On The NHL: Breaking down the start of the regular season
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The NHL's regular season began Saturday -- finally -- with a 48-game sprint to the eight playoff spots available in each conference. • The race for individual awards got started, too, and here's an early look at how some of them shape up:
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Calder (best rookie)
Edmonton defenseman Justin Schultz is a pretty safe default selection. After all, he was the No. 2 scorer in the American Hockey League when the NHL lockout ended.
He's certainly not the only first-year player worth keeping an eye on, though.
Minnesota forward Mikael Granlund looks like a huge talent, as does St. Louis winger Vladimir Tarasenko. The New York Rangers' Chris Kreider, Mikhail Grigorenko of Buffalo and Montreal's Alex Galchenyuk should find their way onto a lot of ballots, as well.
Jack Adams (top coach)
Kirk Muller of Carolina did a terrific job of getting the Hurricanes moving in the right direction after he replaced Paul Maurice last season, and there's no reason to think he'll stop when given a full (OK, as close to full as possible, under the circumstances) season.
It doesn't hurt that Carolina GM Jim Rutherford moved aggressively to upgrade the Hurricanes' roster during the offseason, most notably by trading for Jordan Staal.
Michel Therrien, who orchestrated a major turnaround with the Penguins, is a good bet to change the culture in Montreal and to earn a lot of attention in the process, and Mike Babcock in Detroit will receive plenty of credit if he can keep the rebuilding Red Wings near the top of the Western Conference.
Norris (best defenseman)
Erik Karlsson of Ottawa was the surprise winner in 2011-12, based on preseason expectations.
Shea Weber of Nashville won't be if he gets the Norris this year, because he's a perennial contender, although losing teammate Ryan Suter to free agency will make the challenge a bit tougher.
There's no shortage of intriguing candidates if Weber doesn't perform to his usual level.
Zdeno Chara of Boston is always in the conversation, St. Louis' Alex Pietrangelo has shown real potential for greatness and Kris Letang of the Penguins should just get better for a number of years.
And yeah, maybe even Erik Karlsson will make it back into the mix.
Vezina (top goalies)
Jonathan Quick is the main reason Los Angeles won the 2012 Stanley Cup, and the New York Rangers wouldn't have finished first in the Eastern Conference if not for Henrik Lundqvist's spectacular work.
Lundqvist received the Vezina because he was the best goalie during the regular season, and he should be able to fend off Quick for that distinction again.
Rocket Richard (leading goal scorer)
Tampa Bay's Steve Stamkos was a runaway winner of the Richard in 2011-12, piling up 60 goals.
That was 10 more than Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, who finished second, and 19 more than Rangers winger Marian Gaborik, who was third.
It's not out of the question that Sidney Crosby's return will stir things up a bit, and Alex Ovechkin of Washington is a constant threat to score, but Stamkos will remain the favorite until someone proves he shouldn't be.
Art Ross (scoring championship)
Malkin has a very real chance to earn a second consecutive points title, and the likes of Stamkos and Claude Giroux of Philadelphia are valid threats to win it, too.
But if Sidney Crosby finds a way to stay healthy for the entire season -- something no one associated with the Penguins dares to take for granted -- he is the logical choice to earn his second Ross.
Should Crosby be able to stay in the lineup enough to lead the league in points, there's a pretty good chance he can be penciled in for his second Hart as well.
Which doesn't mean that guys like Malkin, Stamkos, Lundqvist and Giroux, among others, shouldn't be expected to make a furious run at it.
The Week Ahead
Today: at New York Rangers ... New York finished one point ahead of the Penguins in 2011-12. The race can't get much tighter than that, but don't rule it out.
Wednesday: vs. Toronto ... Maple Leafs have won at least one game here in four of the past five seasons.
Friday: at Winnipeg ... At last check, the projected game-day high was 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Seems spring has come early this year.
First Published January 20, 2013 12:01 am