PITTSBURGH — With the regular season dwindling down and the playoff races heating up, award voting will soon begin.
The Lightning should be prominent in the eyes of the voters when the ballots are sent out, with several candidates likely to be recognized for their success in helping lead Tampa Bay to unexpected success this season.
Here’s a look at who should be in the running for individual awards.
Jack Adams Award (Coach of the Year): This trophy is generally handed to the coach who leads a team not considered playoff caliber into playoff contention. Often, it goes to a coach who guides a team through troubled waters and overcomes the odds. Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper fits the bill on both counts.
The Lightning finished 28th last season, made few changes over the summer — major changes were addressed during the 2012-13 season — and were on their way to being a surprise team in the first month of the season.
But then Steven Stamkos broke his leg on Nov. 11 and was lost for nearly four months. Tampa Bay hardly missed a beat and even challenged Boston for the Atlantic Division lead late into January. Then came the drama surrounding former captain Marty St. Louis, who demanded a trade to the New York Rangers, which was accommodated on March 5.
All Cooper has done is lead a team full of rookies through all obstacles, and the Lightning are in second place in the Atlantic with 11 games to play.
Patrick Roy will also get strong consideration for leading Colorado into the playoffs, and it should be a two-man race for the Adams, which is voted on by the NHL Broadcasters Association.
Vezina Trophy (Top goaltender): No goaltender has really been head-and-shoulders above anybody else this season, so the race should be relatively close. Though Ben Bishop’s numbers have slipped in recent games, he ranks in the top five in four main categories for goaltenders — wins, goals-against average, save percentage and shutouts — and he has set a franchise record for victories. Others in the running likely will be Boston’s Tuukka Rask, San Jose’s Antti Niemi and possibly Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury. The award is voted on by NHL general managers.
Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year): Tampa Bay has two strong contenders in center Tyler Johnson and left wing Ondrej Palat.
Palat entered the weekend leading rookies in plus/minus, was second in points and assists and was tied for third in rookie goals. Johnson entered Saturday second in goals (one behind Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon), third in scoring and third in plus/minus among rookies. Johnson also is second overall in the league with four short-handed goals and five shorthanded points, while Palat has four short-handed points.
MacKinnon, the first overall pick in the 2013 draft, is considered the front-runner, but Palat and Johnson have garnered enough attention to be in the conversation. Others who could garner votes include Pittsburgh defenseman Olli Maatta and Boston defenseman Torey Krug . The award is voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association.
General Manager of the Year: Steve Yzerman was a finalist for the inaugural award in 2010 and should gain some recognition again. His acquisition of Bishop, the hiring of Cooper and the addition of center Valtteri Filppula through free agency have gone a long way to helping the Lightning get to where they are in the standings. Add in the fact that he managed to navigate through the difficult St. Louis situation and, only able to negotiate with one team, come away with a first-round pick, a conditional second-round pick and Ryan Callahan.
As one person told me, Yzerman should win the award just for pulling off that deal. The award is voted on by team general managers and a panel of NHL executives, broadcasters and print media.
Hart Trophy (MVP): It’s difficult for a goaltender to enter this conversation, and no goaltender has won since Jose Theodore in 2003, but Bishop should warrant consideration for carrying a heavy load in net this season and carrying the Lightning through the Stamkos injury. The Hart is probably Sidney Crosby’s to lose, but Bishop could wind up being a finalist. The award is voted on by the PHWA.