Philadelphia Flyers Team Awards: And the nominees are . . .
According to this morning’s news, the Flyers plan to announce the 2008-09 season team award winners prior to tonight’s home game against the Florida Panthers.
For those unfamiliar with the Flyers’ team awards, there are three: the Bobby Clarke Trophy (team MVP), the Barry Ashbee Trophy (most outstanding defenseman), and the Pelle Lindbergh Memorial Trophy (most improved). The Clarke and Ashbee Trophies are selected by the sportscasters and sportswriters; the Lindbergh Trophy is voted on by the team. In 2007-08, the award winners were Mike Richards for team MVP, Kimmo Timonen for best defenseman, and Braydon Coburn and Riley Cote were co-recipients of the Lindbergh trophy.
I don’t expect that we’ll see much change in those first two awards for the 2008-09 season. Mike Richards may not be the leading scorer this year, but he is the foundation on which the current Flyers squad is built. He not only plays in all game situations—he excels in all situations. He’s on the ice for the first minute and the last minute of pivotal games. He’s the first forward chosen to defend in 5-on-3 situations, and he’s also the most likely to score shorthanded. Jeff Carter is the flashy choice because of his goal totals, but Richards provides a greater overall value to his team.
Kimmo Timonen is the undisputed heart and soul of the Flyers blueline. His absence during the Flyers’ flu epidemic of 2009 left the team unable to produce points on the power play and unable to keep pucks out of the net in almost any situation. Luca Sbisa referred to him as a father figure in a recent interview, and that is exactly the type of leadership the young Flyers defense corps needs to be successful in the playoffs. I see no reason to aware the Barry Ashbee to anyone else.
That leaves us with the Pelle Lindbergh Memorial Trophy for the most improved player, as voted by his teammates. Jeff Carter is the obvious candidate for this award. A broken stick shy of 30 goals in 2007-08, Carter reached the 40-goal plateau this season and is among the league’s top goal scorers as well, behind only scoring phenom Alexander Ovechkin and tied with New Jersey’s Zach Parise.
Most impressive, however, is Carter’s marked improvement in consistency. His prior seasons were marked by spurts of greatness interspersed with lackluster disappearing acts. This year, he’s been a scoring machine centering the Sky line with wingers Scott Hartnell and Joffrey Lupul. Carter’s team-high 11 game-winning goals demonstrate his talent for clutch-scoring. He’s also been strong defensively, using his checking line experience from last season to catapult him towards his full potential. What should scare opponents is the fact that Carter has shown evidence of another gear in his repertoire, and I suspect he will continue to blossom as a power centerman over the next season or two.
A potential dark horse for the Pelle Lindbergh Trophy is Simon Gagne. While his 33 goals are not significant in comparison to his scoring totals during the Forsberg era, Gagne has returned from last year’s concussion with a vengeance. With 12 power play goals (top 16 in the NHL), 4 short-handed goals (top 6 in the NHL), and a plus-23 rating (top 25 in the NHL), Gagne ranks alongside Richards and Carter in importance to overall team success, No one could have predicted with certainty that he would rebound this strongly; similar injuries have ended the careers of other players. His success this season is overshadowed by commentators due to the emergence of Carter and Richards. Perhaps his teammates will choose to acknowledge him with the Lindbergh Trophy.
So now I turn it over to you. Who do you think should win these awards?