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The more valuable: Jagr or Thornton?
By TOM JONES
Published April 23, 2006
The regular season is over. But there is one more order of business to take care of before we put it to rest.
HART TROPHY (MVP): Jaromir Jagr was our far-and-away pick until a few days ago, when we realized the amazing numbers posted by San Jose's Joe Thornton. He had 96 assists. Ninety-six! He ended up leading the league in scoring. More impressive, when he was traded from Boston, the Sharks were feeding on the bottom of the Western Conference, and now they are in the playoffs.
Still, the Sharks were supposed to be much better than the Rangers. New York had a tremendous season because it followed the lead of Jagr and rookie goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
1. Jagr; 2. Thornton; 3. Lundqvist.
NORRIS (TOP DEFENSEMAN): Scott Niedermayer proved how talented he is. He went to a Mighty Ducks team that no one expected to be any good, and it turned into a Cup contender. He's the reason. But Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom, day in and day out, might be the best in hockey. He certainly dictates the game like no other player.
1. Lidstrom; 2. Niedermayer; 3. Sergei Zubov, Stars.
VEZINA (TOP GOALIE): Based on our MVP voting, we should say Lundqvist. But if we were starting a team, our goalie pick would be Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff, who finished first in goals-against average (2.07) and shutouts (10), second in victories (42) and third in save percentage (.923). We'll stick with Lundqvist because the Rangers defense is not as solid as Calgary's. One more thing: In mid December, did you think New Jersey's Martin Brodeur (43-23-7, 2.57 GAA) would be this great again?
1. Lundqvist; 2. Kiprusoff; 3. Brodeur.
CALDER (BEST ROOKIE): This was supposed to be Sidney Crosby's award, and the 18-year-old Penguins star did not disappoint by becoming the youngest player to collect 100 points in a season. But Washington's Alex Ovechkin was not only the best rookie, but, arguably, the best player in the NHL. With Calgary defenseman Dion Phaneuf and Lundqvist, this is one of the strongest rookie classes in history. But this is a no-brainer.
1. Ovechkin; 2. Crosby; 3. Lundqvist.
JACK ADAMS (COACH OF THE YEAR): Plenty of candidates. There's Tom Renney with the Rangers, Lindy Ruff in Buffalo, Peter Laviolette in Carolina. All took teams not expected to do much and coached them to outstanding seasons. Good teams exceeding high expectations were Detroit ( Mike Babcock), Dallas ( Dave Tippett) and Ottawa ( Bryan Murray). None of those would be outlandish picks.
But no coach had to deal with more adversity (injuries, goaltending controversies, personal) than Ruff, who led the Sabres to a shocking 110 points.
1. Ruff; 2. Renney; 3. Laviolette.
SELKE (DEFENSIVE FORWARD): This has changed in recent years from the best checker to the best offensive player who also pays attention to defense. Under the new way of looking at it, Carolina's Rod Brind'Amour is the pick. He can score (31 goals, 39 assists), can check (plus-8) and takes all the key faceoffs.
1. Brind'Amour; 2. Jere Lehtinen, Stars; 3. Martin Gelinas, Panthers.
BIGGEST SURPRISE (TEAM): Before the season, this column predicted the Rangers might not win 10 games. Oops. They won 44.
1. Rangers; 2. Hurricanes; 3. Sabres.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT (TEAM): We also predicted the Penguins, with big-time free-agent signings such as Sergei Gonchar, Ziggy Palffy, John LeClair and Mark Recchi, would make the playoffs. Oops.
1. Penguins; 2. Canucks; 3. Bruins.
BIGGEST SURPRISE (PLAYER): We knew Carolina's Eric Staal had the chance to be a good player. Great? We never saw a 100-point season coming.
1. Staal; 2. Lundqvist; 3. Ovechkin.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT (PLAYER): Any former Lightning player the Blackhawks picked up. At the top of the list is goalie Nikolai Khabibulin. Nearly $7-million for 17 victories and a .886 save percentage.
BEST FREE-AGENT SIGNING: The Predators took a gamble picking up Paul Kariya. Many thought his small frame was running on empty. But 31 goals and 54 assists show he still has miles left to go.
WORST FREE-AGENT SIGNING: We're not going to say Khabibulin. After all, he still has years left to turn it around. Pittsburgh signed Palffy, a talented forward who strangely retired because of injury midway through the season.
BEST TRADE: The Sharks picking up Thornton turned around his career and their season.
WORST TRADE: Thornton again. The Bruins picked up decent parts in Marco Sturm, Keith Primeau and Brad Stuart, but Thornton is a superstar. How many of those are hanging around?
OUR STANLEY CUP PICK: This is finally the season the Senators break through the playoff jinx and get to the final. But there, they will run into Calgary. The Flames got in the door in 2003-04. This season, they'll kick it in and win it all.