Grapes Takes a Look at the T80HL Award Races

TORONTO (AP) – With the All-Star break in the rear view mirror for the T80HL, none other than Don Cherry takes a look at the award races as we hit the final third of the season. Here’s what Grapes had to say on a special episode of “Coach’s Corner” on CBC’s “Hockey Day in Canada” as part of All-Star weekend alongside Ron MacLean:

The All-Star break is in the rearview window and teams are starting to look towards the unofficial second half of the season.  In addition, pundits across the T80HL cities are starting to look at potential award winners. Count us in, too.  Today, we are going to look at the major awards: 

  • Hart Memorial Trophy – Player judged to be most valuable to his team.
  • Norris Trophy – Defense player who has demonstrated the greatest all-round ability at the position.
  • Vezina Trophy – Goalie judged to be the best at this position.
  • Calder Trophy – Player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition.
  • Adams Trophy – Coach/GM judged to have contributed the most to his team’s success. We are considering both coach and General Manager when reviewing the Adams Trophy as they work so closely in tandem.

For each award, we will review:

  • The Popular Pick – this is the player, coach or GM who the regular fan will expect to be the winner based.
  • The Underdog Pick – This is the player, coach or GM that deserves some attention for the award but may be flying under the radar of the average fan.
  • The Better-Not Win Pick – This is the player, coach or GM who may garner lots of attention but should not be given any vote or consideration. 
  • My Pick – This is the player, coach or GM that I humbly suggest should win the award.

Hart Memorial Trophy 

Popular Pick – Dale Hawerchuk, Minnesota North Stars

Hawerchuk is the easy pick for the Hart Trophy at the break and rightfully so.  He leads the league in points by 5 points and his 61 assists would put him tied for 19th in league scoring alone.  However, he does have 32 goals, ranking him 4th in the league, with 27 of them coming at even strength.  He has done everything that the North Stars could have asked for and more.  There is a reason the North Stars are on top of the league. And Hawerchuk is a main reason.

Underdog Pick – Larry Murphy, Washington Capitals

Defensemen very rarely win the Hart Trophy and that likely won’t change this season.  But if it does, it will be because of the season Larry Murphy is having.  Murphy is tied for 8th in league scoring, ahead of the likes of Mike Bossy and Adam Oates, and he is 3rd in assists. If there is one thing keeping him back it is his poor defensive play. But, if he continues to run away with the blue line scoring title and leads the Capitals to the Adams Division, or even the Wales Conference title, he will have to be in the conversation.

Better-Not Win Pick – Steve Yzerman, Detroit Red Wings

Voters who paid attention to the first few weeks of the league will remember Steve Yzerman’s amazing goal scoring streak to start the season.  He was a goal per game player for almost 30 games and was leading the league in points.  Then the goals stopped coming and the Red Wings started their fall down the standings.  He is still 4th in league scoring and doing his part, but he isn’t bringing the team with him. 

My Pick – Mario Lemieux, Edmonton Oilers

Until last week, Mario was leading the league in points and dragging the Oilers into a solid playoff position. Have you looked at this team? They looked like a definite lottery team at the beginning of the year, battling the Leafs and Devils for the league basement.  Then Mario got started and the Oilers have been one of the hottest teams in the league.  Does anyone think they would be where they are without him and Mike Bullard as their #1 centre?  If Lemieux can stay close to Hawerchuk in league scoring, or even win the Art Ross, the award should rightfully be his.

Norris Trophy

Popular Pick – Larry Murphy, Washington Capitals

If you are a contender for the Hart Trophy, you damn well are the favourite for the Norris Trophy as well. As it stands, Murphy is the clear leader as the best defenseman.  He is on the way to 100 points as a blue liner and has the Caps in line for a top position in the Wales Conference.  His 57 assists still puts him in the top 30 in league scoring.  He has been all the Caps could ask for and more.  He anchors the league’s 3rd ranked power play and plays prime minutes on the penalty kill as well, though the PK team does rank last in the league, so that isn’t a selling point.  If you are a betting man, put some cash down on Murphy winning the in augural Norris.  You won’t win much, but it is as safe a bet as there is right now.

Underdog Pick – Chris Chelios, Montreal Canadiens

I’m not sure how much of an underdog pick Chelios would be when you are 3rd in defenseman scoring and lead all blue liners with 20 goals.  However, anyone other than Murphy is an underdog pick at this point.  Chelios could finish with 40 goals on the year and gives the Habs a 4th threat after Mats Naslund, Guy Lafleur, and Bobby Smith. Chelios, like Murphy, anchors the power play, 4th in the league, just behind Washington, while the PK is in the middle of the league. Chelios could sneak up there if Murphy stumbles, but either way it will be fun to watch him if he can keep scoring goals.

Better-Not Win Pick – Paul Coffey, Hartford Whalers

Coffey is putting up a point per game and is in the top 5 in scoring for blue liners.  His 18 goals rank only behind Chelios.  He is having a great offensive season for the Whalers. Not surprising for the smooth skater. However, unlike his counterparts Murphy and Chelios, Coffey hasn’t been performing in his own end. The Whalers are a plus team, though most of their players are negative ratings.  None are like Coffey, though. His -19 rating is the worst on the team by a significant margin. No matter how many points Coffey gets, or points he collects, the fact that Coffey has such a bad rating and that the Whalers are so far back from the playoff cut line, means there is no reason Coffey, at this point, should be considered for the Norris.

My Pick – Larry Murphy, Washington Capitals.  

There is simply no overlooking Murphy’s first half.  He has simply been head and shoulders better than any other blue liner and, at this point, should win the award.

Vezina Trophy 

Popular Pick – Don Beaupre, Minnesota North Stars

Some way question why Fuhr isn’t the popular pick. Afterall, he does lead the league in GAA at 2.83, shutouts with 3, and save percentage at .894. I mean, that is the trifecta that should win you a Vezina. However, Beaupre leads the league and wins (32) and fewest losses (9) and trails Fuhr by just inches in all those categories, all while leading his team to the best record in hockey. Oh, and he has done that while playing more than 250 minutes fewer than Fuhr. To me, that is why he is the popular pick, if not the best pick.

Underdog Pick – Clint Malarchuk, Vancouver Canucks

It is very rare to see a rookie in the running for any major award, other than the Calder Trophy of course. But Malarchuk deserves to be in the talks for top goalie in the league, not just top rookie.  He has played in 45 games, leading the Canucks to second place in the Campbell Conference.  He has the 4th best GAA and his save percentage is just .002 lower than Grant Fuhr’s. He has played fewer minutes than the other top contenders, meaning it is possible he could play more than the others in the second half and even improve his stats. The Canucks have their goaltending set for the next decade, and he could  

Better-Not Win Pick – Andy Moog, Boston Bruins

Moog is up there in the Vezina discussions thanks to his league-leading 3 shut outs, 28 wins and 5th best 3.21 GAA.  However, he shouldn’t be in the discussions at all.  And that is because he has benefitted from a good team in front of him.  He has not don’t much to earn those 28 wins as his 0.876 save percentage indicates his poor play. Add in the fact that the Bruins give up the second fewest number of shots per game in the league and it is obvious that the Bruins are winning despite Moog’s play.  He will stay in the discussions because his team is winning.  But if this play continues in the second half, those talks should quiet down.  Fortunately for him, he may not be playing much in the second half as management has already played him more than 3000 minutes. With a hard 4,000 minute goalie limit, Moog only has about 16 games left to play. That is some ghastly goalie management by coach Roger Neilson.

My Pick – Grant Fuhr – New York Islanders

The Islanders are on top of the Wales Conference thanks to a rock-solid defense. They have allowed almost half a goal less per game than the next team and that is a testament to Fuhr’s play. He leads the league in goals against average, save percentage, and shut out and is tied for 3rd in wins. The Islanders are 11th in goals scored and only have 2 players, Mike Bossy and Tim Kerr, in the top 30 in league scoring. Without the play of Fuhr, the Islanders may very well be on the wrong side of the playoff cut line instead of leading the way.

Calder Trophy

Popular Pick – Steve Yzerman, Detroit Red Wings

Yzerman is in the discussion for the Hart Trophy, so obviously he will be the favourite for the Calder. He is not only running away with the rookie scoring race, he’s in the top five in scoring in the entire league. He is second in goals with 36 and it is almost sure that he will hit 50 goals this year.  As a rookie.  Not sure what else needs to be said.  Yzerman is the clear Calder front runner.

Underdog Pick – Luc Robitaille, Los Angeles Kings

It is a slugfest of players fighting for second place in scoring for rookies. Five of them already have more than 50 points and Robitaille is 5th.  However, he has 29 goals, second just to Yzerman, and has a chance at 50 goals.  He could challenge Yzerman for goals, but Robitaille is a sniper, not a playmaker, so he is never going to catch his point total.  But if he can catch and pass Yzerman in goals, and he breaks the 50-goal plateau, Robitaille could a surprise challenger.

Better-Not Win Pick – No One

Really, these players are in their first year in the toughest league in the world.  Anyone good enough to play in this league, deserves to be considered. 

My Pick – Steve Yzerman, Detroit Red Wings

He is just too good and is putting up too many numbers not to win this award.  It is as close to a no-brainer as possible.

Adams Trophy

Popular Pick – Bob Gainey/Greg Sykes, Minnesota North Stars

The North Stars are running away with the league and the combo of Gainey and Sykes gets much of the credit for putting this team together.  Sykes started by quickly snapping up Dale Hawerchuk in the initial dispersal draft, a pick that now seems like pure brilliance. Since then, he has also acquired Rick Vaive to shore up the offense, while acquisitions Brad McCrimmon and Kevin Lowe helped out on the defensive side. He already had a strong nucleus with Neal Broten, Brian Bellows, Dino Ciccarelli, and Don Beaupre, but Sykes brought in the extra talent needed to go all the way. Gainey has taken that talent and made sure it all fits together. He has the offense humming to the tune of almost 4.5 goals per game, tops in the league, and the defense is second best, giving up just over 3 goals. If there is a negative for this team, it is the power play which ranks a surprising 11th.  With no true offensive defenseman on the team, that may be one area Sykes looks to bolster as the trade deadline approaches. If he can give Gainey that, an already seemingly unstoppable team may be able to coast to the championship.

Underdog Pick – Tom Barkley/Mark Jones, Edmonton Oilers

I’m going to admit that this was perhaps the toughest category to pick from in this entire exercise. I considered Al Arbour/ PJ Jennings in Long Island, as Jennings’ picking Grant Fuhr in the dispersal draft and trade bringing in Tim Kerr has paid off in spades and the team is leading the conference.  But that isn’t really an underdog as they will be both in serious contention for this award come year end.  I would desperately love to name Dave King and Tom Levitt in Chicago as they made a ton of trades to try to challenge this year and it has simply not happened yet. They have been a bit of a disappointment to be honest. That is more on King than Levitt, though. Bryan Murray/Andrew Wood in Washington haven’t made a deal this year, though getting Doug Gilmour and Brent Ashton in the dispersal draft has worked well. The combo of Pat Quinn and John Mosher in Vancouver could also be considered, though any team with Wayne Gretzky should be expected to do well and Mosher hasn’t done anything to add to his team yet. So, I went way down to pick Barkley and Jones in Edmonton.  They have made the switch from Pittsburgh to Edmonton, saving a city that had seen its dynasty team ripped apart and given to the rest of the league.  Jones was able to save Glenn Anderson and Steve Smith, though. Jones has made 3 trades this year, all with the eye on the future, but most of his work has been done in the open market.  Jones reportedly cut almost a dozen players in the off season, replacing them with unsigned players, leaving Barkley the challenge of making it work.  And, for the past 30 games, he has done just that.  The Oilers have gone from contending with the Devils and Maple Leafs for last in the league, to being in 3rd place in the Campbell Conference.  Riding Mario Lemieux is of course a no brainer, but he has everyone playing well enough in the weaker conference to make the playoffs a distinct possibility.  And their farm team is running away with the title, so they have a decent future it appears.

Better-Not Win Pick – Jim Schoenfeld/Al O’Neill, New Jersey Devils

In some manner of thinking, General Manager Al O’Neill could actually be commended for his performance so far this season. Citing a need to strip down the club and rebuild, O’Neill basically traded away anyone of importance or talent during the preseason and early parts of the regular season. He traded away picks in upcoming drafts for future drafts as he had his sights fixed on the future. He completed 7 trades this season and has given his coach almost nothing to work with. Schoenfeld can hardly be blamed for his team’s last place performance given the team he is able to put on the ice each night. There are a few bright spots, but this team is being built to be competitive in the mid-1990s, not now. They will be bad for many years, perhaps more than O’Neill will even be around for if ownership isn’t able to go along with a half-decade of losing. But what really puts O’Neill in this category, for me, is his public cheering of team losses and anger when they actually win a game. Look, we all know he wants to lose to get a good draft pick.  The world knows that.  But to actually publicly cheer against your team is…I don’t know…wrong. It goes against the spirit of the game and I can’t believe any player would want to play for a GM actively campaigning against you. Granted this behaviour has dwindled over the past little while. Whether that is because O’Neill was forced to back down by the league or his own owner, or he has just become to busy with alternative pursuits, I don’t know.  Hopefully he just realized how he was violating the spirit of competition. Unfortunately, he has stained this franchise for this year and hopefully the hockey gods will not reward him with the #1 overall pick.  We all know teams try to tank, by trading away talent, but all teams should be icing the best team they can each night and trying their best. Otherwise, it is the fabric of the game being lost.

My Pick – Bob Gainey/Greg Sykes, Minnesota North Stars

Sykes has brought in the talent to win it all and Gainey has them humming.  There are other teams going for it, but have not been able to pull of the right deal, have not had the courage, or it has not worked out as anticipated. For Minnesota, so far, everything has turned to gold and they should be making space for the Adams Trophy, along with other hardware, come season’s end.

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