On the Penguins: Looking at defensive awards
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A few months ago, Kris Letang was turning up in a lot of conversations about top contenders for the Norris Trophy, which is awarded annually to the NHL's top defenseman.
And not as an afterthought.
Letang was flat-out sensational for most of the first half or so of the season, but his productivity -- and overall performance -- slipped as winter moved along.
And while there's a pretty good chance Letang will have a Norris on his resume at some point, it's not going to happen now. Of course, Letang is just 23, so he will have a few more chances.
Nicklas Lidstrom of Detroit might as well, even though he'll turn 41 April 28. He has a half-dozen Norrises and looks like the frontrunner to pick up another for the season that ends today.
Lidstrom isn't a lock, in part because so many other defensemen have played so well in 2010-11, but he is a pretty attractive default selection for anyone who can't decide.
Among the other candidates:
• Phoenix's Keith Yandle -- He has gotten a lot of attention for not getting a lot of attention, and while playing for the Coyotes doesn't do much to raise a guy's profile, owning a skills set like Yandle's does.
• Boston's Zdeno Chara -- He's big and tough and mean and talented and versatile. Other than that, Chara doesn't have much going for him.
• Anaheim's Lubomir Visnovsky -- Another guy whose candidacy isn't helped by playing on the far side of the continent, even though he entered the weekend as the highest-scoring defenseman in the NHL.
• Nashville's Shea Weber -- If his entire season had gone the way his second half has, he probably would be the favorite.
Jordan Staal of the Penguins was a finalist for the Selke, which goes to the league's top defensive forward, in 2010, and figured to be again this year.
Missing the first 39 games because of a foot infection and broken hand had him out of the mix well before 2011 arrived, however.
Still, there are plenty of qualified candidates, and Ryan Kesler of Vancouver looks like a popular choice to end up in the top spot on a lot of ballots. Some of Kesler's most serious competition could have come from teammate Manny Malhotra, but his season was cut short by a serious eye injury.
Others who figure to get considerable support in the voting:
• Chicago's Jonathan Toews -- While the Blackhawks are having a disappointing season, their captain doesn't deserve any of the blame.
• Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk -- One of the game's great two-way forwards. He will still be getting Selke consideration five years after he retires.
• New York Islanders' Frans Nielsen -- He is not only responsible defensively but is a pretty reliable source of shorthanded goals.
• Los Angeles' Anze Kopitar -- His defensive work is overshadowed by his exceptional offensive talents, but Kopitar -- whose season was ended recently by an ankle injury -- routinely is matched against opponents' top lines, and generally gets the better of it.
It's possible that Tim Thomas of Boston won't win the Vezina Trophy, which is awarded to the NHL's top goalie.
It's also possible that the Pirates will win the World Series after going undefeated through their regular-season schedule.
If forced to choose between those two possibilities, put your money on the baseball club.
Of course, the league's general managers, who vote on the Vezina, could make a surprise choice, but that seems unlikely since Thomas established himself as the early favorite and never really faltered.
Other goalies are having Vezina-worthy seasons, however, including:
• Nashville's Pekka Rinne -- His teammates are strong defensively, but this guy erases a lot of mistakes made in front of him.
• Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury -- He could be Comeback Player of the Year as well, based on how he rebounded from a wretched start last fall.
• Montreal's Carey Price -- Remember the furor when the Canadiens traded playoff hero Jaroslav Halak last summer? Price put that fire out in a hurry.
• New York Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist -- He entered the weekend with 11 shutouts. Boston was the only other team to have that many, and Thomas had accounted for nine of those.
Today: at Atlanta ... That's all, folks. The regular-season finale -- and the final tuneup for Round 1 of the playoffs.
First Published April 10, 2011 12:00 am