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Award picks: Malkin deserves Hart

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The regular season is in the rear-view mirror, but there's still the matter of picking major award winners.

The league will start releasing three finalists in each category on Wednesday, but we've already had a sneak preview at the final ballot tallies.

OK, maybe a sneak preview of one ballot is a more accurate assessment of the following.

Hart Trophy

For the player adjudged most valuable to his team, a definition often confused with who had the best individual season, there were five legitimate candidates – three forwards and two goalies.

As much as Tim Thomas meant to Boston and emerging rookie Steve Mason meant to Columbus, neither goalie was dominant enough to overshadow at least two of the three players skating up front.

Calgary captain Jarome Iginla was a finalist last year for the award, and while he might be again on the strength of 35 goals and 89 points while appearing in every Flames game, it's going to come down to two outstanding Russian rivals – Evgeni Malkin of Pittsburgh and Washington's Alexander Ovechkin.

Ovechkin got the nod last year when he received 128 of 134 first-place votes, and deservedly so for an outstanding season in which he led the Capitals back into the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The view from here is the skate is on the other foot. Ovechkin's Caps had a much smoother ride to the field of 16 while Malkin had to do more heavy lifting. He won the scoring title with 113 points, showed tremendous leadership and made more people around him better than Ovechkin, so the award goes to a Pittsburgh player for the second time in three seasons.

Norris Trophy

The award is defined as going to the defenseman who displays the greatest all-around ability at his position. But truth be told, voters are often conflicted whether to lean more toward the offensive side of things here. Because of that, this year's candidates offer an interesting debate.

Boston's Zdeno Chara is probably the most difficult defenseman to deal with these days, but he didn't crack the top-10 in defense scoring (although 12th with 50 points is nothing to sneeze at). Two of the better defense-first blueliners who deserve consideration are Chicago's Duncan Keith and Nashville's Shea Weber.

Then there's always Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit's classy captain, who has won the award six times, including each of the last three seasons. He finished third in defense scoring with 59 points on 16 goals (10 on the power play) and 43 assists. He was a whopping plus-31, accrued only 30 penalty minutes and appeared in all but four of the Red Wings' games.

Where voters are going to have to decide is throwing potential favorite Mike Green of Washington and even San Jose's offensively tilted Dan Boyle into the mix. Obviously both Green and Boyle are highly skilled in the offensive zone; Boyle more of a creator while Green a deadly goal-scorer. If you have to narrow the twosome to one, it's Green (more goals, more points and a better plus-minus).

Can Green unseat Lidstrom? Well, we say yes, this year he does. Green's record consecutive-game goal-scoring streak and the fact he bettered Lidstrom by 14 points while playing 10 fewer games, and didn't lag that far back in plus-minus (plus-24) suggests it's time for new blood at the top, at least for one year.

Vezina Trophy: This one's voted upon by the league's 30 general managers, so it becomes a bit more unpredictable. And just when you think they're smarter than the writers, recall some of the past Vezina winners or runners-up (Jim Carey, Roman Cechmanek, Roman Turek, Jose Theodore, to name a few). But most of the time they get it right.

Henrik Lundqvist has been a finalist each of the first three seasons of his career, but that streak ends with Roberto Luongo supplanting the Rangers' netminder as a distant third-place finisher.

This year it's age vs. youth for the award – late-blooming Tim Thomas of the Bruins pitted against early-season call-up Steve Mason in Columbus.

Both were equally important to their team's respective fortunes, but Thomas had a more rounded supporting cast and Mason benefited from a defense-first system. Thomas was tops in goals-against average and save percentage while Mason topped out in shutouts. Nod here goes to Thomas, who played in seven fewer games, but has to be the sentimental choice.

Calder Trophy: Again, there was no shortage of outstanding rookies in the league.

Bobby Ryan was the best rookie forward with more goals and points than Chicago's Kris Versteeg, despite appearing in 14 fewer games. Drew Doughty was arguably the best of an excellent crop of rookie defensemen (unbelievable poise and minute-munching ability for his age), but there's no doubt who this award is going to – Mason of Columbus – for all the reasons spelled out in the previous category.

Selke Trophy: It may not be the sexiest award on the planet, but recognition for a forward's work on the defensive side of the puck is significant.

The award can be one built on reputation as much as execution, and to that end Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg of Detroit will garner consideration. Carolina's Rod Brind'Amour remains the most dominant faceoff man in the league. But the most dangerous forward in short-handed situations this season was Philadelphia captain Mike Richards, and for that reason he wins the award.

Lady Byng Trophy: It's still debatable whether a player really wants to get singled out for this piece of hardware – going to the man who exhibits the best sportsmanship – but it's a legitimate honor in our book.

To that end, and without further adieu, San Jose's Patrick Marleau (38 goals, 71 points and just nine minor penalties) edges Zach Parise of New Jersey and Martin St. Louis of Tampa Bay.

Jack Adams Award: There's no shortage of coaches who did an outstanding job around the league this season, which is an interesting occurrence since there were nine changes in the offseason and seven more once the season began.

While there was outstanding work done in San Jose (rookie Todd McLellan and a franchise-first Presidents' Trophy), New Jersey (Brent Sutter's work without Martin Brodeur for four months) in addition to Boston's Claude Julien, Detroit's Mike Babcock, Vancouver's Alain Vigneault and Chicago's Joel Quenneville, there's one who stands above the crowd.

The job performed by Andy Murray in St. Louis was superb and stunning. This was a Blues team that started the season thinking as much about development and improvement as finishing among the West's difficult-to-crack top eight. Then the team got decimated by injury. No matter, Murray's Blues rallied from a 15th-place standing near midseason to finish sixth. Incredible.

Bill Masterton Trophy: There are three outstanding candidates for perseverance and dedication, but in order we like Nashville's Steve Sullivan (returns after nearly two years off following multiple back surgeries), Florida's Richard Zednik (a productive and quick return from a near-fatal neck injury last February) and New Jersey's Scott Clemmensen, who as a career backup rarely got a chance behind Brodeur, went 25-13-1 in the veteran's absence to steady the ship.

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