As the clock ran out on the NHL season last night, it was a perfect time to step back and reflect on what was a pretty solid NHL season when all was said and done. This season gave us quite a few things to remember... Rick DiPietro's monster 15-year contract, an outstanding crop of new young talent, the Pens staying in Pittsburgh, Vote for Rory, the Buffalo/Ottawa brawl, Mike Modano becoming #1 on the all-time American-born goal scoring list, and this:
As I look back on the season that was, I might as well start at the end. The Ducks took the Senators out behind the proverbial woodshed to claim the first Stanley Cup in their brief history. Ottawa looked like they had no business being on the same ice as the Ducks as they were pummeled into submission early and often. They did manage to avoid a sweep thanks to some generous officiating in game 3, but they were never really in this series. I predicted a Ducks victory, but I thought Ottawa had more of a fight in them. I guess they showed me. Congrats to the Ducks, old time hockey is back!
Now to the Awards!
- Rookie of the Year: Jordan Staal. All bias aside, choosing between Staal and fellow Penguin Evgeni Malkin was tough. Malkin has all the skill in the world, but seems to lack the fire at times. Staal on the other hand looks like he's giving you everything he's got on every shift and has a knack for coming up with big plays at big times. The bottom line, if I was Ray Shero and Mario told me I could only keep one of these two, Malkin would be on the way out of town.
- Defenseman of the Year: Scott Niedermeyer. One of the most under appreciated players of the modern era. Niedermeyer is the ultimate professional and was the heartbeat of a Ducks team that was outstanding from game 1 of the season all the way up through the Finals. This guy does it all with little fanfare, but true hockey fans recognize what he brings to the ice every game. His Conn Smythe award was well earned.
- Goalie of the Year: Martin Brodeur. This was another tight race as Brodeur and Roberto Luongo both had monster years. At the end of the day though, Martin was just better. Leading the league in shutouts and setting an NHL record for wins is a pretty good way to lock up this award.
- Forward of the Year: Sidney Crosby. At the tender age of 19 Sid the Kid has already established himself as the premier player in the NHL. He is going to be the guy in the NHL for the next 10+ years.
- Coach of the Year: Michel Therrien. I know this is turning into the Penguins Show here, but this is a pretty easy call when you think about it. Therrien went into the season with the NHL's second-youngest team and second-lowest payroll and came out of it with one of the best team's in the league over the second half of the season. Nobody expected the Pens to make the playoffs this year, let alone challenge for the division title. When a young team exceeds expectations that much, you have to give the coach credit.
- Most Valuable Player: Sidney Crosby. Roberto Luongo is the only person who even comes close to Sid here. Luongo was huge for the Canucks all season long, but Sid simply was the Pens this year. During a tumultuous season Sid put the Penguins on his 19 year-old shoulders and carried them to the playoffs for the first time in 7 years. Oh, and he became the youngest scoring champion in any major professional sports league along the way. Throw in playing the last month plus with a broken foot and Sid has MVP written all over him.