Pass or Fail: Separate NHL Awards for Eastern, Western Conferences for 2013

Who is Jonas Brodin?

If you shrug your shoulders in a clueless fashion, chances are you’re not Swedish or a Minnesota Wild fan or Matt Cullen, seen embracing the 19-year-old defenseman in the image above.

You’re also probably not a Western Conference fan, because Brodin has been arguably the best rookie defenseman in the conference, skating with free-agent prize Ryan Suter and playing quality minutes.

More to the point: You’re probably an Eastern Conference fan, living in an intra-conference bubble in this truncated 2013 NHL season, with zero games against teams in the West.

Unless there’s a national groundswell that fuels his candidacy, Brodin won’t win the Calder. He may not even get more support than Dougie Hamilton of the Boston Bruins, crowned Prince of the Blue Line by Eastern-based media from the start of the season. Which means Brodin may not even get an invite to the NHL Awards, wherever the hell they’ll be this season.

(Bob McKenzie reported they won’t be in Vegas this year, which will reduce the number of pasty-skinned Caucasians visiting Sin City in late June by 0.001 percent.)

We’ve covered East Coast Bias before on this blog when it comes to media coverage and eventual NHL Awards voting. Maybe you believe in it, maybe you don’t. But consider this: Since it’s all West vs. West and East vs. East this season, why on earth would we honor one representative of the entire NHL with postseason hardware?

Shouldn’t we have separate awards for the East and West in this bizarre, anomalous season?

Michael Russo of the Star Tribune proffered that idea in a conversation this morning, and it makes a bit of sense now that we’re halfway through the season.

When we looked back at the voting in 1995’s lockout-shortened season – another East vs. East, West vs. West season – it was clear that voters followed the stats: Big numbers led to nominations and award winners. Nuance is lost when you’re overly relying on the stat sheet, rather than observation, to select you nominees.

Of course, some great things happened in the last 18 years: NBC Sports Network, NHL Network and NHL Center Ice. Every game, every night is usually available on some cable platform. Every highlight is available on NHLN or online. The information and context are there for every voter in the Professional Hockey Writers Association, the Broadcasters (Jack Adams) and the GMs (Vezina) to consume.

There are no excuses for not having seen, say, Oliver Ekman-Larsson mature into a dominant defenseman this season for the Phoenix Coyotes. (Or, conversely, Jonathan Huberdeau play better than even his sterling numbers would indicate for the Florida Panthers.)

But what about from a competitive standpoint?

It doesn’t make sense to honor one player in the performance-based awards – Norris, Calder, Selke, Vezina – when every NHL team isn't playing 29 others. The performances are self-contained within the conference; there’s really no comparing James Neal and Jeff Carter this season, despite the fact both have 17 goals. They’re like golfers competing in the same tournament, but playing through two completely different country clubs.

There’s an unmistakable Major League Baseball-before-interleague-play vibe for the NHL in 2013 – and say, don’t they have separate awards for hitters, pitchers and managers over there?

(Granted, the Western Conference doesn't have something like the designated hitter. What would be the hockey equivalent of that? The rover?)

So if the NHL wanted to split the competitive awards this season, I think I’d be for that, just for this season.

With two major exceptions: The Hart Trophy and the Jack Adams.

The Hart is the NHL’s most glorious award because it’s both micro and macro: It’s the “annual award given to the player judged to be the most valuable to his team.” Which essentially means the most valuable player in the NHL, but actually means the player who provides the most value to his team.

Thus, it doesn’t matter that Sidney Crosby’s numbers are inflated by not having to face quality opponents in the West. The only question is, “How has this player’s performance influenced that of his team?” And the answer is, “Chris Kunitz has 18 [expletive] goals this season.”

(Keep in mind this is a reading of the Hart Trophy as it actually should be, rather than just the de facto Player of the Year award it's been.)

The Adams is given to “the NHL coach adjudged to have contributed the most to his team's success.” Again, it’s an award that balances measurable success on the ice with an abstract notion of “successful contribution.” It doesn’t matter that Bruce Boudreau’s Ducks never had to swing through the Northeast this season. What matters is how his system and game management have put the team light years ahead of where many predicted they’d finish this season.

That’s how I’d work it. Perhaps you’d go the full NL/AL split and have all the awards given twice in this odd season. Perhaps you think this idea is hot garbage because you’re a traditionalist at heart, which of course means this year’s Stanley Cup champion will wear a giant asterisk around its neck for all time. Yes, especially if the Leafs win.

So, with that …

Pass or Fail: Separate NHL Awards for Eastern, Western Conferences for 2013.