Last week the league advertised souvenir Alexander Ovechkin T-shirts online until the, um, presumptuous item was conspicuously removed from the website. And the Washington Capitals have reportedly already scheduled a celebration soiree in Alex The Great's honor.
OK, so maybe there isn't much suspense in who is going to be named the winner of the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player to his team during the regular season Thursday night in Toronto. That shouldn't stop us from taking a look at the candidates for each award and predicting an outcome.
Hart Trophy: The three finalists include Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin, Calgary's Jarome Iginla and Ovechkin. Malkin was spectacular, especially when teammate and Penguins captain Sidney Crosby missed significant time during the second half of the season with injuries. Malkin's production increased in the games Crosby missed, and the 21-year-old Russian was the only player besides Ovechkin to reach the 100-point plateau during the season.
Iginla scored 50 goals, third most in the league and the top goal-scorer in the Western Conference. He finished third in the scoring race, but did more than rack up points. The Flames captain was a true leader, displaying a solid two-way game. He was tough, physical and still managed to lead his team in scoring by a wide margin.
But Ovechkin was the most dominant player in the league. Remember, these awards are for regular-season play, and the 22-year-old was unparalleled in his success, considering he led an upstart Capitals team into the postseason.
In terms of numbers, Ovechkin won the Rocket Richard Trophy (top goal-scorer) with 65, led the league in scoring with 112 points, supplied his team with 11 game-winning goals and put an astonishing 446 shots on net.
Predicted winner: Ovechkin.
Lester B. Pearson Award: Here's where it gets interesting for Ovechkin. This is the league's "outstanding player" award as decided by the players. If Ovechkin wins this, which he should, he could become the first player in league history to take home the Hart, Pearson, Richard and Ross awards. All of a sudden, that midseason league-record 13-year, $124-million contract extension doesn't look ridiculous.
Predicted winner: Ovechkin again.
Vezina Trophy: It might be tough to get a read on this one since it's voted upon by the league's 30 general managers, unlike most of the other awards which are decided by select members of the Pro Hockey Writers' Association. The three finalists are New Jersey's Martin Brodeur, San Jose's Evgeni Nabokov and Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers.
Lundqvist was good early on, but wasn't consistent all the way through. And for whatever reason – maybe because he plays in New York and he's very popular with a picky fan base – his reputation outstrips his play. He's good, but he's not an elite goalie like the other two finalists.
Brodeur is probably the favorite based on reputation. He's won the award three times, and he posted great numbers again. But if the GMs do their homework, throw out any preconceived notions and judge who had the best season, they should be inclined to go with Nabokov.
He started the team's first 43 games and kept the Sharks in all games even though San Jose was not scoring early in the season. Nabokov led the league with 46 wins and was consistent from start to finish.
Predicted winner: Ovechkin, I mean Nabokov.
Norris Trophy: The finalists are Boston's Zdeno Chara, Calgary's Dion Phaneuf and Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom. If the league would have been selling Lidstrom/Norris paraphernalia last week, too, no one would have blinked an eye.
Chara is the best defenseman in the Eastern Conference, and Phaneuf, just capping his third NHL season, will certainly win one of these down the line. But that Stanley Cup he hoisted last week isn't the last piece of hardware Lidstrom will lift. Make that a sixth career Norris for the game's most graceful and efficient blueliner.
Predicted winner: Lidstrom.
Kane is the sentimental choice. He led the league in rookie scoring with 72 points, 51 on assists. He had dazzling offensive displays, but truth be told Toews was the better all-around player, scored more goals (24), but missed more than a month with an injury. Backstrom got better as the season went on, but his offensive exploits were overshadowed by what Ovechkin was doing. And Backstrom's stats got padded a bit because of his star teammate's production.
Predicted winner: Kane.
Selke Award: Two Red Wings – Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg – vie for the best defensive forward award with perennial candidate John Madden of the Devils. This is often a reputation award, and it takes a player two or three seasons to be recognized for his defensive prowess to garner consideration.
In this year's case, people should understand why the Red Wings were so stingy in goals-against, and how good they were at turning defense into offense. Their best two offensive players were their best two defensive forwards as well.
Zetterberg proved to be the best defensive forward in the playoffs, but what is going to hurt the Swedish star is the fact votes were calculated through only regular-season play. And because Datsyuk had more shining numbers (a league-high plus-40 compared to Zetterberg's plus-30), the Russian winger is probably going to get the nod.
Predicted winner: Datsyuk.
Jack Adams Award: Unfortunately there is room for only three finalists – Washington's Bruce Boudreau, Detroit's Mike Babcock and Montreal's Guy Carbonneau – but so many more could have finished in the top three, including Philadelphia's John Stevens, Nashville's Barry Trotz, Columbus' Ken Hitchcock, Boston's Claude Julien, Pittsburgh's Michel Therrien, Minnesota's Jacques Lemaire and Anaheim's Randy Carlyle.
The winner will probably go to the coach who brought his team the furthest, and in this case it's a coach who started the season in the minors. Boudreau relieved the fired Glen Hanlon and guided the Caps from nowhere to a playoff spot. Washington went 37-17-7 under Boudreau, and that will be enough to sway the voters.
Predicted winner: Boudreau.
Masterton Trophy: Awarded to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey, the finalists include Toronto's Jason Blake, Detroit's Chris Chelios and Edmonton's Fernando Pisani.
Chelios is on the list because of his longevity, the 46-year-old having completed his 24th NHL season. But when it comes to sportsmanship, well, let's remind everyone Chelios hasn't always skated through the handshake line at the end of the postseason like he did after winning his third Cup this spring.
Blake and Pisani are similar because both have battled serious illness to return to the game.
Blake was diagnosed in October with chronic myelogenous leukemia, a rare but treatable cancer. Despite the illness, Blake appeared in all 82 games for the Leafs. Pisani returned in December after missing time because of ulcerative colitis, a chronic inflammation of the large intestine. Once he returned, he did not miss a game.
Predicted winner: Blake