Vegas Vacation: Avalanche Warning

Vegas baby, Vegas! A year ago, a disgruntled J.S. Giguere ripped his teammates’ effort level heading into the last week of the season stating that “Some guys are more worried about their Vegas trip at the end of the season than playing the games”. The veteran netminder went on to use poignant phrases like “it’s an embarrassment” and “there are no excuses” to describe the team’s play. This time around, a trip to Las Vegas has a very different meaning for the Avalanche; and it’s one that will even have Giggy giddy. Colorado’s success this season has put several of his teammates in a position to earn individual honors at the 2014 NHL Awards. These include his partner between the pipes, his former idol and current bench boss, and his new adopted son and roommate. In total, there will be four Avalanche representatives who will could walk away with some hardware at season’s end (which is more than what most people can say after a trip to Vegas). Without further adieu, here are you 2014 Avalanche nominees:

And the Calder Trophy goes to..

(Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)
(Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

Nathan MacKinnon. After a stellar (and well documented) rookie season, MacKinnon is all but a lock to walk away with the Calder Memorial Trophy in 2014. He currently leads rookies in all offensive categories and will likely finish the season with over 60 points. His main competition are two other impressive rookies out of Tampa Bay: Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat. Both have had incredible seasons for the Lightning, especially considering that Johnson was signed as a free agent and Palat was a 7th round pick in 2011. Although the points race will end up being close, MacKinnon will win based on the fact that what he has done as an 18 year old holds more weight than his 23 year old competitors. With a knee injury to Matt Duchene, MacKinnon will be asked to center the top line and will be relied upon to carry more of the offensive load for the Avalanche heading in to a first round match up against the Blackhawks.

The winner of the Jack Adams Trophy is..

Patrick Roy at Avalanche training camp (Kevin Goff/THW)
Patrick Roy instilled confidence in the Avalanche from day 1 of training camp (Kevin Goff/THW)

Patrick Roy. This trophy is more difficult to predict,  but St. Patrick has made his case to be at the head of the pack. He has taken a team that was a bottom dweller last season and turned them into a 100+ point team. Other than the obvious statistics related to the Avs’ wonderful season (like largest change in winning percentage from last season), it is truly impressive where this team sits in relation to the franchise as a whole. They reached 40 wins faster than any other team in franchise history, have reached 100 points for the first time since 2003/04 and are set to finish with their highest point total since winning the President’s Trophy and Stanley Cup in 2000/01. Pretty amazing, considering that team was full of current or future Hall of Famers.

The coaches standing in Roy’s way could be any of former winners Claude Julien and Ken Hitchcock, fellow rookie coach Jon Cooper or two time gold medalist Mike Babcock. Of these contenders, it seems that Babcock would be Roy’s fiercest competition for the award. He has never been recognized with the honor despite having an incredible coaching resume. In past years he has been overlooked because of the amount of skill on his team, but this season the Red Wings have been ravaged by injuries – especially to their top players. With the help of Gustav Nyquist, Babcock has led a team of rookies and sophmores to what looks like  playoff spot. It remains to be seen whether this will be enough to trump Roy’s season, but he will put up a good fight.

Varlamov for Vezina

Semyon Varlamov has been Colorado’s undisputed MVP this season. Francois Allaire has worked wonders for the young Russian, who has always shown glimpses of talent to be an elite goaltender but has struggled with consistency because of injuries.  He leads the league in wins with 37, while having 4 fewer games started than his closest competitors. Varlamov is also tied with Ben Bishop for second with a 0.926 save percentage. Where his statistics will hurt him are his GAA and shutout numbers compared to other Vezina candidates. He is almost a half goal worse than Rask and Bishop with a 2.49 GAA and has only one shutout while Rask and Bishop are the top two goalies in the league in that category (unfortunately for Varly, he has been robbed of 2 shutouts in the final minute of a game). However, there are some other, more telling stats to consider. For example, Varlamov actually has a losing record when facing less than 30 shots a game (8-10-2), which seems counter intuitive. There is also this little tidbit:

This tells us that not only is Varlamov the most relied upon goaltender in the league, but that he also thrives in this role. Ultimately the award seems to be Rask’s to lose at this point, but Varlamov is firmly in second spot with Bishop’s inconsistencies since the Olympic break. What is encouraging is how Varlamov has been able to sustain this level of play behind a questionable defense core, and has even improved on his play following the Olympics. He will need to continue this stretch into the playoffs if the Avalanche hope to get by the Blackhawks in the first round. Either way, the 25 year-old has asserted himself as an elite goalie in the league and will be a major part of the Avalanche for years to come.

Ryan O’Reilly the Gentleman

O’Reilly must be a hit with the ladies if he is as gracious off the ice as he is on it. The converted left winger waited until his 72nd game to get his first penalty of the season for playing with a broken stick.  He was the first player since Butch Goring in 1980-81 to go over 70 games without a penalty. He has done all this while leading the Avalanche in goals, producing 58 points and leading the league with 76 takeaways. He put his takeaway skill on display in the first game of the season with a vintage Ryan O’Reilly goal:

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These statistics would have Lady Byng trophy written all over him, if it weren’t for Tyler Seguin. Seguin currently sits 5th in the NHL with 76 points in 72 games and has only 6 PIMS to his name. Since 05/06, Marty St.Louis or Pavel Datsyuk have owned the Lady Byng, except when Brian Campbell won it 2 seasons ago. What will work against O’Reilly is that both Datsyuk and St. Louis consistently finished in the top 10 in scoring in the league the years they won.

However, this statistic is deceiving. The official description for the Lady Byng is, “awarded to player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability”. So, it will all depend on the how the members of the Professional Hockey Writer’s Association (who determine the winner) define “high standard of play”. As we have seen with the Hart Trophy, the description does not always matter. It could be that the difference in points could give Seguin the award by default. Common sense seems to dictate the opposite. It is more difficult to prevent a goal and not take a penalty than being an offensive powerhouse, and there is no question that Ryan O’Reilly is the superior defensive forward. Only time will tell. O’Reilly could also be in the hunt for the Selke trophy, but the last time a winger received that honour was Jere Lehtinen in 2002/03. One thing is certain, O’Reilly’s tremendous season will earn him a nice pay check in the offseason.


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