Cullen: 2014 NHL Award Picks

Scott Cullen
4/16/2014 12:24:22 PM
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With the 2013-2014 NHL season in the books, Scott Cullen has his final take on the award races.

As I get more interested in hockey's advanced stats, there comes a challenge when handing out awards and it dovetails with a discussion that occurred at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference this year. When discussing a college football ranking, ESPN's Dean Oliver asserted that the "best" and "most deserving" teams aren't necessarily the same thing. As it pertains to college football, it's entirely possible to see a team that has lost still get favoured against an unbeaten team (think Alabama vs. Notre Dame in the 2013 national championship game) because their relative strength of schedule isn't the same.

At the same time, an unbeaten Notre Dame team had every right to be included in that game because of what they had accomplished. It can get complicated trying to weigh the results with the circumstances under which those results were achieved.

How does this apply to end-of-season hockey awards?

Well, individual hockey players don't all get the same opportunities or play against the same level of competition and that has to be taken into account. At the same time, in many cases, there is an element of good fortune involved to be considered among the elite players in a given category and some of that can pertain to percentages that aren't sustainable over the long-term.

When it comes to awards, though, I'm still of the opinion that a player shouldn't be penalized for scoring on a higher percentage of his shots than normal. It may not be something that he can carry over to future years, but that's not relevant to the discussion of a player's contribution in the 2013-2014 NHL season.

With that in mind, here are my picks:

Winner: Sidney Crosby, C, Pittsburgh
Runners-up: Ryan Getzlaf, C, Anaheim; Joe Pavelski, C/LW, San Jose
Comment: While there is an argument to be made that Getzlaf's production, in the Western Conference, could warrant the honour, Crosby's production against the West (35 points in 27 games) was plenty impressive and he topped 100 points this season despite having a mish-mash collection of right wingers after Pascal Dupuis was hurt. Yes, an injury to Pascal Dupuis raised Crosby's level of difficulty. In any event, Crosby played at least 80 games for only the third time in his career and topped 100 points for the fifth time and is a deserving MVP.

That's not to suggest that Getzlaf didn't have a great season in his own right, scoring a career-high 31 goals and his 87 points in 77 games represented the best points-per-game scoring rate of his career. Pavelski, who has long been a very good player, raised the bar this year, finishing a career-best 18.2% of his shots on his way to scoring a career-high 41 goals and 79 points. Pavelski's strong finish (23 points in the last 21 games) pulled him ahead of Alex Ovechkin, the league's only 50-goal scorer. Getzlaf's right winger, Corey Perry, is right in the discussion as well after finishing with 43 goals, including a league-best 35 at even strength.

Winner: Duncan Keith, Chicago
Runners-up: Shea Weber, Nashville; Erik Karlsson, Ottawa
Comment: For much of the year, Keith has been at the head of the class, a dominant two-way player on a dominant team, but Weber's impressive finish (8 G, 8 A in final 17 GP) closed the gap, enough that when digging deeper, to compare quality of competition, teammates and zone starts, that Weber's my choice in a very close race.

I wouldn't have any qualms about Erik Karlsson winning either, even with a minus-16 rating. Karlsson has a rare ability to drive play forward which is shown in his strong Relative Corsi, though his plus-minus ended up being undermined by subpar goaltending when he was on the ice.

If he played a full slate of games, Calgary's Mark Giordano would have a strong case, because he had an exceptional season, without an ideal supporting cast, and Tampa Bay's Victor Hedman was lurking around the race for much of the season, scoring a career-best 55 points with strong possession stats.

Winner: Tuukka Rask, Boston
Runners-up: Semyon Varlamov, Colorado; Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay
Comment: There's not a lot to choose between the league's top goaltenders, but Rask led the league in 5-on-5 save percentage (.942) as well as overall (.930), good enough to take home the hardware. Varlamov, who doesn't have the benefit of a strong defensive unit, gets the first runner-up spot while Ben Bishop and Carey Price are so close for the next that Bishop gets the edge for playing a handful more games. Reigning Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky is close to that group as well, but not quite.

Winner: Ondrej Palat, LW, Tampa Bay
Runners-up: Nathan MacKinnon, C, Colorado; Jacob Trouba, D, Winnipeg
Comment: This was really a surprisingly good race, as Palat wouldn't go away, even once MacKinnon surged into the rookie scoring lead. MacKinnon held on to win that race, 63 points to Palat's 59, but Palat faced higher-quality competition, as he was an offensive driver for the Lightning even while Steven Stamkos was injured. It's very close, to be sure, but I give Palat the edge.

Among the runner-ups, Jacob Trouba gets the edge over Torey Krug even though Trouba missed 17 games. Trouba played more minutes, against tougher competition and was productive in that role. Krug was really a power play ace for the Bruins, scoring 19 of his 40 points with the man advantage, but he didn't have the kind of responsibility that the Jets put upon Trouba. Palat's frequent linemate, centre Tyler Johnson, was also a worthy candidate after scoring 24 goals to tie MacKinnon for the rookie lead.

Winner: Patrice Bergeron, C, Boston
Runners-up: Anze Kopitar, C, Los Angeles; David Backes, C, St. Louis.
Comment: This is an increasingly fascinating award, as more and more statistical measures become available to help gauge a player's effectiveness. When looking at the top contenders -- Bergeron, Kopitar, Backes, Jonathan Toews, Gabriel Landeskog, Alexander Steen -- they are all very good two-way players.

Landeskog, Toews, Backes and Steen face the higher quality of competition, Bergeron, Kopitar and Toews have the most dominant possession numbers, and Bergeron does it while starting 46.6% of his shifts in the offensive zone. The numbers, then, support Bergeron, who won the award in 2012.

Winner: Ryan O'Reilly, RW, Colorado
Runners-up: Tyler Seguin, C, Dallas; Jay Bouwmeester, D, St. Louis
Comment: There are many players who play a clean game with a high level of skill, but no one should match O'Reilly, the Avalanche forward who scored a career-high 64 points and took his only minor penalty (playing with a broken stick) in his 72nd game of the season.

Winner: Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay
Runners-up: Patrick Roy, Colorado; Mike Babcock, Detroit
Comment: It's difficult to determine how much credit a coach deserves for a team's success in a single year because sometimes that success is predicated on percentages. That doesn't inherently mean a coach isn't deserving, but if their success isn't sustainable, should a coach really be rewarded for his team being lucky?

To that end, a hot goaltender can make a coach look awfully good and so it is with some trepidation that I take Jon Cooper as my Jack Adams pick, because goaltender Ben Bishop played such a big part in the Lightning's 101-point season. At the same time, Cooper kept the Lightning going even though Steven Stamkos was out for nearly four months with a broken tibia and they traded Martin St. Louis at the trade deadline. Pushing through that, with rookies like Palat and Johnson handling big minutes, is deserving of credit.

Roy may be the popular choice, since he's a well-known former player, and he's no doubt improved the Avalanche, but how much of that is tied to Semyon Varlamov's superb season? Cooper faced a little more adversity.

If adversity is the criteria, Babcock might have a strong claim. His best two players, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, each missed 37 games, and those were only the most prominent on a regularly long injured list. That the Wings reached the playoffs, with rookies scattered throughout their forward ranks by season's end, is enough reason for consideration.

Boston's Claude Julien, Anaheim's Bruce Boudreau and Columbus' Todd Richards are some others that I would give strong consideration to this season.

Scott Cullen can be reached at and followed on Twitter at For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

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