Since movie-makers have ensured there’s no avoiding superhero mythology these days, I’ll just embrace it and say that when I receive the annual email telling me it’s time to vote on NHL year-end awards, Ben Parker — you know, Spider-Man’s uncle — always pops in my head saying, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
And as anybody who’s entered the adult portion of their life can tell you, responsibility is stressful.
Like most lucky enough to vote, I agonize over every last name that goes on my ballot. The fun of it really can get buried under the fear you’ve missed an angle or detail.
So before I truly dive into that task, let’s lighten things up and hand out some awards in categories I made up over breakfast. The goal here is to spread some love for guys who may not walk away with actual hardware — though some are definitely in the running — but deserve kudos nonetheless for some kind of achievement this season.
Without further delay, I present a handful of made-up distinctions for guys who are more than welcome to try using them in their next contract negotiation.
Best Bounce-Back Season: Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
There’s a ton of Masterton and Hart overlap here in a category brimming with candidates. Giroux gets the nod for his willingness to play ball with the Flyers and move to wing at the start of the season so formerly buried centre Sean Couturier could finally star in an offensive role. Bothered by hip and abdominal issues in the recent past, Giroux rebounded from a 58-point campaign last year — his lowest total in a full season since his sophomore showing in 2009-10 — to set a career high with 102.
Best Season By An Old Guy: Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins
To be eligible for this award, players had to be in their age 35 season or older as determined by the always-awesome hockey-reference.com. And I definitely added bonus points to Chara based on the fact he was one of just two players — along with Minnesota’s Matt Cullen — to turn in a full year in their age 40 season (the big man turned 41 on March 18).
Chara continues to be a smothering presence in his own end. He averaged nearly a minute more of shorthanded ice time per game than any other Bruin and could end the season No. 2 in that category for the entire league. His relationship to rookie D partner Charlie McAvoy is, no doubt, symbiotic, with Chara setting a sage example of how to play the thinking man’s position, while McAvoy’s young legs lug the puck up ice.
This award could easily have gone to likely Vezina winner Pekka Rinne, 35, and the .927 save percentage he put up with Nashville or Joe Thornton, who sustained a knee injury that limited him to 47 contests. The 38-year-old Sharks centre was playing at a 63-point pace.
Best Season in a New Place: Artemi Panarin, Columbus Blue Jackets
We could put half the Vegas Golden Knights team down here, so let’s just acknowledge that crazy scene and agree to limit this category to players not on the best expansion team in the history of sports.
Panarin was acquired by Columbus after two wonderful seasons in Chicago and promptly put up more points in Ohio than he did playing alongside Patrick Kane with the Blackhawks. The Russian’s 82 points represent a new franchise high for the Blue Jackets and Panarin is a big reason why Columbus is a team to keep an eye on as the post-season kicks off.
The Montreal Canadiens’ miserable season really started in earnest when the club couldn’t come to terms with Alexander Radulov on a new contract and he signed with the Dallas Stars. Putting a guy with his talent and passion on a team with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn worked out as well as you’d expect, with Radulov setting career highs in goals (27), assists (45) and points (72).
Arizona goalie Antti Raanta, who started the year battling injuries and finished by signing a new three-year deal with the Coyotes, posted a 16-5-4 record in the 2018 portion of this season to go along with a sparkling .942 save percentage over the same stretch.
Biggest Breakthrough Season (for a non-rookie or sophomore): William Karlsson, Vegas Golden Knights
There are two types of people in this category: Those who made a good-to-great leap and those who came from nowhere to suddenly become players.
Karlsson fits squarely in the latter. He had 15 goals the past two seasons combined and he’s got nearly triple that amount in his maiden voyage with the Golden Knights — only Alex Ovechkin and Patrik Laine have more tallies than Karlsson’s 43. In a positively unfathomable season in Vegas, the Swede’s scoring exploits has to be the lead story.
Nathan MacKinnon is playing in the most critical game of the weekend and if he has a big Saturday night against the St. Louis Blues with a playoff spot on the line, he could wind up with the best points-per-game mark in the league.
Best Half Season: Ryan Ellis, Nashville Predators
This award is limited to guys who, for whatever reason, were limited to 50 games or fewer. After returning from off-season knee surgery on Jan. 2, Ellis made an already-loaded Nashville defence corps so much better with his smart defensive play and by producing offence at a 0.74 points-per-game clip — a mark that bests all but nine blue-liners in the league, including teammates Roman Josi and P.K. Subban.
Florida Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo, who was troubled by a groin injury earlier in the season, entered the final weekend of play with a .929 save percentage that represented the second-best mark of his entire remarkable career.
Also, Kings centre Jeff Carter has scored at a 41-goal pace in 26 games.