The 2014 NHL Awards will commence Tuesday night in Las Vegas with plenty of intrigue. Like always, there will be no-doubter winners where the choice couldn't have been easier, but it's those tighter races that leave enough mystery that could bring a little drama to the ceremonial closing of the 2013-14 season. With the big event not getting started until 7 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network, that seems like too long to wait.
So here's a quick look at the major awards to set the stage for the awards show and a quick prediction for each.
Rundown: This seems like one of the easier choices of the entire slate of awards. Cases could be made for both Giroux and Getzlaf, but they still wouldn't come close to matching Crosby's Hart résumé. The NHL's scoring champion outpaced the next closest player (Getzlaf) by 17 points and led the Penguins to a runaway Metropolitan Division title. Considering the Pens' depth issues this season, a healthy Crosby made that team not only competitive, but one of the league's best in the regular season. The only player to eclipse 100 points this season despite everyone trying to shut him down, this was the regular season in which Crosby asserted himself as the league's very best player and he'll be rewarded for it.
Prediction: Crosby in a rout and he should probably win the Ted Lindsay Award going away as well.
Rundown: This is a rather strong field for the Norris, as it so often is, but this time there really isn't any clear-cut winner. Keith had the most points and assists, Weber the most goals and Chara had a productive season at both ends of the ice. There's a strong case to be made for each, but it may come down to how each player contributed to his team's success most as a separating factor. If that's the case, it would be hard to argue Chara didn't have a lot to do with the Bruins compiling the best record in hockey this year. Weber did his level best in a bad situation, while Keith's defensive game may be waning ever so slightly compared to his Norris-winning season of 2009-10.
Prediction: It's a really tough call here, but I think the Pro Hockey Writers Association will give Chara the nod. He put up points while taking Boston's toughest defensive assignments and playing well.
Rundown: This is another one of the awards where you could see any one of these three taking the award. Rask had the best save percentage at .930 while leading the Bruins to the President's Trophy as regular-season champs. That's a tremendous mark by anyone's standards. Then you have two goaltenders who deserve a lot of credit for two of the finest turnarounds in the NHL. Without Ben Bishop, the Lightning probably don't survive losing Steven Stamkos. He put up a franchise-record .924 save percentage and stole a few games along the way. The same can be said for Varlamov, who deserves the most credit of anyone for Colorado's insane turnaround. He set a franchise record with 41 wins, but more impressively, he compiled a .927 save percentage while facing more shots (2,013) than any goaltender in the league. Without him, the Avs don't come close to the season they had.
Prediction: This probably comes down to Rask and Varlamov and the league GMs that vote on this award almost surely should give the nod to Varlamov. His workload and essentially putting the Avs on his back when there were some tough games in there deserve the recognition. I wouldn't be surprised if he was in the top five for Hart Trophy voting.
Rundown: The rookie of the year vote is another one that is unlikely to be close, though the race probably should be tighter than it will end up. Palat and Johnson were vital to a Tampa Bay team that made the playoffs despite not having Stamkos for much of the season. MacKinnon, however, had a very flashy season and was a major contributor to the other great turnaround team of 2013-14. He led all rookies with 63 points and 39 assists while tying Johnson for the rookie lead with 24 goals. The roles that Palat and Johnson played were more substantial for their teams, but MacKinnon was simply excellent offensively and did what he did as the league's youngest player.
Prediction: MacKinnon, with Palat a not terribly distant second.
Rundown: The league's best defensive forward award is a lot harder to pin down as there is a lot of weight put on some of those inconsistently tracked stats like takeaways and blocked shots. Since this is up for the PHWA to vote on, they could look at the advanced stats if they so wish (and it's unclear how many would) to get a better picture of a player's complete body of work in addition to what they've seen with their own eyes. This is an extremely close race as all three players had phenomenal seasons at both ends of the ice, but Bergeron appeared to be in his own class this season. He posted the highest Corsi For percentage in the league at 61.2 percent according to ExtraSkater.com (Kopitar was third and Toews was seventh, so it's still close). Bergeron also has cache as a noted two-way forward and he is a rising star in the league. The media will look favorably on him this time after he was beat out by Toews last year.
Jack Adams Award
The finalists: Mike Babcock, Detroit Red Wings; Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning; Patrick Roy, Colorado Avalanche
Rundown: The coach of the year race could be the tightest of them all. Babcock might even be an underdog in this situation. He's up against the engineers of two tremendous turnarounds and that should carry a lot of weight with the NHL Broadcasters Association, which votes on the Adams. Though Babcock deserves a ton of credit for keeping the Red Wings afloat despite injury after injury after injury, it probably comes down to Cooper and Roy and that's where it gets tough. Both did some remarkable things, but it may have been the Lightning who had the most adversity to get through this season. They lost Stamkos early in the season, their captain got traded away and they had a very inexperienced roster. Cooper squeezed every last ounce out of that team. Meanwhile, Roy inherited a good core of players, but a team that needed new direction. It's clear he brought that. He got more out of his players than the previous regime did and it showed in the results. Both Cooper and Roy benefited from Vezina-caliber goaltending, which will make any coach look good, but this is going to come right down to the wire.
Prediction: Roy by a nose. How bad the Avalanche have been for years and the fact that the results were immediate upon his arrival will give him the edge over the (in my opinion) more deserving Cooper.
Ted Lindsay Award (MVP as voted by the players): Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins)
Lady Byng (most gentlemanly player): Ryan O'Reilly (Colorado Avalanche)
General Manager of the Year: Dean Lombardi (Los Angeles Kings)
Mark Messier Leadership Award: Jonathan Toews (Chicago Blackhawks)
And just for fun ...
Name most likely to be mangled by a presenter: Anze Kopitar
Most likely to be caught by the cameras jamming out to musical act Phillip Phillips: Zdeno Chara
Most likely to join guest performer Jabbawockeez dance crew on stage: Phil Kessel
Most likely to trip on the red carpet: Toronto Maple Leafs GM Dave Nonis
Most awkward moment: Patrick Roy accepts Jack Adams, thanks Bruce Boudreau first for making his head coaching debut memorable.
Most awkward moment Pt. II: Patrick Roy doesn't win the Jack Adams, challenges Jon Cooper to a fight. Winner gets to keep the trophy.
Best Dressed: Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin and it won't be close