Commentary

Handing out our quarter-pole winners

Updated: November 18, 2009, 9:43 AM ET
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

Anze Kopitar was atop the scoring chart. The Eastern Conference finalist Carolina Hurricanes were last in the league. Antero Niittymaki led all NHL goalies in save percentage. The Florida Panthers were tied for the most shootout victories.

Yep, the opening quarter of the 2009-10 NHL season went just as expected … Not!

The NHL doesn't hand out its awards until after the season but we here at ESPN.com like to dole out the hardware every quarter:

Hart Trophy (MVP)

Our candidates: Alex Ovechkin, Washington; Rick Nash, Columbus; Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles; Marian Gaborik, N.Y. Rangers; Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh; Chris Pronger, Philadelphia; Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit.

The skinny: Hardest part was to leave out the San Jose boys because Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle have been so amazing. But that's the thing: How can you single one out for the MVP? I put Ovechkin in there even though he was hurt for some of it; he still was sensational when he played. Crosby doesn't have the points he usually has but really gutted it out with all the injuries to his team. To me, Zetterberg is the guy that turned things around in Hockeytown after a slow start and ended the quarter in dynamite form. Pronger has been the usual stud on defense and leads all NHL players in ice time per game at 27 minutes. Gaborik and Kopitar have carried their teams offensively, and you wonder where those clubs would be without them. And Nash? He's done it all for the Jackets.

Quarter-pole winner: Nash. As I said above, he did it all for the Jackets in the opening quarter. Besides, wouldn't it be cool if a Nash won the MVP award in both the NBA and NHL? And they were both Canadian?

[+] EnlargeMartin Brodeur
Christopher Pasatieri/US PresswireIn his 16th NHL season, Marty Brodeur remains one of the elite goaltenders. But is it good enough for a fifth Vezina?

Vezina Trophy (Top Goalie)

Our candidates: Ryan Miller, Buffalo; Martin Brodeur, New Jersey; Craig Anderson, Colorado; Evgeni Nabokov, San Jose; Miikka Kiprusoff, Calgary; Ilya Bryzgalov, Phoenix; Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh; Marty Turco, Dallas.

The skinny: I know, I know, Antero Niittymaki has been amazing, but he hasn't started enough games to be in our Vezina race. Our quarter-pole awards, our rules. And it's hard to believe Henrik Lundqvist, Roberto Luongo and Tim Thomas aren't in this group right now, but they can play a bit better than they have. We're pretty sure we'll see them in the mix at season's end.

In the meantime, these are our guys. Anderson has been such a pleasant surprise for the Avs, and we think he's Olympic-bound for Team USA. Nabokov seems motivated by last spring's so-so performance in the playoffs. Kipper is the backbone of a Flames team ready for a Cup run. Bryzgalov has answered the challenge from his GM Don Maloney. Turco has had a huge bounce-back year so far. And Miller and Brodeur? Well, they've been the best.

Quarter-pole winner: Miller, by a Lou Lamoriello hair over Brodeur.

Norris Trophy (Top Defenseman)

Our candidates: Chris Pronger, Philadelphia; Duncan Keith, Chicago; Dan Boyle, San Jose; Tomas Kaberle, Toronto; Niklas Kronwall, Detroit; Mike Green, Washington; Jay Bouwmeester, Calgary; Drew Doughty, Los Angeles.

The skinny: Well obviously we showed our hand by having Pronger as the only defenseman in the Hart mix. Keith continues to take giant steps; he's Vancouver-bound for Team Canada. Boyle is a man possessed in San Jose at both ends of the ice. Kaberle has had a bounce-back year on a bad Toronto team. Kronwall has been a beast after a slow start. Green is doing his usual thing in Washington. Bouwmeester is playing a ton of minutes and looks comfortable in Calgary. Doughty? Oh my, this guy is already this good at 19 years old? Scary.

Quarter-pole winner: Pronger.

Calder Trophy (Top rookie)

Our candidates: John Tavares, N.Y. Islanders; James van Riemsdyk, Philadelphia; Ryan O'Reilly, Colorado; Tyler Myers, Buffalo; Michael Del Zotto, N.Y. Rangers; Niclas Bergfors, New Jersey; Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay; Jonas Gustavsson, Toronto; Semyon Varlamov, Washington; Matt Duchene, Colorado; Evander Kane, Atlanta.

The skinny: Tavares hasn't disappointed in leading the rookie scorers through the opening quarter of the season. O'Reilly is a big surprise, a second-round pick who has outscored his teammate, the higher-touted Duchene. Del Zotto has been a power-play and puck-moving sensation. Legend Scotty Bowman told ESPN.com earlier this season that he had never seen a player of Myers' size skate like he does. Bergfors seems to be doing his thing under the radar, but he's been terrific -- and consistent. Hedman has stepped right into the NHL like he owned it. Kane is just touching the surface in Atlanta. Gustavsson and Varlamov have shown flashes but must share the net with a veteran partner.

Quarter-pole winner: van Riemsdyk. He was someone's pick (me) to win the Calder before the season so why back off now? With his combination of size and skill, look forward to seeing him play with the shifty Claude Giroux for the next few years.

Jack Adams Award (Top Coach)

Our candidates: Todd McLellan, San Jose; Jacques Lemaire, New Jersey; Terry Murray, Los Angeles; Joe Sacco, Colorado; Brent Sutter, Calgary; Lindy Ruff, Buffalo; Ken Hitchcock, Columbus; Mike Babcock, Detroit; John Anderson, Atlanta.

The skinny: Fact is, you could make the argument for 20 coaches every year. No one puts in more hours than the men behind the benches. McLellan strips the "C" off Patrick Marleau and sees the veteran forward respond with the best hockey of his life. Oh, and the Sharks are the best team in the NHL right now. Lemaire? The Devils lose more key players last summer and come back as strong as they've looked in years. We loved the way Murray handled the Alex Frolov situation. Look at how the player has responded. Sacco had his kids believing out of the gates. That's half the battle. Sutter has the Flames playing like Cup contenders. Surprised that Babcock is on this list? Don't be. It's been a heck of a chore to get this outfit back on the right track. Ruff and Hitchcock? Ho-hum, just doing their thing. Anderson has his Thrashers proving the critics wrong.

Quarter-pole winner: Lemaire. Sorry, but challenging for first place in the Eastern Conference? You think they miss him in Minnesota now?

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.