After a season that saw them finish with 109 points, the most since they won the Stanley Cup in 1994, the New York Rangers were well-represented in terms of nominees for awards at the NHL Awards show in Las Vegas on Wednesday. However, only Henrik Lundqvist walked away with hardware, winning the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's best goaltender.
At 30 years old and after being nominated three times in his career for the award, King Henrik finally won the award, which is voted on by the NHL's 30 general managers. Lundqvist beat out the Kings' Jonathan Quick and the Predators' Pekka Rinne. Quick seemed like the only legitimate competitor, but Lundqvist's 1.97 goals-against average (1.95 for Quick), .930 save percentage (.929 for Quick) and 39-18-5 record (35-21-13 for Quick) helped him earn 120 points (17 of 30 first-place votes) compared to 63 for Quick and 42 for Rinne.
Lundqvist was a finalist in 2006-08, but he's always been the backbone of the Rangers' success. With a little more rest, he took his game to another level this season and was the reason why the Rangers were the Eastern Conference's best team. A young team, with an inexperienced defensive core still gaining their footing in the NHL meant Lundqvist was called on often to be the calming force and keep his team in the game. He did that throughout the season and was a joy to watch, just like he's been throughout his career. King Henrik also notched eight shutouts.
Lundqvist was also up for the Hart Trophy as the league's Most Valuable Player, but he really had very little chance to win it with the Penguins' Evgeni Malkin in the running. With Sidney Crosby in the lineup or not, Malkin was a beast on the ice this season, scoring a career-high 50 times and tallying 109 points, far and away the best mark in the NHL (by 12 points). There are only a few players with the size, strength and skill to take over a game, and Malkin is that type of athlete.
Coach John Tortorella was another Ranger nominated for an award, as he was included in the finalists for the Jack Adams Award as the best coach during the regular season. Tortorella finished second to the Blues' Ken Hitchcock, who took over the team after a 6-7-0 and steered them to a 45-15-11 record with him behind the bench. Both squads finished with 109 points, the Rangers improving from 93 the year prior and the Blues from 87. Yet it was Hitchcock who finished with an overwhelming 63 first-place votes to five for Tortorella, which seems like too big of a gap to me. Even after adding Richards, the Rangers were considered a bottom-of-the-conference playoff team in the preseason. They never scored a ton, but Tortorella has molded his young group very impressively and they played very consistently all year. As the year went on, there became more doubters instead of believers, yet Tortorella was able to get maximum effort and value out of his guys. That's the sign of an excellent coach. Hitchcock did a splendid job in St. Louis, I just don't think the difference between the two was that steep.
Ryan Callahan finished fourth in the Selke voting, which goes to the most skilled defensive forward. Patrice Bergeron was the winner. Callahan didn't earn enough respect for his efforts on defense. He's not the type to pick pocket a lot of puck handlers or play a finesse style of defense, instead using his physicality and sheer will in giving up his body as his defensive style. Bergeron is the rightful winner, but the Rangers' captain is now on the map and could see a rise in the final "standings" next season.
Carl Hagelin finished fifth in the Calder Trophy race, which goes to the best rookie and was awarded to the Avalanche's Gabriel Landeskog, who had 52 points and already has an NHL-ready defensive game. Hagelin's nod was nice to see; he finished sixth in points among rookies with 38, though he slowed as the year went on. His value is also seen a lot more through his speed and forechecking ability as well.
The Norris Trophy, awarded to the best all-around defenseman, went to the Senators' Erik Karlsson. Karlsson had an absurd 78 points as a 22-year-old, and that certainly weighed tilted the scale in his favor, even if he's not yet as good defensively as the Predators' Shea Weber. It was nice to see Dan Girardi (sixth), Ryan Mcdonagh (11th) and Michael Del Zotto (12th) get some recognition. One of them surely could vault into at least the top ten next season.