As we come down to the last week of the season, let's talk about the position winners. First, who should win the Vezina and name the other two finalists?
Ryan Dadoun: I think it's hard to argue against Carey Price for the Vezina Trophy. He's tied for first in wins (41), and leads in GAA (1.95) as well as save percentage (.935). Any time a goaltender is being discussed for the Hart Trophy, winning the Vezina seems like a good bet. That being said, Pekka Rinne has been right behind him for most of the season and certainly deserves a nomination. I think the third finalist has to be Devan Dubnyk given everything he's done for Minnesota. Honestly if the Wild had acquired him even a month earlier (simultaneously sparing him from a month with the lowly Arizona), we might be replacing Price's name with Dubnyk's when talking about a goaltender that might walk away with both the Vezina and Hart.
Corey Abbott: Carey Price has enjoyed an amazing season. He's been a little choppier toward the end of the season, but his overall consistency should earn him the reward. He's also the leader in all the major categories (wins, shutouts, GAA, SV%). I think the runner-ups will be Pekka Rinne and Devan Dubnyk. All three of these goaltenders have played tremendous roles in the success of their teams in 2014-15. Price has Montreal competing for top spot in the East, while Rinne has done the same for Nashville in the West. Dubnyk saved Minnesota's season after he arrived from Arizona and they should be a playoff-bound team because of him.
Kevin Brown: I’d love to offer a different opinion here, but I think the Vezina is definitely Price’s trophy to lose. I think he and Rinne were in a dead heat at the mid-season mark, but the Nashville goalkeeper’s second half regression has taken him out of consideration. I also agree that Devan Dubnyk should be the other finalist for the award as a result of his historic run since joining the Wild. Although I think they should miss out on top three, honorable mention should go to Braden Holtby and the underrated Cory Schneider for the strong performances they have put forth this year.
Michael Finewax: It looks like it's unanimous. I think Price, Rinne and Dubnyk are no-brainers. While Holtby has played well, he has not been in the class of the above mentioned.
Alright. Let's talk about defensemen and go with the top three.
Kevin Brown: I like P.K. Subban for the Norris Trophy despite the fact he didn’t qualify for the All-Star Game this year. Since January 1st, only Erik Karlsson has scored more points among NHL defensemen and while I think Karlsson’s strong second half should make him a finalist for the award, the player who plays the most minutes for a team who has experienced as much success as this year’s Habs deserves some recognition. Rounding out the nominees, I would love for Mark Giordano to be recognized for his stellar play over the first 60 games on the campaign, but I think it’s more likely that Shea Weber receives the nod, based partially on his sterling reputation.
Corey Abbott: The Norris Trophy has been a tough nut to crack for me. I think Subban and Karlsson would be deserving finalists for the award, but I also love the seasons that Drew Doughty, Kris Letang and Roman Josi have had. Mark Giordano would've been a top contender had he stayed healthy. I'd like to see Doughty get the honor. He leads all defenders in shot attempts at 5-on-5 with a plus-366 and he's registered 43 points. Doughty has seen more ice time than ever in 2014-15, averaging the most in the league right now, and he's been responsible at both ends of the ice. He has great all-around numbers, but I worry that his plus-minus rating and slightly above average point total will hurt him.
Ryan Dadoun: I see the Norris Trophy as being a fairly open race, but I would ultimately go with Drew Doughty. The Kings have leaned heavily on him this season as illustrated by the fact that he's averaging about 29 minutes per game and he's delivered under those circumstances both offensively and defensively. P.K. Subban has been a huge component of the Montreal Canadiens and I think he's worthy of a nomination as well. For the third finalist I'd go off the board and nominate Kris Russell. He's logging nearly 24 minutes a game, including meaningful time on both the PK and PP units and has a solid 32 points and team-high plus-14 rating in 78 games. That's not why I think he deserves to be one of the finalists though, that's just to show he's had an all-around solid season. What sets him apart is his record-breaking 274 blocked shots, which is 67 more than the next best player this season. That kind of willingness to sacrifice your body deserves some recognition.
Michael Finewax: I love the play of Roman Josi but I think that he will lose a lot of support due to his playing partner Shea Weber. The quartet from Calgary (Giordano, Russell, Wideman and Brodie) have carried the Flames this season but the injury to Giordano combined with so much competition from the others, take them out of consideration.
Ok. Let's go to the forwards.
Kevin Brown: In terms of forwards, my vote would be cast in favor of none other than Alex Ovechkin thanks to the dominant performance he has submitted this year. I know that he currently stands third in league scoring behind Sidney Crosby and John Tavares, but his 52 goals are 10 clear of the rest of the NHL, which is a significant margin. In addition, his 383 shots on goal are nearly 100 ahead of anyone else, which is almost unbelievable. Most importantly, he has turned in a plus-10 rating, helping to erase the negative opinion shared by many about his defensive play.
I believe Rick Nash and his 42 goals also deserve consideration in this category thanks to the phenomenal success the Rangers have experienced. Nash has been integral to the club’s first place position in the Eastern Conference and deserves to be mentioned alongside the best forwards in the game this year.
The aforementioned John Tavares should also be part of this conversation, as his excellent play, combined with his team’s rise up the Eastern Conference standings, have made this his best season to-date. The fact that he consistently scores at a point-per-game pace means this campaign doesn’t initially stand out, but since he’s currently on pace to avoid a negative plus/minus for the first time in his career it’s clear his two-way game is the best it has ever been.
Corey Abbott: I'd rank Ovechkin first as well. As Kevin pointed out, the Great Eight's goal and shot totals were on another level compared to the rest of the league in 2014-15. John Tavares would be next. His second 80-point campaign has been impressive and his ability to elevate whoever he plays with into instant waiver wire gold speaks to his skill level. Tavares makes everyone around him better. I'll go with Sidney Crosby as the third pick. He quietly managed to retake the scoring lead late in the year and his 1.11 points-per-game is the best in the league.
Ryan Dadoun: I'd love to be a contrarian and it's not like there isn't ground to do so. As Jay Palansky recently wrote for News & Observer, Ovechkin looks far less dominant when you focus in on his 5-on-5 numbers per 60 minutes. Going into Sunday's games, Ovechkin was tied for 100th place in the NHL in that category among players that have logged at least 500 minutes this season. In case you're wondering, Tyler Johnson ranks first in that regard (2.97 to Ovechkin's 1.80). Ovechkin has also been limited to 27 assists, which would be the least for an MVP dating back to 1970 (Brett Hull's 45 in 1990-91 is the current worst).
Even with that being said, I just can't bring myself to pick anyone other than Ovechkin as my top choice. It really comes down to goals and in a year where the NHL's elite forwards have largely disappointed, Ovechkin hasn't. I do think Johnson's superb 5-on-5 play is justification for him having a spot on my top-three though. I'd also single out John Tavares for reaching both the 30-goal and 80-point marks this season. The other other player likely to share that distinction with Tavares is Ovechkin.
Michael Finewax: Well, while everyone is jumping on the Ovechkin bandwagon, and rightfully so, I'm going to agree with Corey and say that Vladimir Tarasenko belongs in the conversation. He has 36 goals (7th best in the NHL), 71 points (9th), a plus-25 (10th) and 260 shots on goal (10th). That is great all-round production.
I think I would go Ovechkin first, followed by Tarasenko and then Tavares. It seems awfully different keeping Sidney Crosby off the list even though he leads in points heading into action Sunday, but the points race is so close and there are so many other factors involved, that he just misses the cut.