Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Handing Out the Penguins Regular Season Awards

The Penguins finished the regular season with 49 wins and 106 points, tied for second place in the Eastern Conference and third overall. (Many writers are noting where these numbers rank in franchise history, but because of the new shootout rules that isn't comparing apples-to-apples.) Even with injuries to Sidney Crosby, Evgeny Malkin, Jordan Staal, Brooks Orpik, Chris Kunitz and host of others the Penguins season was successful by any standard. Let's hand out some awards before the second season begins tonight.

MVP: There is zero question in my mind that Sidney Crosby would have filled his trophy case had he stayed healthy this year. He certainly would have won the Hart for League MVP and the Lindsay for Most Outstanding Player. He probably would have won the Richard for most goals and let's toss in the scoring title as well. But Sid missed the second half of the season and Penguins fans are anxiously waiting to see if he returns for the playoffs. It's worth noting that Sid led the team in scoring by 16 points despite missing 41 games.

You can't argue with the players' choice of Marc-Andre Fleury as the team MVP. Fleury had a terrible October, but was strong the rest of the year. He finished 36-20-5 with a .918 save percentage and was spectacular in shootouts, though that won't help in the playoffs. Despite his great work I have trouble giving the MVP to a goalie. The position is so unique in all of sports that it really deserves it's own category, so Fleury wins the team Vezina.

I am giving the award to Head Coach Dan Bylsma. Bylsma did an outstanding job of keeping the team focused and consistent in its style of play despite the onslaught of injuries. The Penguins didn't change their game, they just plugged different guys in and continued to roll. As Steelers coach Mike Tomlin likes to say, the standard is the standard, and Bylsma had the Penguins play at a high level all year. He will certainly be a finalist for the Jack Adams and was rightly rewarded with a three-year extension during the season.

Most Underrated: Former Phoenix Coyotes defenseman Zbynek Michalek was signed to a five-year, $20 million contract in the off-season. So far he has been worth every penny. With the Penguins scoring punch decimated by injury, the defense had to elevate their play and nobody did more than Michalek. Along with new-signee Paul Martin, Z is constantly paired against the other team's top line. Quietly he has had an outstanding year. His offensive surge the last 20 games has been a nice added bonus as well.

Most Surprising: TY-LER KENNEDY! KENNEDY! 21 goals and 45 points for a guy who might not have made the team out of training camp were it not for injuries to some other forwards. A breakout season for a guy literally willing to shoot from anywhere, as evidenced by his 9.0 shooting percentage.

Most Improved: There are plenty of guys nominated for this one. Ben Lovejoy and Deryk Engelland are obvious candidates, although each had a few rough patches during the season. Chris Kunitz and Pascual Dupuis both elevated their play in the absence of Crosby and Malkin. Tyler Kennedy chipped in with 21 goals. But I am giving the award to Mark Letestu. Letestu really settled in at center when he was asked to play a top six role. It will be interesting to see how Bylsma uses him in the playoffs and what happens next year when everyone is healthy.

Breakout Star: Kris Letang emerged as one of the top offensive defenseman in the game this campaign. Tanger, who turns 24 later this month, was squarely in the Norris conversation at the midpoint of the season, but his play tailed off slightly with his heavy minutes and the absence of defensive partner Brooks Orpik. Reminding fans of a young Paul Coffey at times, Letang should be a perennial all-star going forward.

Most Frustrating: This is a no-brainer and it goes to the guy who sometimes seems to play without a brain, Matt Cooke. Loved in the locker room and known as a kind and charitable guy off the ice, Cooke continues to frustrate the team, their fans and the League with his head shots and dirty play. With the Penguins taking the lead in trying to cutdown head shots, Cooke embarrassed everyone with his elbow to the head during a nationally-televised game. The good news is Cooke finally seems to understand. The bad news is that if it happens one more time, he may never play again.

He's Gonna Be Missed: This is a tough one to give out because I, along with most of the team's fans, have come to really appreciate what this team has done. So many role players have stepped-up and worked hard every night and played with a ton of passion despite losing so many guys to injury. But, the reality is the Penguins have a ton of unrestricted free agent forwards and they aren't going to be able to sign them all. Dupuis, Kovalev, Talbot, Rupp, Asham, Goddard, Adams, Comrie and Connor are all UFAs after the season. Keep that in mind when you watch this playoff run. While I doubt Kovalev and Goddard will be back, they haven't been instrumental in the team's success this regular season. This award goes to Maxime Talbot. Forever etched into Penguins lore with his two goals in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals and loved by teammates and fans, there is at least a chance Superstar won't be back next year. If so, he will be missed.

The Man: Mario is, was and always will be The Big Man. Sidney is the heir apparent. But this award goes to Ray Shero. Shero continues to do an extraordinary job of managing the roster and salary cap. Strong drafts, smart free agent signings, not overvaluing his own players and great trades have made the Penguins the envy of a lot of organizations. This year he added James Neal, Alex Kovalev and Matt Niskanen at the deadline. The fact that you can point to the Alexei Ponikarovsky deal last year as one that didn't work out means the exception proves the rule. Shero is the man behind the curtain pulling all the strings and nobody does it better.

1 comment:

Jbtodd106 said...

MVP honorable mention to the trainers and doctors