It’s customary at this time in the NHL homestretch for critics to size up potential winners of annual league awards.
Which is all well and good but my preference is to pick award-winners as they relate only to the Rangers, Devils and Islanders. So, here goes.
HART TROPHY (MVP) — (TIE) HENRIK LUNDQVIST AND J.T. MILLER — The knee-jerk reaction is to lean over to King Henrik and that wouldn’t be all bad. But I happen to simultaneously like the manner in which J.T. has emerged as a sharpshooter. A year ago — when he totaled 10 goals — his nickname was Potential. While other Blueshirts guns have been muzzled, Miller has upped his red lights to 17 in 54 games and he’ll be key in the playoff run.
NORRIS TROPHY (BEST DEFENSEMAN) — RYAN MCDONAGH — Prior to his ill-fated concussion suffered against Philadelphia, the captain had been the club’s most consistent defender. He’ll also bolster the offense when necessary with a key goal here and there. Leading by example is Ryan’s forte.
CALDER TROPHY (BEST ROOKIE) — OSCAR LINDBERG — Lucky Lindy burst from the gate with a spate of goals and has since settled into a top-nine forward. He may not win the all-league award, but Lindberg will get an Oscar here for his freshman feats.
SELKE TROPHY (DEFENSIVE FORWARD) — JESPER FAST — This aptly named key to the penalty-killing corps has become the club’s young Ole Reliable. He plays all ends of the ice well and has matured — well — fast!
LADY BYNG TROPHY (SPORTSMANSHIP-TALENT) – DERICK BRASSARD — A meaningful offensive contributor, Brassard not only creates effective plays but also scores goals and does it by playing the game the right — as in clean — way. He’s always within the team lead in points and plus-minus; not to mention red lights.
MASTERTON TROPHY (PERSEVERANCE, SPORTSMANSHIP, DEDICATION) — DOMINIC MOORE — Having rebounded from a family tragedy, Moore has returned to the NHL playing some of the best hockey of his life. He does his job with determination and respect for friend and foe.
HART: CORY SCHNEIDER — Without the heir to Martin Brodeur’s throne, the Devils never would have found themselves in the midst of a playoff hunt. Over and over again, Schneids is responsible for keeping his mates in games that otherwise would have eluded them.
NORRIS: ADAM LARSSON — This is a tossup between the long Swede and his partner, captain Andy Greene. Adam gets the nod because of the dramatic rise in the quality of his game since the departure of former coach Peter DeBoer. Larsson plays the body in the corners, shoves foes from the crease and chips in offensively.
CALDER: JOSEPH BLANDISI — A surprise meteor that suddenly shone over the horizon, the Albany call-up is a big talent in a small package. His electrifying moves have won the hearts of New Jersey fans and his best is yet to come.
SELKE: TRAVIS ZAJAC — Finally finding his game, the tall center exemplified his excellence in the Devs’ 4-2 win over the Blackhawks back on Nov. 6. First, he thoroughly frustrated Chicago’s ace captain Jonathan Toews. Toews got so flustered that he was goaded into a fight with Adam Henrique. Zajac scored less than a minute later. ‘Nuff said.
LADY BYNG: ANDY GREENE — Game in and game out, the intrepid leader plays a solid, sportsmanlike defense. The embodiment of a captain, Andy rates kudos for helping this team surprise the league with his competence.
MASTERTON: BOBBY FARNHAM — A forgotten minor leaguer when the season began, this New Englander has survived three AHL cuts and even a stint in the ECHL, not to mention being put on waivers this year. His relentless approach has earned him a spot on the fourth line. P.S. He even scores goals.
HART: BROCK NELSON — From the crease on out, the husky Minnesotan has been the team’s best all-around player from Day One to the present. He has evolved into a consistent goal-scorer with a deadly accurate wrist shot. Brock has given coach Jack Capuano secondary scoring so vital to a team with playoff hopes.
NORRIS: NICK LEDDY — After an uncertain, non-productive start, this lamppost of a defender has parlayed a smooth skating style and wicked shot into a formidable attacking arsenal while always taking care of his own end. He figures to get even better in the stretch.
SELKE: FRANS NIELSEN — The People’s Choice, Fransy has come close to being the club’s top banana up front because of his versatility. He defuses the foe’s best forward, is a top face-off man and penalty-killer, backchecks like a fiend and delivers goals in key moments.
LADY BYNG: THOMAS HICKEY — Unobtrusively and without any fuss or fanfare, this compact backliner does his job effortlessly and without recourse to a penalty-laden style. Rarely does he lose his cool because decorum is Tom’s strong suit.
MASTERTON: (TIE) MATT MARTIN AND TRAVIS HAMONIC — Each of the Islanders has done much worthy work with kids who are in need and they also do a lot of instructional hockey away from their usual duties in the playoff quest.