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The Opening Faceoff: Trophy Tracker

Monday, 03.03.2008 / 9:23 AM / Features
By Shawn P. Roarke | NHL.com Senior Writer
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The Opening Faceoff: Trophy Tracker
The Opening Faceoff | The Breakaway | The Penalty Box
This indecision's bugging me
If you don't want me, set me free
Exactly who I'm supposed to be
Don't you know which clothes even fit me?
Come on and let me know
Should I cool it or should I blow?

Should I Stay or Should I Go, The Clash

Shawn P. Roarke
Share your thoughts and comments:
Roarkeblog@nhl.com

In This Week's Edition ...

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The Clash's Should I Stay or Should I Go is the seminal punk band's most popular song and, like many of their songs, it perfectly captures the base feeling of an emotion. Because, in the end, The Clash was about emotion.

It was a cauldron of emotions -- anger, helplessness, rage, disappointment, resentment, humor and apathy, to name a few -- that fueled both The Clash's sound and their popularity within the emerging punk movement.

And, it was the ability to intuitively tap into the basest of emotions that makes The Clash still relevant today, more than 30 years after they burst on the music scene.

In Should I Stay or Should I Go, The Clash perfectly capture the indecision that plague so many people involved in difficult romantic relationships. The lyrics, especially the Spanish-language backing vocals, may have had an element of pithiness, but the plaintiveness of the question remains overwhelming.

The Clash had better songs, if not more popular ones – and each was based in raw emotion. London's Burning is a pitch perfect take on the bleakness of inner-city life at the time. Train in Vain is catchy country-ish song about the perils of love, London Calling captured despair on so many levels and White Riot was a short, intense call to end political apathy among whites in England.

But CTN picked Should I Stay or Should I Go to lead off this week's Crashing the Net because CTN believes that its theme of indecision perfectly captures the theme of the NHL as it heads into the home stretch.

With less than 20 games left, CTN isn't sure who will make the playoffs, never mind win the Stanley Cup. There are far more questions than there are answers, that's for sure.

But, CTN thought it would be fun in this week's Opening Faceoff to try to predict some of what the future will hold by handicapping the races for some of the major end-of-season trophies. So, pop in the triple-LP Sandinista -- like CTN just did – and enjoy the ride.


The Opening Faceoff

OK, because of how topsy-turvy the League is heading into the final six weeks, this is how we will break down the trophy races: CTN will pick his winner, but will also include two other selections as viable alternatives, not necessarily dark horses in the classic sense, but candidates who could turn the race in question on its ear with a strong closing kick.

Now, on to CTN's trophy thoughts:

Alex Ovechkin has scored 26 percent of his team's goals.
Watch Alex Ovechkin highlights
Hart Trophy -- Alexander Ovechkin wins this award because of his unique combination of skill and personality. Ovechkin has made the Capitals relevant again, on and off the ice. He is a can't-miss draw everywhere he goes. And, oh yeah, he has scored 26 percent of his team's goals.

Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom is a bridesmaid again, his steady play overshadowed by the sizzle of others. Plus, his late-season injury surely doesn't help his candidacy. San Jose's Evgeni Nabokov also falls just short despite playing -- and playing well -- in 62 of San Jose's first 63 games.

Art Ross Trophy -- Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin took over the scoring lead when teammate Sidney Crosby went down with his high ankle sprain. He is not going to give it up either, even with Crosby waiting in the wings to return. Something happened to Malkin when he was made star of the show in the Steel City and there will be no going back to playing second fiddle. And that's a good thing.

With that said, expect Ovechkin, his countryman, to duel with him down to the wire. Also, look for San Jose Jose's Joe Thornton, a notorious late finisher, to make a strong bid to close the 11-point gap he now faces.

Calder Trophy -- Patrick Kane was the presumptive Rookie of the Year from the day he made the Chicago Blackhawks as an 18-year-old. He has not done anything to alter that train of thought as he heads into the final quarter of the season leading all rookies in scoring. But all but the most ardent Kane supporters will admit that he has slowed down in the second half.

That's why Kane better watch out for Nicklas Backstrom. The young Swedish center has been one of the most pleasant surprises on a Washington team full of surprises. He has 20 assists and 22 points in his last 25 games and seems to be finally finding his NHL legs. But is Backstrom's late charge enough to erode Kane's Q factor? And what of Atlanta defenseman Tobias Enstrom? Here's a young man who leads the Thrashers -- and all rookies -- in time on ice per game (24:11) and has also managed to pile up 35 points, tops among the League's rookie defenseman. He deserves some love.

Lidstrom

Norris Trophy -- Yes, Nicklas Lidstrom will likely miss three weeks of the season with the knee injury that currently has him sidelined, but the Swede is so far ahead of everyone else that the absence won't even hurt him. Lidstrom has won five of the past six Norris Trophy awards for a reason. Simply, there is no one better. Just go look at the numbers.

Nobody will take this award away from Lidstrom. It's a lock. But Boston's Zdeno Chara and Calgary's Dion Phaneuf deserve some consideration. Chara is having quite the bounce-back season, and Phaneuf continues to lay claim as the best physical defenseman playing the game today.

Vezina Trophy -- For years, more established goalies overshadowed Martin Brodeur in voting for the Vezina. Despite being a star from 1994, Brodeur did not win his first Vezina until 2003. Now, he gets the veteran treatment by winning what is an incredibly tight field of candidates. Brodeur is first in wins and Top 5 in GAA, save percentage and games played. Plus, he is playing in front of the least-accomplished defensive corps of his career.

Still, it would not be shocking to see Evgeni Nabokov steal Brodeur's thunder. Nabokov has similar numbers to Brodeur on a team that has been just as successful. And -- as hard as it may be to believe -- Nabokov has been even more of a workhorse than the indefatigable Brodeur. He won't win it, but Pascal Leclaire in Columbus should merit some consideration. His numbers -- especially the shutouts -- are quite impressive.

Lady Byng Memorial Award -- Although it's not an award any player sets out to win, there's no crime in being called a gentlemanly player, is there? CTN thinks not. Despite enjoying the rough-and-tumble aspects of the game, CTN can appreciate those players that compete with a beautiful combination of skill and grace. And when CTN thinks of that type of player, it is Philadelphia's Sami Kapanen that pops into his head. He plays the game hard, but fair and for as much as he battles for the puck, he rarely commits a foul.

Mike York and Brad Richards are among the many other players that fit this mold. They are CTN's choices as the other viable candidates.

Datsyuk

Frank J. Selke Trophy -- Pavel Datsyuk is such a good defensive player that it doesn't even look like he is playing defense. He pursues the puck with the same fluid motions that define his game when the puck is on his stick. He backchecks intelligently and almost never loses position on his man. And, most importantly, he creates offense from his defensive prowess. His League-leading 113 takeaways -- 40-plus better than anyone else -- are the foundation of his 23 goals this season.

The East, however, needs to be represented, as well. And, as such, John Madden needs some consideration. A former Selke Award winner, Madden is having a career year offensively without sacrificing any of his defensive excellence. Plus he played much of the season without his traditional partner in crime, Jay Pandolfo. Ottawa's high-energy Mike Fisher also deserves a look-see.

William M. Jennings Trophy -- Right now, the Detroit Red Wings have allowed the fewest goals in the League. But they are banged up and struggling and the New Jersey Devils are starting to really find their defensive stride. Therefore, CTN believes that Brodeur will take home his fifth Jennings Trophy this season.

Clearly, however, Detroit's dynamic duo of Chris Osgood and Dominik Hasek are still in the running, as is San Jose's Evgeni Nabokov.

Jack Adams Trophy -- Brent Sutter is a first-year coach. His team is in first place in the East. That's a pretty compelling argument for Coach of the Year right there, right? But, wait, it gets better. His team started out the season 3-6-1. One of his first acts was to take the captaincy from his star player and the team is playing with the least-experienced group of defenders since the organization's run of excellence started in the 1990s. And, oh yeah, this is the first time the Devils have been first in the East since 2001. Case closed.

Boston's Claude Julien certainly has shown that he got a raw deal in New Jersey last season. Despite losing a top play-making center and a first-string goalie, Julien has been able to keep the Bruins in the playoff picture all year. He deserves some accolades for that. As does Barry Trotz for the job he has done in Nashville. Quick! Name CTN three Nashville forwards after the big four of Martin Erat, Jason Arnott, Alex Radulov and David Legwand. It wasn't easy, was it? CTN rests its case. Trotz has done a magnificent job keeping the Preds in the playoff picture.

Conklin

Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy -- In 2004, Ty Conklin was on his way to becoming the No. 1 goalie in Edmonton. In 2006, he made an ill-fated play as an injury replacement in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final that cost his Oilers the game. He never played again for Edmonton and, before this season, saw only 16 games of NHL action. A backup for Team USA in the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, Conklin spent the majority of the past two years in places like Hamilton, Hartford and Syracuse. Now he is the No. 1 goalie for a Penguins team that is challenging for supremacy in the East. That is clearly dedication to the game of hockey.

Ed Jovanovski has missed portions of the previous two seasons because of recurring groin problems. This year, he is among the best defensemen out there and is a primary reason that the surprising Coyotes are challenging for a playoff spot. Calgary's Owen Nolan is the third candidate, running on a longevity platform. The Calgary forward has been healthy and productive for three seasons now after almost seeing his career derailed because of knee woes. He gets acknowledged for that run of success here.

Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy -- Alex Ovechkin has had some trouble scoring goals lately, but he still has a seven-goal lead on his closest competitor. His current six-game dry spell is an eternity for him. But it is also the reason he won't be caught. Ovechkin is too dynamic a scorer to go in prolonged slumps and none of his peers took advantage of this cold spell to close the gap. Not only does “AO” take the Rocket, but he does it by topping 60 goals.

Russians could conceivably sweep the top three positions in the goal race. Atlanta's Ilya Kovachuk currently sits second with 41 goals and Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin sits fourth with 36. Only Calgary's Jarome Iginla breaks the run of Russians at the moment, sitting in third with 38 goals. CTN sees Malkin passing both Iginla and Kovalchuk before the season is complete.

Well, that does it for the individual awards – at least those not voted on by the players themselves – and CTN feels a little more confident in his picks now that they have been justified in print. But CTN must admit, as The Clash said, this indecision's bugging me.

CTN would love to here your thoughts on how the individual trophy races will pan out. Feel free to drop a note with your picks and the reasons why to roarkeblog@nhl.com. Please include you name and hometown and then look for your submission to make an appearance in a future edition of the Penalty Box.

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