Patrik Elias, the ILWT MVP of the Devils 2011-12 regular season. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The New Jersey Devils were successful in the 2011-12 regular season. They made the playoffs. They went 48-28-6, finished sixth in the Eastern Conference, and will play the Florida Panthers in the first round of the playoffs. Last season, they didn't make the playoffs. Getting back to the postseason alone makes it a successful season for the Devils.
However, they won't begin until Friday, April 13. As we await the beginning of the second season, I think today is a good day to take one last look back at the 2011-12 regular season before the offseason begins. What better way to do that than name some player awards for the Devils? Like last year, the writers and I shared our thoughts for who gets what award and came to some kind of consensus. Some of them were unanimous, while others were, are, and will be contested the moment it goes up. Please continue on after the jump to see who we named for major, miscellaneous, and some offbeat awards.
Hart (Team MVP): Patrik Elias
|2011-12 - Patrik Elias||81||26||52||78||-8||16||8||2||3||164||15.9|
Patrik Elias was last year's MVP and he remained a crucial part of the New Jersey Devils in 2011-12. Lining up at center nearly all season long, there's not much fault that can be found in his performances this season outside of faceoffs. Elias finished second on the team in scoring behind Ilya Kovalchuk, led the team in assists, and actually tied with Kovalchuk in power play points with 29. Elias' production ranks very highly among the rest of the league. His 29 power play points ties him with Kovalchuk for fifth most in the league; his 52 assists is the seventh most in the league by a single player; and his 78 points is the tenth most in the NHL. That's right, the Devils had two top-ten scorers in 2011-12 and they were mostly on separate lines.
Elias' value goes beyond the impressive production he provided. According to Behind the Net's Corsi Rel QoC values, Elias faced the toughest competition among all Devils at even strength this season. In fact, only twelve other forwards who played at least 20 games this season had a higher Corsi Rel QoC value. When DeBoer was able to match against the other team's best line, he sent out the unit centered by #26 whenever possible. While his on-ice Corsi rate of 4.44 was somewhat modest, it does mean that he usually performed better at possession against the toughest of the toughs. Throw in the fact that he was a regularly playing forward on the Devils' amazing penalty kill, and it's clear that Elias was a dynamite two-way center in 2011-12.
Most of all, Elias did all of this mostly playing with Petr Sykora and Dainius Zubrus. I liked what Sykora and Zubrus did this season; but they're not exactly offensive dynamos or great two-way players. Yet, Elias was able to help raise their game so DeBoer could use 15-26-8 as a power-for-power line. Elias was able to get value out of Sykora and Zubrus on offense. Elias didn't get easy match-ups and made the most out of them. Elias often was the straw that stirred the drink for the Devils in all situations. Therefore, we had no problem naming him the most valuable player for the Devils in 2011-12.
Norris (Best Defenseman): Mark Fayne
|2011-12 - Mark Fayne||82||4||13||17||-4||26||0||0||1||94||4.3|
This decision was more contentious and likely will be one of our more controversial picks. The Devils put up a great shot-preventing defense with the second lowest shots against per game rate in the NHL. In 5-on-5 situations, they finished just ahead of Detroit and just behind St. Louis in terms of the lowest SA/60 rate. Yet, it wasn't because of any one player or pairing. The Devils did it by committee this season. Throw in the amazing penalty kill and cases could be made for a few players.
However, we have to consider the overall situation with the Devils blueline from this season. As great as Bryce Salvador and Anton Volchenkov were on the PK, Salvador also took a lot of penalties and Volchenkov didn't get nearly as many minutes as other defensemen. Andy Greene and Henrik Tallinder, an early favorite, both missed significant portions of the season due to injury. I don't think anyone could say it would be Adam Larsson with a straight face after the last two months; and Marek Zidlicky has only been a Devil for a fraction of the season. The one man left is Fayne.
Fayne faced the toughest competition at even strength among all Devils defensemen for 82 games and he came out ahead in Corsi. While Volchenkov can boast the lowest on-ice SA/60 rate on the team; Fayne's not far behind him and has achieved it while playing more minutes and tougher minutes than Volchenkov. While no one would confuse Fayne as an offensive defenseman, he did lead the Devils blueliners in shots on net and in goals, one of which kickstarted Toronto's ruinous 2011-12 season. That may speak more to the lack of offense from the Devils' defense, but it's something. Again, since the Devils largely got their success by committee, no one defender stands out significantly more than the rest. However, the situations Fayne has played in along with his longevity justify this pick.
Calder (Best Rookie): Adam Henrique
|2011-12 - Adam Henrique||74||16||35||51||8||7||0||4||3||130||12.3|
There will be a lot less controversy about this selection. Henrique was one of the most pleasant surprises for this season's team. Henrique's emergence filled in the big hole at center left by the injuries to Travis Zajac and, to a lesser extent, Jacob Josefson. Henrique facilitated the play in between Zach Parise and Kovalchuk well enough to center them for a majority of the season, a tall order for someone's first season in the NHL. His efforts were well rewarded with 51 points, the third most among all rookies in the league this season. He even did it without being a total liability in his own end or losing his cool, as evidenced by his impressively low seven PIM. In fact, he played quite a bit on the penalty kill.
I don't really want to think about how the Devils would have done if Henrique wasn't prepared for a top six center position right away or if he wasn't available. That I'm thinking that about Henrique is a testament to how well he did in his rookie season.
Vezina (Best Goaltender): Johan Hedberg
|2011-12 - Johan Hedberg||27||1591||17||7||2||59||2.23||718||659||.918||4|
Admittedly, we were torn on this selection. I was torn. Martin Brodeur has been marvelous since the All-Star Game break and has driven the Devils to where they are in the standings. The coaches kept going to Brodeur and with good reason as he was a consistent performer in February and March even when the skaters weren't having a good period or game. Yet, Johan Hedberg had the better numbers and his spot duty after that break was simply ridiculous. How ridiculous? Only five goals were allowed in his last five appearances and three of them came in a shootout loss to St. Louis, an elite team this season. Hedberg kept the team afloat in October and November when Brodeur was recovering from injury and he has been a superb backup when Brodeur did return.
I don't think there's any question who the starting goaltender is on this team. If you think otherwise, I'd like to refer you to the performances from January 31 onward. Yet, I got to give the nod with goalie with better even strength save percentage: Johan Hedberg
Selke (Best Defensive Forward): Patrik Elias
As explained in the MVP section, Elias has faced the toughest competition on the team at even strength and played a significant role on the best penalty kill in the world. This selection was a no-brainier. Elias is not only the best defensive forward on the Devils, but as Kevin explained in this post, he should at least be in the discussion for the actual Selke trophy.
Best Offensive Forward: Ilya Kovalchuk
|2011-12 - Ilya Kovalchuk||77||37||46||83||-9||33||10||3||5||310||ss|
The actual Art Ross trophy goes to the league's leading scorer, not best offensive forward. Kovalchuk led the Devils in scoring and given how he did it, one could combine both. In the 2011-12 season, Kovalchuk proved he could be an offensive force at right wing, that he could be incredibly productive playing with Parise, and that he could be a top scorer in the NHL again while doing both. Here's a laundry list of where Kovalchuk finished the season in the league: tied for sixth overall in goals; tied for eighteenth in assists; fifth overall in points; tied for fifth overall in power play points; tied for fourth in shorthanded points; third overall in shots on net; and first in shootout goals and shootout deciding goals. If you don't appreciate any of that, then, well, #BlameKovy.
The Sergei Brylin Award for Versatility: Dainius Zubrus
This season, we got to see Zubrus moved around the lineup. He played right wing alongside Elias for a bulk of the season, but let's not forget that injuries and other reasons led to some movement for him. Just off the top of my head, he got moved down to the third line for a few games (including a memorable Alexei Ponikarovsky, Zubrus, and David Clarkson unit that was just heavy), got a taste of the top line, took draws in place of the center sometime, and just did a bit of everything in all situations. Zubrus went where he was needed and did well for the most part just like Sarge.
Best Comeback Season: Bryce Salvador
One could argue that David Clarkson's 30 goal season would be the best comeback just by production alone. One could argue it should be Petr Sykora, who returned to the NHL, and exceeded expectations with 21 goals in 82 games. However, it really needs to go to Salvador. His entire NHL career was put on hold all of last season and it was doubtful whether he could return to the ice at all. Salvador not only came back to play for the Devils, but he appeared in all 82 games, played like a boss on the PK, and averaged 20:12 per game. While he was never fast and his proclivity for taking penalties was annoying at best, Salvador was a big part of a defense that has done a great job at preventing shots all season long. He was quite useful for the reasons I outlined in my pleasant surprises post and I'm very happy he's healthy as well as a contributor to the team.
Best UFA Signing for the 2011-12 Season: Petr Sykora
|2011-12 - Petr Sykora||82||21||23||44||4||40||4||0||6||170||12.4|
He wasn't even in North America last year, he came into training camp on a tryout, he was given a $650,000 deal for one year, he rode with Elias against the toughs and came out ahead in Corsi, and put up the above stats. Yeah, Sykora was the best signing by the team for 2011-12.
Worst UFA Signing for the 2011-12 Season: Eric Boulton
The Devils signed Boulton last summer to a two year deal and $1.325 million. I hated this signing back in August. I hated this signing a day after I first wrote about it. I hated this signing during the season as Boulton got destroyed in possession against really weak competition and provided no offense whatsoever. I hate the fact he has another year on it and he's getting a raise next season. I hate this signing.
Best In-Season Acquisition: Alexei Ponikarovsky
Before the Devils traded for Ponikarovsky, we saw a mix of players in that third line left wing spot: namely Mattias Tedenby while Tim Sestito and Steve Zalewski got looks. Outside of Clarkson, the bottom six brought very little to the table on offense. That didn't change until Lou traded Joe Sova and a fourth round pick for Ponikarovsky that position was settled. Since then, the Devils had three solid forward lines which is reason enough to make it the best deal Lou has made this season. Ponikarovsky has been quite good around the boards and down low; and he's fit into the team very well. In 33 games with the Devils, he scored 7 goals and picked up 11 assists, exceeding his point totals with Carolina (7 goals, 8 assists) this season. All of this with very little given up. I really liked the deal when it happened and I still like it now. Well done, Lou.
These are more offbeat awards some of us came up with. I've included them without comment. Feel free to add your own in the comments, or to argue otherwise.
The 'One Man's Trash is Another Man's Treasure' Award: Ryan Carter
The Pete DeBoer Ugly Tie Award: All of Pete DeBoer's Ties
The Chico Resch Fictional Player Award: Andy Mills
The Shortest Stint Award: Trent Hunter
Unicorn Prize for Wish One Thing Was Better This Season: A shots for rate that's not just ahead of Minnesota.
The Four-Leaf Clover Medal: Dainius Zubrus (He shot 15.6% on 109 shots.)
Best Pre-Injury Player in 2011-12: Adam Larsson
Best Assistant Coach: Dave Barr
The In Lou We Trust Reader of the Year: All of the Devils fans who read ILWT.
Now that you may have won the last award, please let us know what you think of our selections for the major, miscellaneous, and superlative awards. Which ones do you agree with? Which ones did you think we got wrong? Do you have any of your own awards to name (e.g. most disappointing Devil, most surprising Devil)? Please feel free to give your answers to these questions and/or add your own awards and justify your picks in the comments. Thanks for reading.