágr (revised)
Four forwards topped the charts after a year off: New York Rangers right wing Jaromír Jágr (15.52 Point Shares); San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton (13.34); Ottawa Senators left wing Dany Heatley (12.88); and Sharks RW Jonathan Cheechoo (12.68). Thornton won the Hart vote, while Jágr won this award from us three times in a row (1999, 2000, 2001), previously.
The two Sharks mean that Thornton can’t win this in our corner of the rink, which is too bad as he’s probably our favorite NHL player ever. But we keep it real here … So, the Rangers finished with 100 points in the Atlantic Division, which gave them a postseason cushion of only 9 points, surprisingly. Meanwhile, the Sens posted 113 points, so this means Jágr is going to win his fourth Hart from us.
His numbers: 54G, 69A, plus-34 rating, 78 PIMs, and 22:05 ATOI, which was the highest mark for him since that 2001 Hart season. Jágr was 33 years old at the time, and his fourth Hart puts him in rare company with Phil Esposito (6), Guy LaFleur (4), Wayne Gretzky (10), and Mario Lemieux (6). This trophy doesn’t make the rounds too often, you know? Oh, Jágr did finish second in the voting, too.
2006 Norris: Nicklas Lidström (original), Bryan McCabe (revised)
While only one defenseman (Detroit Red Wings star Nicklas Lidström, with 12.95 PS) finished in the overall Top 10 for the league, a few others blueliners were pretty good, too: Dallas Stars veteran Sergei Zubov (12.2), Detroit journeyman Mathieu Schneider (11.9), and Toronto Maple Leafs stalwart Bryan McCabe (10.5). Lidström won the vote for the fourth time, although he’s only won it once (2003) here.
Just like with the Hart, the two teammates eliminate each other from consideration. The Stars had a 19-point playoff cushion, while the Maple Leafs finished 2 points out of the postseason. So, dilemmas … Dallas would have made the Stanley Cup tournament without Zubov, while Toronto would have been buried in the Eastern Conference standings without McCabe. There is a difference there, in truth.
We don’t feel super confident in this pick, of course, but we are going with McCabe for the Norris hardware. His statistics impress us in a few ways: 19G, 49A, 116 PIMs, and 28:18 ATOI. That last number is crazy, and without McCabe playing almost half the game every time out, the Maple Leafs would have been at the bottom of the Northeast Division instead of coming up one win short of the playoffs.
2006 Vezina: Miikka Kiprusoff (original), Tomas Vokoun (revised)
Five goaltenders finished in the NHL’s Top 10 overall in Point Shares: Florida Panthers star Roberto Luongo (18.51); Calgary Flames phenom Miikka Kiprusoff (16.20); Nashville Predators stonewall Tomas Vokoun (15.80); New Jersey Devils legend Martin Brodeur (14.95); and Minnesota Wild journeyman Manny Fernandez (12.84). Kipper won the vote, after taking home our Conn Smythe in 2004.
The Panthers missed the postseason by 7 points, while the Flames had a 10-point cushion after winning the Northwest Division. The Preds had a 13-point cushion, while the Devils also had 10 points to spare. The Wild came up 11 points short, so we’re down to Kiprusoff, Vokoun, and Brodeur, really. This is a close call, but we Vokoun having the most value here in terms of impact on his team’s postseason security.
His stat line: 36-18-7, .919 S%, 2.67 GAA, and 4 shutouts. He finished fourth in the voting at the time, but Nashville would not have been experienced the best regular season (at the time) in franchise history without his 61 starts and that record.
2006 Calder: Alex Ovechkin (original), Henrik Lundqvist (revised)
Five rookies cracked double digits in Point Shares, led by the Calder vote winner, Washington Capitals LW Alex Ovechkin (12.7). He was closely followed by Rangers G Henrik Lundqvist (12.2), Buffalo Sabres G Ryan Miller (10.6), Pittsburgh Penguins C Sidney Crosby (10.5), and Flames D Dion Phaneuf (10.3). That is four probable Hall of Fame players right there. Wow!
The Caps finished last in the Southeast Division, so we’re not giving this ward to Ovi. The Rangers had that 9-point playoff cushion, while the Sabres posted 110 points to be clear of the offseason by 19 points. The Pens were at the bottom of the Atlantic Division with the worst record in the Eastern Conference, while Calgary had that 10-point margin in its playoff qualification.
That means Lundqvist is the real winner here, even though he was fourth in the vote at the time. His numbers—30-12-9 in 53 games, with a 2.24 GAA and a .922 S%—reflect his international background, even though he was only 23 years old at the time. The Rangers needed him to make the playoffs, no matter which way you cut it.
2006 Conn Smythe: Cam Ward (original), Cory Stillman (revised)
The Edmonton Oilers used the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference to make it all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals before losing to the Carolina Hurricanes, 3-1, in the decisive game. Carolina G Cam Ward won the Conn Smythe vote, as he posted a 15-8 record with a 2.14 GAA and a .920 S%. He played well, of course, but we’ve seen a lot better numbers from better goalies in this award space.
Hurricanes LW Cory Stillman is a superior candidate to us, as he put up 9G, 17A, a plus-12 rating, and and 14 PIMs in 25 games, as one of only two Carolina skaters to post more than a point per game. When we consider the fact the Hurricanes went 1-1 in the two games Ward missed, it makes Stillman a little more valuable to us. And what about the Oilers?
No one on Edmonton posted anything close to a point per game, and the Oilers started three different goalies during the playoff run, which is incredible when you think about it. So, we’re going with Stillman here for his offense, his defense, and his durability. This means we revised all five awards this week: That’s only the second time it’s happened, the first being our initial entry in the series for 1968.