Thankfully, it appears we should have labor peace in the four major American sports leagues for the next several seasons after the NHL owners resolved their ugly lockout with the players recently. It was the third lockout among the Big 4 in about a year – amazingly, baseball appears to have the best owners-union relationship going right now – but at least it didn’t cause another lost hockey season.
The truncated 48-game regular season, in which teams will play opponents only within their own conference, begins Saturday. So the season props are rolling out big-time this week. Let’s take a look at Bovada’s odds for the major awards and my thoughts.
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The favorite to be named the NHL’s Most Valuable Player, as is usually the case, is Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby at 4/1. Crosby is by far the league’s most popular player, and that’s always relevant when voting on an MVP. And he’s also the NHL’s most talented player – the only question is Crosby’s health. Concussion issues knocked him out for the second half of the 2010-11 season and limited Crosby to 22 games a year ago. But in those 22 games, Crosby had a stellar 37 points. Now he’s 100 percent healthy, with no signs of headaches. If Crosby plays the full season, I don’t see how he doesn’t win the award because the Pens should be terrific again.
The remaining favorites are Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos (6/1), Washington’s Alex Ovechkin, Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux and Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin (all 13/2). Ovechkin was the last repeat winner, taking home the Hart in 2008 and ’09. His production has slipped dramatically since then, but the Caps are switching back to an offensive system that should free him up again.
Stamkos led the league with 60 goals last year, when he was a Hart Finalist, and tied for the lead with Crosby at 51 in 2009-10. He is the 11/4 favorite to win the Rocket Richard Trophy again as the NHL’s goals leader, followed by Ovechkin and Crosby at 4/1. Giroux had his best season in 2011-12 with 28 goals and 65 assists in 77 games for the deep Flyers. Philly hasn’t had a Hart Trophy winner since Eric Lindros in 1994-95. Malkin won his first Hart Trophy a year ago in leading the NHL with 109 points and finishing second to Stamkos with 50 goals. Even without Crosby to take some of the pressure off most of the season, Malkin had three points streaks of at least eight games and two goal-scoring streaks of at least five games.
The same five favorites for the Hart Trophy are the favorites for the Art Ross Trophy as the points leader: Crosby (11/4), Malkin (5/1), Ovechkin (13/2), Stamkos (13/2) and Giroux (10/1 – also Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin at that number). Last year’s Ross Trophy was Malkin’s second (2008-09). No player has repeated as the Ross winner since Jaromir Jagr won four straight from 1998-2001.
I don’t think you can go wrong with Crosby on the MVP – he will win it should he stay healthy. I do like the Canucks’ Henrik Sedin to win the Ross Trophy for the second time in four seasons as he will have a ton of assists. Sedin had a disappointing 81 points last season, his lowest since 2007-08. On the Richard Trophy, I would roll the dice on the Rangers’ Rick Nash at 28/1. It’s great value, and Nash finally has major talent around him after carrying the Blue Jackets by himself for years.
Last year, the award for top goaltender went to the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist, his first Vezina. The Rangers led the East in points thanks largely to King Henrik. He had 39 of the Rangers' 51 wins and set single-season personal-bests with a 1.97 goals-against average and .930 save percentage along with eight shutouts. Lundqvist also was a Hart finalist, the first goaltender to do that since the 2006-07 season. No goalie has won the award since Montreal’s Jose Theodore following the 2001-02 season. I don’t recommend taking a goalie to win the Hart – it’s sort of like a pitcher winning league MVP in baseball. I know Justin Verlander did that in 2011, but it’s an exception to the rule.
Lundqvist is the 4/1 favorite to repeat. No player has done that since New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur in 2007-08. I would recommend taking a goalie from the Eastern Conference to win the Vezina. Since the turn of the century, the only goalie from a Western Conference team to win it is Calgary’s Miikka Kiprusoff in 2005-06.
L.A.’s Jonathan Quick is the 5/1 second-favorite. He was unbelievable in the Kings’ Stanley Cup run in being named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner. Quick allowed more than two goals only twice all last postseason. In 10 games, he allowed either one goal or recorded a shutout. His .940 save percentage was one of the best ever. But let’s not forget the Kings weren’t all that great during the season – not that it was the fault of goaltending – as the West’s No. 8 seed. No goalie on a mediocre regular-season team will win the Vezina.
My pick is Boston’s Tuukka Rask at 12/1. Tim Thomas is gone, so the No. 1 job is clearly Rask’s. He started just 22 games last season but he had a sparkling 2.05 GAA and three shutouts. Plus, Rask is currently on a one-year contract, so he’s in line for big money with a huge season. He also should be sharp from the start as Rask played 21 games in the Czech Republic during the lockout.
It’s always hard to quantify who the league’s best defenseman is each season. Do you give it to the defenseman with the most points? Best plus/minus? Last year, the voters went with offense as Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson won the Norris for the first time. He led all defensemen with 78 points, 25 more than anybody else at his position. Then 22, Karlsson was the youngest winner of the award since the Islanders' Denis Potvin in 1976. Karlsson was a solid plus-16, but that was hardly the best at his position. The other two finalists a season ago were defensive defensemen: Boston's Zdeno Chara and Nashville's Shea Weber.
Those three are the opening favorites with Karlsson at 4/1, Chara at 9/2 and Weber at 13/2. Repeating as the Norris winner is old hat, as Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom, now retired, won three straight Norris Trophies twice on the way to seven all-time, one behind record-holder Bobby Orr. Chara was the 2009 Norris winner and was third in the NHL last season at plus-33. He’s always among the leaders in that category. Weber had 49 points, and a plus/minus of plus-21, last season. But he could be easier to be neutralized this season with the departure of fellow star blueliner Ryan Suter to Minnesota. Suter is 10/1 on this prop.
I would take Chara because there’s not a physical force like him and the Bruins will again be one of the league’s top defensive teams.
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