You'll laugh, you'll cry ... it's our version of the NHL awards
We don't tell jokes like Ron McLean and we don't have any famous Canadian acts to fill in the spaces between the meat and potatoes of the proceedings, but it's not going to stop us from having our own awards show, er, story for the third straight season.
We're just hoping for ratings like NBC had for the Stanley Cup finals. Here it goes.
Jack Adams Award for coach of the year
(or "that was no unemployment line, that was a bus stop" award)
After he was fired by San Jose, Ron Wilson hardly had time to get in a round of golf before he became the new coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Love how Wilson thinks the game; love to hear him talk about it. Few can rival his perspective and passion. Now, he's never produced a winner outside the 1996 World Cup of Hockey. So, in that sense, he has truly come to the right place in Toronto, where winning is often confused with whining in the Leafs dressing room.
Kudos to Cliff Fletcher (we're not even going to tack on the ridiculous "interim" tag given that it hardly applies to the silver fox) for bringing in a strong personality for a job that demands such. Wilson's work with youthful and underachieving teams has been exemplary, and the Leafs are both. Wonder if, or when, the Leafs will actually hire a real GM and whether that person will be a Wilson fan. But why let a little detail like that worry you.
Other coaches who won't be poring over the want ads for long include John Tortorella, who was fired by the Tampa Bay Lightning, and former Colorado bench boss Joel Quenneville. Both have been contacted by NHL clubs about their availability. Look for one of the two to land in Wilson's old office in San Jose. Bob Hartley, who made himself into a minor star in Quebec by providing analysis on the sports channel RDS, is also being courted by a number of teams.
Norris Trophy for best defenseman
(or did anyone get the number of that runaway Swedish freight train?)
We know Norris and Grimace of the Year finalist Dion Phaneuf is supposed to be the new bad boy on the blue line -- great offensive skills and hitting power, annoying as heck to play against. But he'd better watch in his rearview mirror for the kid from Stockholm named Niklas Kronwall. Dogged by freakish injuries early in his career (who breaks his sacrum, anyway?), Kronwall showed this season, and especially during the Wings' march to the Stanley Cup, he is a force on both sides of the puck. His hits on Ryan Malone and Jarkko Ruutu early in the finals against Pittsburgh set the tone as the Wings jumped out to a 2-0 series lead. His play is reminiscent of another Red Wings great, Vladimir Konstantinov.
"One area where it's like carbon copy, both those guys aren't the biggest players out there," Hall of Fame defenseman Larry Murphy told ESPN.com during the finals. "But when they hit somebody -- it was the same with Konstantinov as it is with Kronwall -- they hit you with every ounce of their body. You get it all. That's why they can knock down the biggest guys on the ice."
Murphy should know. He's a frequent analyst on Red Wings games and was Konstantinov's teammate during the Wings' 1997 Cup run.
Vezina Trophy for best goaltender
There was some word during the finals that Dominik Hasek might have been interested in returning to the Wings for one more kick at the Stanley Cup can. But that was likely wishful thinking as Hasek announced his retirement Monday. His place in the Hockey Hall of Fame is assured -- that's what six Vezina Trophies, two Hart Trophies, a pair of Stanley Cups and an Olympic gold medal will get you.
But Hasek also leaves with his head held high. A couple of years ago, you might not have been able to say that. There was the fiasco in Detroit before the lockout when Hasek decided to unretire after winning the Cup in 2002. Then, there was the post-lockout fiasco in Ottawa when he was injured at the Olympics and didn't play the rest of the 2005-06 season (although he sort of hinted he would play, which only further unsettled an already disconcerted Senators dressing room). But after returning to Detroit last season, Hasek played well enough to take the Wings to the Western Conference finals in 2006-07. This season, he was supplanted by Chris Osgood in the first round and the Wings went on to win their fourth Stanley Cup since 1997.
Through it all, Hasek was a good soldier. A player known for his "me first" attitude for much of his career, the Dominator sucked it up and did whatever he could to help from a bystander's position. That's Hall of Fame.
The Deadline Award
As usual, it's the deal that passes you like a wisp of smoke at the trade deadline that ultimately seems to have the most significant impact. How about Brad Stuart? Quiet, polite, a bit of an underachiever the past three or four years, and all of a sudden, he's going to have his name on the Stanley Cup.
The Red Wings defenseman was terrific in the finals with five points and was a whopping plus-9. Good timing for the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent, who landed in Detroit for a pair of draft picks at the deadline. Watch for GM Ken Holland to try to keep Stuart in the fold, especially if, as expected, Chris Chelios retires.
Of the big names that went at the deadline, Marian Hossa didn't do anything to hurt his market value with 26 points in 20 games for the Penguins. It'll be interesting to see if he'll accept a smaller salary (or shorter term) to try to win a ring in Pittsburgh or chase the big bucks to a place like Boston, where they'll expect him to be "the man," which, in truth, he is not.
Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero deserves kudos for bringing in Hal Gill and Pascal Dupuis, who played important roles in the Pens' first march to the Cup finals since 1992. The Dallas Stars ended up a surprise contestant in the West finals, in part because of the contributions from former Lightning forward Brad Richards, who had 15 points in 18 games, including a four-game point streak to close out the postseason.
Other big names on the move in February who didn't fare as well included Brian Campbell, who couldn't help the San Jose Sharks get over their second-round blues (he was in the penalty box when the Stars closed the Sharks out in quadruple overtime in Game 6). Cristobal Huet helped the Washington Capitals to an unexpected playoff berth, but couldn't get them past Philadelphia in the first round. Vaclav Prospal helped the Flyers to an unexpected East finals berth, but was scoreless in his final 12 playoff games. That won't help his efforts at landing a $4 million-a-year gig somewhere this summer.
The Goodbye Award
Along with Hasek, the NHL will miss a number of classy guys next season, including Glen Wesley, who announced his retirement from the Carolina Hurricanes last week. Only five defensemen played more games than Wesley's 1,457. He was the last player on the team who had made the move from Hartford and helped it win a Stanley Cup in 2006. He will also have his number retired -- a fitting honor for a stand-up guy. Hall of Fame? An interesting debate in three years' time. There'll be no such debate on Chelios, who was a healthy scratch for the entire finals, leading most to believe he will finally call it a career at age 46. Watch for new Olympic team GM Brian Burke to call on Chelios to help out in some capacity with the 2010 U.S. squad.
The Will He Or Won't He Award
This award probably has more validity than the sham of Mats Sundin picking up the Mark Messier Leadership Award during the Stanley Cup finals. The NHL would do well to move carefully in bringing in outside "awards" like this as the stink of it might rub off on legitimate ones. How on earth the Maple Leafs' captain managed to earn the honor ahead of players like Henrik Zetterberg, Brenden Morrow, Mike Richards or any of the dozens of players whose teams actually made the playoffs and who do good work in their communities is a head-scratcher for the ages.
The big question in Leaf Nation is whether Sundin will return to Toronto for another kick at playoff disappointment. After a 78-point season (he was also a plus-17) on a bad Leafs team, Sundin proved he is still an elite player. Unless Fletcher loses his mind, he won't be interested in having Sundin back if it means giving him a no-movement clause.
Been there, done that, didn't work out so well.
If such a clause is crucial to Sundin (hey, we thought he loved Toronto above all else?) and is not offered by the Leafs, watch for the veteran forward to bolt for Detroit or Montreal or Ottawa. Those were the teams that were interested in him at the trade deadline and would have offered up an attractive package of prospects and draft picks to help the Leafs' rebuilding process. So, remind us again about that leadership award?
The Meddlesome Award
Can't wait to see just how big a circus the new Tampa Bay Lightning ownership group creates in Tampa. Let's just say it's already a one-ring carnival as slasher-movie mogul Oren Koules and golf-course impresario (and hockey player of modest means) Len Barrie haven't even scrounged up enough cash to officially get the keys to the executive washroom.
They've already had their hand in the Brad Richards trade-deadline deal and have reportedly promised big bucks to ESPN's Barry Melrose to take over as coach. GM Jay Feaster, one of the game's true gentlemen, remains in his post, but it's an untenable position to be sure. Wonder if all this has Vincent Lecavalier, a potential unrestricted free agent a year from now, thinking contract extension.
The Elephant In The Corner Award
With the number of NHL owners facing legal problems for alleged financial hijinks growing at an alarming rate (William "Boots" Del Biaggio III, come on down!), you'd think the NHL would be trying to pursue détente with Canadian technology gazillionaire Jim Balsillie, not allowing an ugly public war of words to fester.
Yes, Balsillie has annoyed lots of hockey folks, and his lawyer, Richard Rodier, has annoyed even more. But when you see the already tenuous future of the Nashville Predators now in code red because investor Del Biaggio, who owns 27 percent of the Preds and without whom the team doesn't stay in Nashville, is facing a series of lawsuits over financial impropriety, and Anaheim Ducks owner Henry Samueli facing his own issues over stock manipulation and Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk facing problems within his pharmaceutical company, one would imagine finding credible, stable ownership would be a priority.
Instead, there remains a curious public debate over whether NHL commissioner Gary Bettman wants Balsillie in the ownership club (he apparently doesn't, and despite the league's assertions, he can definitely keep him out, if that's his will). Both sides, it would seem, would do well to take their discussion indoors and have at it. Imagine what the picture would look like now if Del Biaggio had been successful in taking the Predators to Kansas City? Taking steps to make sure there are no such missteps down the ownership road should surely be a priority for both sides.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.
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