Tonight, the stars will shine even brighter in Las Vegas when the NHL Awards take place. And this time, what happens in Vegas won’t just stay there.
There are three Pittsburgh Penguins up for awards — Sidney Crosby for the Hart Memorial Trophy, Jim Rutherford for GM of the Year and Pascal Dupuis for the Masterton Trophy. Here’s a look at their chances and who we think will take home the hardware.
Hart Memorial Trophy (NHL MVP)
Finalists: Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins), Patrick Kane (Chicago Blackhawks), Jamie Benn (Dallas Stars)
Why Crosby will win:
In December, mentioning “Crosby” and “Hart Memorial Trophy” in the same sentence would have seemed like a not-so-funny joke. The Penguins had fallen out of the playoff standings, Crosby wasn’t invited to play in the All-Star Game and the centerman was producing lackluster numbers (just 19 points in 28 games).
After the All-Star break, though, Crosby’s 44 points helped the Penguins rebound — all the way to the Stanley Cup.
Without Crosby’s turnaround, the Penguins wouldn’t have made the playoffs. Crosby adapted well to the changing team tone led by new head coach Mike Sullivan, and Crosby helped the rest of the team embrace it. He was the backbone of this Pittsburgh team, and he held the team in place when fellow star Evgeni Malkin was out with an injury. While Crosby’s numbers were good (85 points — 36 G, 49 A), it’s his intangibles that were so important. Crosby makes everyone around him better, and that’s priceless.
In Kane’s case, he might not have even been the MVP of the Chicago Blackhawks — just look at the other big names: centerman Jonathan Toews, goaltender Corey Crawford, defenseman Duncan Keith. If Kane hadn’t played the way he did, it likely wouldn’t have changed the outcome of the Blackhawks’ season. And the NHL MVP award should reward the player who was instrumental in setting his team up for success.
Benn was second in the league in points (89) and third in goals (41). He played in all 82 games for the Stars and helped lead them to the playoffs. Benn is the Stars’ first player to be a Hart Trophy finalist — but he didn’t have to save his team’s season.
Why Crosby won’t win:
This is really Kane’s award to lose. This season, he became the first American-born player to lead the league in scoring (106 points) — as such, he won his first Art Ross Trophy, awarded to the league’s point leader — and his 26-game point streak was the longest ever by an American.
The right winger was flashy, quick and tough. The Blackhawks were one the of the most feared teams in the NHL, and Kane’s scoring was a large part of that. When Chicago was having trouble offensively, Kane stepped up, and his line produced phenomenally.
Voters often like to reward numbers, and no one’s were better than Kane’s.
Prediction: Patrick Kane
Hart Memorial Trophy odds, via Bovada: Patrick Kane (1/10), Sidney Crosby (7/1), Jamie Benn (7/1)
General Manager of the Year
Finalists: Jim Rutherford (Pittsburgh Penguins), Brian MacLellan (Washington Capitals), Jim Nill (Dallas Stars)
Why Rutherford will win:
Jim Rutherford very well may have been the team MVP this year. In the offseason, he brought in Phil Kessel, who was crucial to the team’s play in the second half of the season and was even better in the playoffs as part of that epic “HBK” line. Rutherford also traded the ill-fitting David Perron for Carl Hagelin, whose speed helped Pittsburgh find its new identity.
Rutherford dealt Brandon Sutter for Nick Bonino, giving the team an upgrade at center. And Rutherford convinced Matt Cullen to don the black and gold, and Cullen’s fourth-line production was huge.
The Penguins traded Rob Scuderi for Trevor Daley, whose defense was crucial in giving the Penguins stability. And Rutherford also brought in another veteran defender, Ian Cole, for Robert Bortuzzo. Oh, and the general manager managed to bring Ben Lovejoy back to Pittsburgh.
But, wait, there’s more.
Rutherford made crucial moves bringing players from the Penguins’ AHL-affiliate Wilkes-Barre Scranton up to primetime. Recognize the names Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust, Tom Kuhnhackl, Derrick Pouliot? All those young guys helped redefine who the Penguins were: and that, apparently, was Stanley Cup champions.
Still, of all Rutherford’s big moves, handing the head coaching reins to Mike Sullivan was the smartest. Rutherford got rid of Mike Johnston, who struggled to start the season, and Sullivan provided the Penguins with the fire and the system that allowed Pittsburgh to succeed.
Rutherford was the real key in the Penguins hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup this season.
Why Rutherford won’t win:
Honestly, there’s no reason why Rutherford shouldn’t win.
MacLellan’s Capitals had the best regular season of any team, and Washington was the runaway winner of the Presidents’ Trophy as the top regular-season club (56-18-8, 120 points). Last summer, MacLellan signed forward Justin Williams and traded for T.J. Oshie.
Under Nill, the Stars had the most points in the Western Conference. He brought in defenseman Johnny Oduya, forward Patrick Sharp and goaltender Antti Niemi. Under his guidance, Dallas reached the 50-win milestone for just the fourth time in franchise history.
But what both MacLellan and Nill did absolutely pales in comparison to the moves Rutherford made in Pittsburgh.
Prediction: Jim Rutherford
Masterton Trophy (for perseverance and dedication to hockey)
Finalists: Pascal Dupuis (Pittsburgh Penguins), Jaromir Jagr (Florida Panthers), Mats Zuccarello (New York Rangers)
Why Dupuis will win:
As much as players love hardware, the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy isn’t something NHL players are clamoring for. It’s awarded to the player who “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to ice hockey.” So, the award is often given to a player who overcomes huge odds or a severe injury. (Minnesota Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk won it last year after resurrecting his career; Rangers centerman Dominic Moore won it the year before after continuing to play after his wife was diagnosed with cancer; and Wild goaltender Josh Harding took the trophy home in 2013 after continuing to play despite being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.)
But, even if he would rather hoist the Hart trophy, Dupuis certainly fits the mold for the Masterton Trophy.
The Pittsburgh favorite had to retire on Dec. 8 due to a life-threatening injury related to blood clots. Dupuis tried to play on blood thinner medication (he played 18 games that way) before doctors told him playing wouldn’t be good for his long-term health. (If you haven’t read Dupuis’ piece in the Players’ Tribune about his decision to leave the game, you should. And grab tissues.)
Dupuis was first diagnosed with the blood clot in January 2014 after tearing ligaments in his knee. He was put on medication and returned for the start of the 2014-15 season before having to sit on the bench for the rest of the year after being diagnosed with a blood clot in his lung. He got the “OK” to play in 2015, but several scary incidents convinced him it was time to hang up his skates.
Now, Dupuis assists Pittsburgh’s players and coaches. He watches the team’s games in the press box, attends team practices and traveled with the team in the playoffs. (Who can forget the sight of him raising that Stanley Cup?)
Why Dupuis won’t win:
It almost seems ridiculous that there’s a “winner” of this trophy.
But, Mats Zuccarello has a standout story, too.
During the 2015 playoffs, the Rangers’ winger was hit in the head by a slapshot and, for four days, lost the ability to speak. He was diagnosed with a brain contusion, and he had to recover feeling in his arm.
This season, Zuccarello returned in force, playing 81 games and posting career-high numbers in points (61) and goals (26). His 61 points led the Rangers, and he was second on the team in both goals and assists (35).
But is there anyone who exemplifies “perseverance” more than the 44-year-old Jaromir Jagr (who, let’s remember, began his career with the Penguins more than a quarter century ago and twice raised the Cup in the black and gold)? The forward continues to toy with Father Time — Jagr just won’t slow down. He was the Panthers’ top scorer, and he led the team with 66 points (becoming the oldest player in the league to cross that 60-point threshold). He was also named to his 13th All-Star Game.
Prediction: Honestly, they all should win. Give all three of them this darn award.
Tune in for the NHL Award Show (hosted by Will Arnett) tonight on NBCSN at 7 p.m. EDT (4 p.m. PDT). A live stream can be found here.
Image credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images