And the award goes to...
The Canucks locked up their fifth consecutive Northwest Division title earlier in the week, and that wasn’t by accident. The team played strong defensive hockey this season, and along the way some stellar individual performances lead to many impressive victories. It’s time to reward and recognize some of those performers.
The Ed Jovanovski Award
Given each year to the best former Florida Panthers defenseman on the Canucks
Previous winners include Keith Ballard, Ed Jovanovski, and Lukas Krajicek
2013 recipient: Jason Garrison
The Canucks and Panthers have become trading buddies in recent years. It all started back in 1999 with the Pavel Bure-for-Ed Jovanovski (and others) trade, and the positive relationship between the two teams has continued on. With Roberto Luongo came the smooth-skating Lukas Krajicek back in 2006. The Canucks picked up Keith Ballard at the 2010 NHL Draft. Jovanovski was one of the most prolific defenseman in Canucks history (he didn’t have the longevity of other blue liners who have donned the Vancouver sweater, but at his peak he was a dominant force).
After a bit of an adjustment period to 2013 (learning both a new system and how to play on his off side), Garrison has emerged as a rock-solid top pairing defenseman equally capable of shutting down opposing stars with his smarts and strength, and dropping opposing shot blockers with his booming point shot. The White Rock, BC native has been exactly as advertised.
The Corey Hirsch Award
Given each year to the best redheaded goaltender on the Canucks
Previous winners include Corey Hirsch, Gary Smith, and Glen Hanlon
2013 recipient: Cory Schneider
Schneider is one of the best goaltenders in the NHL – he is big, quick, and technically proficient (along with Carey Price, there aren’t many goaltenders as sound and efficient as Schneider is). Arguably Vancouver’s three best/most important players are of the redheaded variety – an anomaly that we may never see again. According to National Geographic, redheads are headed towards extinction.
The Martin Gelinas Award
Given each year to the best waiver wire pickup made by the Canucks
Previous winners include Kyle Wellwood, Ron Delorme, Tim Hunter, Jeff Cowan, and Dale Weise
2013 recipient: Tom Sestito
Sestito wins this award by default, as he has been the only waiver pickup of the season. Waiver moves can help a team considerably (Gelinas was an integral part of Vancouver’s 1994 run, playing a very Chris Higgins-like two-way game), or they can be largely forgettable (Kris Beech, anyone?). Sestito has done what the team has asked of him – he hits, he fights, and he is relatively reliable in his own zone. The Canucks have done a good job using the waiver wire over the years. Dale Weise has emerged as a regular NHL forward since coming to Vancouver, and who can forget the exploits of Jeff “the bra-barian” Cowan?The Markus Naslund Award
Given each year to the best trade deadline pickup
Previous winners include Jyrki Lumme, Geoff Courtnall, Cliff Ronning, Jeff Brown, Bret Hedican, Markus Naslund, Brendan Morrison, Martin Rucinsky, Eric Weinrich, Keith Carney, Chris Higgins, Max Lapierre, Brian Smolinski, Zack Kassian, and the immortal Roman Otsiuka
2013 recipient: Derek Roy
The Canucks made a great (and necessary) move bringing Roy in back in early April, and his impact has been immediate. Vancouver has essentially been a one line team for much of 2013 from an offensive standpoint, as injuries to Ryan Kesler and David booth have prevented the team from consistently icing a formidable second scoring unit. With the Roy acquisition, the Canucks can now put together three lines capable of scoring on any given shift.
What Roy lacks in size he makes up for in skill and smarts. He is very crafty with and without the puck, and he is strong enough defensively to go up against top opposing players. He is going to be one of the best players available this summer as a free agent (assuming the Canucks can’t convince him to take a massive discount to remain in Vancouver), and that added motivation is a great thing for both Roy and for the Canucks.
Deadline pickups have been key cogs in Vancouver’s two most recent Cup Final runs. In 1994, the team brought in Brown (“Jeff Brown, a long pass to Pavel Bure…) and Bret Hedican, two defensemen who played big minutes in the postseason. And in 2011, Higgins and Max Lapierre were brought to Vancouver in separate deals. Higgins was fantastic all postseason long, and Lapierre stepped up in the absence of Manny Malhotra. Oh, and this:
The Sergio Momesso Award
Given each year to the best Italian-sounding name on the Canucks
Previous winners include Sergio Momesso, Enrico Ciccone, Roberto Luongo, Todd Bertuzzi, Garth Rizzuto, Dave Capuano, and Aaron Volpatti
2013 recipient: Steve Pinizzotto
Pinizzotto didn’t have a ton of competition this year, (and Sestito winning two awards would be unfair to the rest of the team) but even if he did, he’d win the majority of the “best last name” contests he enters. Pinizzotto carved out a reputation as an exciting and annoying (depending on if he was your teammate or opponent) player during a prolific AHL career with the Hershey Bears, but his debut in Vancouver was delayed multiple times to do bad luck with injuries. He is now healthy, and is a serviceable energy forward on the fourth line.
The Real Awards
Team MVP: Henrik Sedin
Sedin has been the most consistent and valuable Canuck in 2013, with honourable mentions to Schneider and Dan Hamhuis. The Sedin twins are going to be solid top line players for a while. They take great care of their bodies, and the style of hockey they play is conducive to the aging process (neither Daniel nor Henrik rely on physical attributes like strength, size, or speed, as much as they do on intelligence, positioning, and skill).
Best Defenseman: Dan Hamhuis
Is Hamhuis a robot? Can anybody remember the last mistake he made on the ice? He’s physical when necessary, but he excels defensively because of his mobility and smarts. He can score and create offense, but the team leans on ‘Hammer’ to lock down the top opposition forwards.
He deserves some serious consideration for Canada’s 2014 Olympic team, too. Here are a few reasons why:
-On the big ice, having mobile defensemen is very important
-He is a left-side defenseman. Team Canada is the polar opposite of the Canucks in this regard. Kris Letang, PK Subban, Brent Seabrook, Drew Doughty, Dan Boyle, Shea Weber, and Alex Pietrangelo are all right-shooting, right-side defensemen.
Most Exciting Player: Jannik Hansen
During his first few years in the league, Hansen was a really fast player without much else to his game. To his credit, he has developed into a well-rounded two-way forward, and he is much bigger and stronger than he used to be. The defensive part of his game has always been there, but he has really improved on his puck skill and passing over the past few years. And he also took slap shot lessons from Fulton Reed last summer (unconfirmed) – he has been torching opposing goaltenders/posts/end boards with his slappers all season long.
Unsung Hero: Jason Garrison
Garrison received media attention last season for his 16 goals, but he was a sought-after free agent more for his defensive ability. He and Hamhuis have been terrific together, and he is looking a lot more comfortable with rushing the puck, passing, and shooting now. And that spells bad news for the lower limbs of opposing shot blockers. His shot is hard and accurate, but it is how quickly he gets it off that makes it such a weapon.