The NHL playoffs are now well underway, and while it's fun to focus on the bad blood, highlight-reel plays and innumerable predictions (including some of my own) which quickly go awry, I thought it's worth taking a moment to reflect on some of the outstanding achievements of the NHL regular season, before it slips all too quickly from our collective attention span.
Yes, I'm talking about the leading penalty takers from around the NHL. Back in November I looked at the leaders in various categories from 2005-06, and now it's time to hand out this season's awards, and since we're only a month removed from the film industry's Academy Awards, we'll hand them out Oscar-style...
OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN BOARDING: The nominees are...
Steve Bernier, San Jose Sharks (4)
Jonathan Cheechoo, San Jose Sharks (4)
Ryan Hollweg, NY Rangers (4)
And the winner is... Steve Bernier! No, this isn't a case of "it takes one to know one", but amongst these three players who led the league with four boarding calls each, Bernier compiled his while playing the fewest games (62).
OUTSTANDING CHARGER: The nominees are...
Derek Boogaard, Minnesota Wild (3)
Cam Janssen, New Jersey Devils (4)
Jordin Tootoo, Nashville Predators (3)
And the winner is... Cam Janssen! Topping off a magical year in which he finally scored an NHL goal, Cam led all players with four charging calls, and that doesn't even include the infamous hit on Toronto's Tomas Kaberle, upon which no penalty was given. This is Derek Boogaard's second-consecutive nomination, as he racked up three of these penalties last year as well. Once again, Boogaard loses by a nose (rimshot, please)...
CROSS-CHECKER OF THE YEAR: The nominees are...
Joni Pitkanen, Philadelphia Flyers (5)
Brent Seabrook, Chicago Blackhawks (5)
Sheldon Souray, Montreal Canadiens (7)
Brendan Witt, New York Islanders (6)
And the winner is... Sheldon Souray! It's been a season of extremes for Souray - the most goals scored among NHL defensemen (26), the worst +/- rating (-28), and the third-most penalty minutes (135) to go along with this Cross-Checking award. You can expect the competition to get tougher in this category in the years ahead, as up-and-coming youngsters like Seabrook and Pitkanen continue to hone their craft. Last year's leader in this category, Detroit's Mathieu Schneider, only took two such calls this time around.
OUTSTANDING DELAY OF GAME BY A GOALTENDER: The nominees are...
Dominik Hasek, Detroit Red Wings (5)
Rick DiPietro, New York Islanders (5)
And the winner is... Dominik Hasek! The Dominator played six fewer games and about 300 fewer minutes than DiPietro, but it seemed like eternity the way he slowed down the action.
OUTSTANDING DELAY OF GAME BY SOMEONE WHO CAN ACTUALLY SKATE:
Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins (4)
Paul Mara, Boston Bruins (4)
Johnny Oduya, New Jersey Devils (4)
Ryan Suter, Nashville Predators (4)
Brendan Witt, New York Islanders (4)
And the winner is... Johnny Oduya! The Academy loves a fresh face, and Oduya's ability to send pucks (err, souveniers) up in the stands with aplomb will endear him to fans all over the league (as long as they're paying attention and don't get blasted).
OUTSTANDING ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE (aka DIVING): The nominees are...
Sean Avery, New York Rangers (5)
Kristian Huselius, Calgary Flames (3)
And the winner is... Sean Avery! Clearly his time in L.A. was spent taking some acting lessons, which translate well to the bright lights of Broadway.
OUTSTANDING ACTING ENSEMBLE (aka DIVING by team): The nominees are...
Atlanta Thrashers (8)
Nashville Predators (11)
And the winner is... the Nashville Predators! Coincidentally, they took a diving call in each of their first two playoff games against San Jose.
OUTSTANDING ELBOWING: The nominees are...
Patrick Eaves, Ottawa Senators (2, with one major)
Ryan Hollweg, New York Rangers (4)
Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins (3)
And the winner is... Evgeni Malkin! What can I say, the Academy loves the flashy newcomers. Sorry, Ryan, maybe next year.
FIGHTER OF THE YEAR: The nominees are...
Ben Eager, Philadelphia Flyers (16)
George Parros, Anaheim Ducks (18)
Andrew Peters, Buffalo Sabres (17)
And the winner is... George Parros. You have to love a fighter named "Eager", but Parros put up league-leading numbers while playing only 34 games! The fans love someone who delivers what they expect, and Parros just doesn't disappoint.
OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN HIGH-STICKING: The nominees are...
Dany Heatley, Ottawa Senators (9)
Rostislav Klesla, Columbus Blue Jackets (9)
Alexander Semin, Washington Capitals (9)
And the winner is... Rostislav Klesla! Alright, we just want Columbus fans to have something to feel good about over the summer, so this was a gimmee.
OUTSTANDING ACTOR IN A ROMANTIC ROLE (aka HOLDING): The nominees are... Mike Commodore, Carolina Hurricanes (13)
Joni Pitkanen, Philadelphia Flyers (14)
Mike Van Ryn, Florida Panthers (14)
Alexei Zhitnik, Atlanta Thrashers (12)
And the winner is... Alexei Zhitnik in an upset! Academy voters recognized the extremely difficult conditions Zhitnik had to overcome. By playing for the Flyers, Islanders and Thrashers all in the same season, it's amazing how he always seemed to figure out which team he needed to grab onto each night.
OUTSTANDING ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE (aka HOLDING THE STICK): The nominees are...
Kim Johnsson, Minnesota Wild (4)
Dainius Zubrus, Washington Capitals (4)
And the winner is... Danius Zubrus! Again, we've got to give the Capitals fans something to celebrate this offseason.
HOOKER OF THE YEAR: The nominees are...
Jan Bulis, Vancouver Canucks (19)
Sergei Gonchar, Pittsburgh Penguins (19)
Lukas Krajicek, Vancouver Canucks (19)
Alexander Svitov, Columbus Blue Jackets (19)
We've got a real horse-race here, but after Bulis and Krajicek split the voters in the Great Northwest, Sergei Gonchar pulls off the repeat performance, after leading the league last year with 25 hooking calls. Keep it up, Sergei, and maybe they'll name this award after you, just as they did for Rocket Richard.
INTERFEROR(?) OF THE YEAR: The nominees are...
Sean Hill, New York Islanders (13)
Ruslan Salei, Florida Panthers (9)
Alexei Zhitnik, Atlanta Thrashers (10)
And the winner is... Sean Hill in a landslide. Consider it a lifetime achievement award for interference.
OUTSTANDING CREASE-CRASHER (aka GOALTENDER INTERFERENCE): The nominees are...
Sean Avery, New York Rangers (7)
Bobby Holik, Atlanta Thrashers (5)
Mike Johnson, Montreal Canadiens (5)
And the winner is... Sean Avery again! Our first double-winner tonight crashed four opposing goaltenders while playing for the L.A. Kings, and kept up the hard work with three more calls for the New York Rangers.
RUFFIAN OF THE YEAR (aka Roughing): The nominees are...
Donald Brashear, Washington Capitals (14)
Alex Burrows, Vancouver Canucks (14)
Jordin Tootoo, Nashville Predators (13)
And the winner is... Donald Brashear. Because when he roughs up an opponent, they're usually leaving a puddle on the ice, just thankful that he's not dropping the gloves.
OUTSTANDING ACTOR IN A CHEAP HORROR FILM (aka Slashing): The nominees are...
Sean Hill, New York Islanders (8)
Jeff O'Neill, Toronto Maple Leafs (6)
Andy Sutton, Atlanta Thrashers (7)
Brendan Witt, New York Islanders (6)
And the winner is... Sean Hill again, another two-time recipient tonight. Between him and Brendan Witt, penetrating the Islanders defense is often akin to dancing in a blender.
"CAST OF THOUSANDS" AWARD (aka Too Many Men): The nominees are...
Anaheim Ducks (13)
Atlanta Thrashers (12)
Boston Bruins (12)
Detroit Red Wings (12)
Nashville Predators (12)
Pittsburgh Penguins (17)
And the winner is... the Pittsburgh Penguins! You just have to love the youthful enthusiasm with this bunch. They just want to get out there and play, regardless of whether a teammate has come off the ice first.
OUTSTANDING ACTOR IN A (VERTICALLY) SUPPORTING ROLE (aka Tripping): The nominees are...
Jonathan Cheechoo, San Jose Sharks (9)
Scott Niedermayer, Anaheim Ducks (10)
Eric Staal, Carolina Hurricanes (10)
And the winner is... Scott Niedermayer! There's perhaps nothing more conspicuous than a defenseman getting called for a trip after losing position on an opponent. Granted, Niedermayer plays a ton of minutes against elite forwards, so he's often in the spotlight.
OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE IN A SELF-MADE DRAMA (aka Unsportsmanlike Conduct): The nominees are...
Sean Avery, New York Rangers (9)
Chris Neil, Ottawa Senators (6)
Marc Savard, Boston Bruins (5)
Jarkko Ruutu, Pittsburgh Penguins (5)
And the winner is... Sean Avery! Capturing his third award, and thus clearly seperating himself from the rest of the NHL's penalty-taking stars, Sean Avery has truly enjoyed a breakout season.
Congratulations to all of these amazing performers, and come back next year to share another celebration of the NHL's most outstanding miscreants. Next year, I'll see if I can get Billy Crystal to host....