Thin Blue Line: 2010-11 season awards
As the current regular season expires, it's time to dole out the hardware to the outstanding and not-so-magnificent fantasy defenseman of 2010-11.
In the spirit of consistency (and partial laziness), all awards are named in loose and arbitrary conjunction with former players from the post-lockout season of 2005-06. This was Sean Allen's approach to the latest edition of Front Line and it struck as a fine idea. Plus, any excuse to bring up defenseman Teppo Numminen has its own obvious appeal.
For those of you still entrenched in heated fantasy battles, the Fantasy Forecaster will continue to provide valuable hints and tidbits for the final stretch.
The Richard Jackman Vexation Trophy is awarded to the player who best provokes fantasy frustration thanks to enduring inconsistency. As a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Florida Panthers in 2005-06, Jackman was always a threat with his wicked slap shot, amassing 30 points in 64 games for his efforts, but was benched regularly. For a variety of different reasons, the fella honored with this trophy is the guy who can really do a fantasy owner's head in.
And the winner is John-Michael Liles of the Colorado Avalanche. Green and Pronger have been difficult to manage this season because of injuries, but Liles is a different story altogether. The 30-year-old blueliner is just as streaky as they come. Although his upside (43 points) outweighs his downside, having to deal with someone who runs so extremely hot and cold can be beyond aggravating.
Honorable mention: Several young members of the Columbus Blue Jackets' blue line. Almost completely useless for half a season, and then -- once written off -- suddenly much less so. Annoying.
The Teppo Numminen Resurrection Crown honors the individual who re-emerges from an unimpressive campaign to -- once again -- reinstate himself as a fantasy heavyweight the following year. Or middleweight, anyway. After an icky tour with the Dallas Stars in 2003-04, the former Winnipeg Jet (and Phoenix Coyote) reasserted his fantasy worth with 40 points in 75 games as a member of the Buffalo Sabres after the year off. Numminen's career went into a steady decline thereafter, but that's nor here nor there.
And the winner is Brent Burns of the Minnesota Wild. We couldn't be happier for Burns, who was finally able to live up to his full potential through an injury-free season. With his history of concussion issues seemingly behind him, Burns is on pace to finish off this campaign with nearly 50 points -- a good portion earned with the man-advantage -- and 100 penalty minutes. The Wild won't make the playoffs, but Burns will still have to consider this past season a success from a personal standpoint.
All that and a bag a chips
The Mathieu Schneider Plaque of Overall Excellence goes to that well-rounded gem who covers all the proverbial fantasy bases. You know the type in real life: the gorgeous high school cheerleader who's studying, successfully, to become a neurosurgeon. When she's not playing varsity soccer or volunteering at the local animal shelter, the charmer is performing complex piano concertos down at the nearest nursing home. You secretly can't stand this person in reality but, by fantasy hockey standards, there's enormous value at hand.
In 72 games in 2005-06, Schneider posted 59 points, 86 penalty minutes, while averaging well over 24 minutes of ice time. And he finished the season plus-33. For our purposes, the Detroit Red Wings d-man was that despicable, yet coveted, cheerleader.
And the winner is Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins. Accumulating 43 points, 84 penalty minutes, 246 shots in about 25:30 minutes of average ice-time through 76 games, Chara (plus-31) is the whole package.
The Sean Hill Ribbon of Mediocrity is "earned" by the player who doesn't live up to preseason expectations. He was supposed to be good and wasn't. Following three successful years with the Carolina Hurricanes, Hill saw his production reduced by nearly half when he joined the Florida Panthers for one season. Saddling the Minnesota native with this distinction might be a touch unfair, but he was the first to come to mind. So there.
And the "winner" is Michael Del Zotto of the New York Rangers. The St. Louis Blues encouraged Johnson into becoming a more well-rounded defender, while Myers eventually warmed up after a his ultra-sluggish start. Del Zotto's season, however, started out poorly and plummeted from there. Given several chances to play more responsibly, Del Zotto eventually blew it and was sent down to Connecticut. The final nail in the 20-year-old's coffin this NHL season came in the form of Bryan McCabe, whom the Rangers acquired from the Panthers via trade in late February.
The Philippe Boucher Medal of Amelioration is handed out to the defenseman who displays the greatest improvement from one season to the next. Boucher progressed from a pedestrian 24 points in 70 games in 2003-04 to 43 points in 60 games after the lockout with the Dallas Stars.
And the winner is Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins. We knew Letang would blossom as the Pens' No.1 d-man once Sergei Gonchar was out of the picture, but we didn't expect him to better his 2009-10 performance by such a large margin, all around.
The Boucher Medal shouldn't be confused with the Frantisek Kaberle "Wowza" Medallion, which is presented to the defenseman who provides the most pleasantly surprising fantasy performance of the season. There's little purpose in messing about with nominees, since Dustin Byfuglien of the Atlanta Thrashers is the undisputed winner after knocking our collective socks off. It was mostly because Byfuglien was very successful as a forward with the Chicago Blackhawks the previous season.
The Lukas Krajicek Rookie of the Year Citation is as self-explanatory as it gets. Krajicek wasn't that prolific in his first full NHL season, but all other rookies of note from 2005-06 (i.e. Dion Phaneuf, Ryan Whitney, Francois Beauchemin, etc.) are still playing.
And the winner is P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens. Although the 21-year-old hit some bumps along the way and sat as a healthy scratch on a few occasions, no rookie has been on recent pace to finish the season stronger. And although all three nominees boast comparable numbers in terms of scoring, Subban's 100-plus penalty minutes provide the extra fantasy cherry on top.
Honorable mention: A quick shout-out to Alex Pietrangelo of the St. Louis Blues who, technically, isn't a rookie but in essence feels very much like one. Pietrangelo has had a heck of a season and would deserve Calder Trophy consideration under a different set of NHL rules.
Creme de la crème
The Sergei Zubov Most Valuable Performer Award could easily be named for Nicklas Lidstrom, since the Red Wings veteran lead all blueliners in scoring back in 2005-06. But that would be in clear contradiction of the spirit of this column. Therefore, it would only be suitable to nominate Lidstrom as one of the potential candidates for the prize. Done.
And the winner is (surprise!) Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings. Yandle and Visnovsky are both enjoying outstanding seasons, but Lidstrom is the more romantic choice. With 61 points through 77 games, the Wings captain has been the model of consistency and deserves bonus marks for producing in the fashion he has at 40 years of age.
Victoria Matiash is a fantasy hockey analyst and contributor to Rumor Central for ESPN.com.
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