2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

Many Avalanche players deserving of individual accolades

Published: April 23, 2014, 1:33 am, by Angelo Stambene

At the conclusion of the playoffs many individual awards are given out, and though it’s not a Stanley Cup, it can be a sliver lining to a season that ended shy of the ultimate goal. Whether the Avalanche can raise Lord Stanley’s Cup has yet to be seen, but there are a handful of Avalanche players who are very deserving of the individual trophies.

The Hart Trophy is awarded to the most valuable player in the league, and this season a strong case will be made for the best forward in the world, Pittsburgh Penguins center Sydney Crosby. While Crosby tallied 104 points, and was the only player to eclipse the 100-point mark, the best player right now plays goalie for the Avalanche. Semyon Varlamov had the most wins in the regular season, 41, while facing the most shots in the league at 2,013. Pundits will point to Varlamov being the only goalie to see more than two thousand pucks as a fault of the defense, but without Varlamov’s saves, the Avs don’t make the playoffs. Varlamov’s .927 save percentage was second for featured goalies, just behind the Boston Bruins’ Tuukka Rask’s .930. As it is with everything, the only statistic that really matters is wins, and with 41 of those this season Varlamov should take home the Hart.

 

Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov takes a break during the second period of an NHL hockey game. (The Associated Press)

Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov takes a break during the second period of an NHL hockey game. (The Associated Press)

The Vezina Trophy goes to the best goaltender in the league, and not only is Varlamov the best player in the league right now, he’s also the best goalie. Tuukka Rask will be the most common name thrown around because he plays for an original six team in Boston, but Rask had fewer saves, 1,641 to Varlamov’s 2,013. The Colorado netminder also played more minutes 3,636 compared to Rask’s 3,386, and since both carry a similar save percentage, it all comes down to wins. Varlamov has two more wins than anyone else in the league, and has five more wins than Rask. For the wins and shots faced, Varlamov should also be taking home the Vezina Trophy.

The Calder Memorial Trophy is awarded to the best rookie in the league and the race was a great one. Initially it was between Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon and San Jose’s Tomas Hertl, but after Hertl injured his knee and missed 45 games, the Calder looked like it was MacKinnon’s to lose. MacKinnon finished with the most assists (39) of any rookie, and had the most points with 63. Ondrej Palat (59 points) and Tyler Johnson (50 points), both with Tampa Bay, put together impressive seasons and Tampa Bay looks to have a bright future. However, with MacKinnon’s lead in points, and tied for most goals by a rookie with Johnson at 24, MacKinnon should walk away with the honors. MacKinnon is also a natural center who was converted to right wing at the beginning of the season. With the rash of injuries that have hit the Avalanche, MacKinnon has bounced around positions and different line combinations both at center and wing magnificently.

The Frank J. Selke Award goes to the forward who has also excelled in the defensive aspects of the game. Announcers and experts will constantly talk about the need to play “a complete game” or about the importance of “playing 200 feet.” What that means, is players cannot just play their position (center, right or left wing) and expect to win a championship. Emphasis is put on a two-way forward who can play 200 feet, and Ryan O’Reilly is a premier two-way forward. This season O’Reilly scored 28 goals and also led the entire league in takeaways with 83, his second time accomplishing that feat. The Selke should be a one-horse race, and O’Reilly should run away with it.

Columbus Blue Jackets' James Wisniewski (21) tries to slow down Colorado's Ryan O'Reilly (90). (The Associated Press)

Columbus Blue Jackets’ James Wisniewski (21) tries to slow down Colorado’s Ryan O’Reilly (90). (The Associated Press)

The Lady Byng is handed out to the player who best combines sportsmanship, gentlemanly conduct and a high level of play. A yoga enthusiast who has a penchant for philosophy would fit that bill perfectly, and again it’s Ryan O’Reilly. Along with leading the Avalanche in goals scored this year, O’Reilly was ranked 30th in the league for goals buried this season. O’Reilly played in all but two games this year (80) and won 51.8 percent of his faceoffs. Playing the offensive side of the game well won’t land him the award alone, but his two penalty minutes this year should.

The Jack Adams is given to the best coach, and when Patrick Roy took over coaching duties in 2013, the Avalanche franchise was in a sad state of existence. During the 48-game season that followed the latest lockout, the Avs stumbled to 16 wins and were second to last, overall, in the standings. After drafting 18-year-old stud Nathan MacKinnon, the new coach began to change the culture of losing that had long permeated Colorado. With largely the same team that had won 16 games last season the Avalanche started winning games to the surprise of nearly everyone. Roy instilled confidence in former No. 1 overall pick, Erik Johnson, who many had

Minnesota Wild right wing Jason Pominville (29) is checked into the boards by Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson (6). (The Associated Press)

Minnesota Wild right wing Jason Pominville (29) is checked into the boards by Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson (6). (The Associated Press)

called a bust for not living up to his potential. Roy helped turn Johnson into a legitimate No. 1 defenseman, and helped transform Semyon Varlamov into the No. 1 goalie that Colorado has been looking for since Craig Anderson was traded. Roy has defied conventional coaching wisdom by pulling his goalies with as much as five minutes remaining in regulation, and the league has taken notice. After steamrolling to 52 wins, and third most points in the league, Roy has turned this organization around and is more than deserving of the Jack Adams.