a·cu·men [ak-yuh-muhn] noun: keen insight; shrewdness

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Thursday, 8 March 2012

03/07/12 Oilers and the NHL Awards

That lovely piece of hardware is the Lady Bing Memorial Trophy, and each year it is awarded to the NHL player that best exhibits both sportsmanship and a high level of play. It's one of two trophies that Edmonton Oilers players have a realistic shot at. How likely are they to win?

The last Oiler to win the Lady Bing was Jari Kurri way back in 1984-85. Since the lockout only two players - Pavel Datsyuk and Martin St. Louis - have won this particular award, so it would take quite an exceptional performance for an Oiler on a bottom team to usurp them. Jordan Eberle is such a player. Eberle is currently sitting in 12th in NHL scoring with 63 points in 62 games, and he's only got 8 penalty minutes all year long. All of the players above him in scoring have more penalty minutes, and Marian Hossa, who is close with 16 PIMs, has just one more point than Eberle in 5 more games played.

The numbers from past winners:

2010-11: Martin St Louis, 4th in league scoring with 99 points; 12 PIMs
2009-10: Martin St. Louis, 6th in league scoring with 94 points; 12 PIMs
2008-09: Pavel Datsyuk, 4th in league scoring with 97 points; 22 PIMs
2007-08: Pavel Datsyuk, 4th in league scoring with 97 points; 20 PIMs
2006-07: Pavel Datsyuk, 17th in league scoring with 87 points; 20 PIMs
2005-06: Pavel Datsyuk, 18th in league scoring with 87 points; 22 PIMs

Over the last four years the winner of the Lady Bing has had to be inside the top 6 in NHL scoring, but Datsyuk's wins in 2006-07 and 2005-06 show that it can be done without being at the very top of the league in points.

Jordan Eberle won't be in the top six in NHL scoring, but he does have all the attributes to at least be a finalist for the Lady Bing. The trouble is that players who are sportsmanlike can also sometimes fly under the radar, and it could take Eberle some time to build up enough of a reputation to win a major NHL award.

Other potential finalists this season: Claude Giroux (3rd in NHL with 77 points; 25 PIMs), Phil Kessel (5th in NHL with 70 points; 20 PIMs), Loui Eriksson (16th in NHL with 61 points; 6 PIMs)

That is the Calder Trophy, which goes to the NHL's rookie of the year. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is still near the head of the line for this one, with 39 points in 46 games. The two players ahead of him are Adam Henrique and Gabriel Landeskog, who each have 43 points. However, Henrique has played 58 games and Landeskog has appeared in 68, which means that they have 0.74 points per game and 0.63 points per game respectively. Nugent-Hopkins is scoring at a 0.85 points per game clip, and he's also more than three years younger than Henrique.

This one doesn't always go to the best point producer among rookies, but there doesn't appear to be a goalie or defenseman who's really in the mix for this award. Nugent-Hopkins compares favorably with some skaters who are past winners of the Calder:

2010-11: Jeff Skinner, 1st in points by a rookie with 63 (0.77 points per game)
2009-10: Tyler Myers, 3rd in points by a rookie with 48 - 1st by a rookie defenseman (0.59 points per game)
2007-08: Patrick Kane, 1st in points by a rookie with 72 (0.88 points per game)

I didn't include 2008-09 because it was won by Steve Mason, and I stopped after 2007-08 because in the years prior to that the rookies of the year were Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin. To compare Nugent-Hopkins to them is unfair, especially in the context of deciding who is the top rookie for 2011-12.

Notably, however, is the fact that Nugent-Hopkins wouldn't be at all out of place when it comes to the points per game of past winners. He's also scoring at a rate that would see him finish first in rookie scoring this season. Landeskog is on pace to finish with 52 points, and Henrique should put up another 12 points or so for 55 total. If Nugent-Hopkins keeps scoring at his current pace he'll finish the season with about 56 points in just 66 games.

No Oilers player has ever won the Calder, which means that if Nugent-Hopkins does, it will be a major milestone for the organization. At the end of the day these awards don't mean anything unless the team starts to win, but for Oilers players to be considered means that the team is taking a step in the right direction. It's a moral victory more than anything else, but right now we'll take it.

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