- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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The ballots have been carefully counted, the players and coaches have been notified, and the media is ready for the announcement.
Yes, folks, it's the first LeBrownie Awards.
Drum roll, please ...
Do You Finally Respect Me Award
Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins: The former journeyman goalie became the real deal three years ago, but people still questioned him entering this season. The questions have been answered, with an exclamation point. He has led all NHL goalies in goals-against average and save percentage this season while backstopping the Bruins to a surprise first-place crown in the Eastern Conference. With a likely Vezina Trophy nomination in the offing and a freshly signed $20 million, four-year extension in the books, Mr. Thomas has earned everyone's respect.
Who's Laughing Now Award
Claude Lemieux, San Jose Sharks: First, he announced he was coming back to hockey after a 5½-year absence. We laughed. Then, the 43-year-old went to China to resume his career. We laughed even harder. Then, he was signed by San Jose's AHL team in Worcester. I promised to run naked through the press box at the Stanley Cup finals if the Sharks ever called him up. Then, San Jose called him up. I wasn't laughing anymore ... and neither were my media colleagues.
I Should Never Fight Again Award
Alexander Semin, Washington Capitals: We're not sure whether New York Rangers defenseman Marc Staal wanted to laugh or punch back in a Jan. 3 game when Semin started flailing away at him like Andy Dick in a boxing ring. Say "nyet" to dropping the gloves again, Alex.
Dow Jones Crash Award
Tomas Plekanec, Montreal Canadiens: After posting a career-high 69 points in 2007-08, the Czech center saw his production drop by more than half this season in a stunning collapse. His no-show hurt Montreal's chances of producing a balanced offense like it had last season. Did we mention he's a restricted free agent July 1? Here's some advice: Don't elect salary arbitration!
If I Had Any Luck At All Award
Brad Richards, Dallas Stars: With his team still in the playoff race, the star center returned after missing five weeks with a broken left wrist only to break his right hand in his first game back, knocking him out for the season. "It was pretty hard to fathom," Richards told ESPN.com a few days later, still in disbelief. He had never been seriously hurt before in his NHL career.
Suckers United Award
Toronto Maple Leafs fans: Once again, they packed the joint at Air Canada Centre for a crappy team that missed the playoffs for a fourth straight season. Ticket prices are going up, and Leafs fans can't wait to open their wallets. The Cup drought is 42 years and counting.
Injuries Even Hollywood Couldn't Script Award
Erik Johnson, St. Louis Blues and Joe Sakic, Colorado Avalanche: Johnson got his foot stuck between the brake and gas pedal of a golf cart and ripped his knee, putting him out for the entire season. Sakic, one of the classiest guys in the game, broke three fingers in a freak snowblower incident. We know it snows a lot in Denver, but can't a future Hall of Famer with loads of cash in the bank afford somebody to clear his driveway?
Proof My Brain Isn't Connected To My Mouth Award
Sean Avery: Repeatedly warned by both the NHL commissioner and the NHL disciplinarian to clean up his act, Avery assembled the media corps in Calgary and tried to embarrass his Hollywood ex-girlfriends. In the end, he's the only one who was embarrassed. Too bad -- he's actually a good hockey player. He's been terrific in his return to New York, and so far, he hasn't opened his mouth enough to get in trouble.
Traveling Circus Award
Tampa Bay Lightning: To be fair, most of the circus acts occurred in the first half of the season. We think they've figured things out heading into next season, but what a spectacle in the first half. Barry Melrose hired and fired as coach, Vincent Lecavalier shopped to other teams (shopping vehemently denied by the front office) and, oh, a dismal season. Did they really give Vaclav Prospal $14 million over four years? Thank goodness first overall pick Steven Stamkos recovered from a tough start and finished the season strong.
Most Dramatic Reality Show Award
Montreal Canadiens: A TV reporter who covers the team told us they refer to it as "The Gong Show."
The franchise's centennial season began with Stanley Cup aspirations after last season's first-place finish in the Eastern Conference. The first half didn't disappoint as the Canadiens hovered around fourth in the conference. Then, the first batch of the Vincent Lecavalier trade rumors came in December, which had Habs fans in a tizzy. That was followed by a midseason collapse for the ages:
• Charges by a radio host that some of the players were partying too much.
• Star winger Alexei Kovalev sent home for a week to clear his head.
• Sensational allegations that connected the Kostitsyn brothers with a local mobster.
• The firing of coach Guy Carbonneau and the less-than-inspirational start under his replacement, GM Bob Gainey.
• Team put up for sale.
• The brief 5-0-1 stretch late in the season that restored some measure of faith.
• The gutsy return of an injured Schneider as the Habs grabbed the point they needed in Boston in their 81st game to make the postseason.
I'm out of breath just writing all this. Please read while listening to "We Didn't Start The Fire" from Billy Joel.
Gamble Gone Wrong Award
Jacques Martin, Florida Panthers GM: Let us be the first to say we credited him on March 4 for having the guts to keep pending free-agent defenseman Jay Bouwmeester to help his team stay in the playoff drive. But the Panthers failed to get into the postseason anyway, and now Martin has to live with the ugly reminder of having turned down a package from the Philadelphia Flyers at the trade deadline and seeing Bouwmeester walk away July 1. Ouch.
Happiest Man Alive Award
Me: For getting paid to cover the best game on earth, for getting a gig at ESPN.com -- a great place to work -- this year, for having a great friend like Scott Burnside as a teammate, for having terrific readers who keep me honest and for the ability during most of the season to work from my house so I don't have to shave or shower until dinner time.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
14dScott Burnside and Craig Custance