April 08, 2007

Lecavalier's Legendary Season

Every season the NHL witnesses a few amazing year-long individual performances that resonate hockey greatness. This year was no exception, with Sidney Crosby, Vincent Lecavalier, Joe Thornton, Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo and Dany Heatley leading the way.

In a really magical season we are able to watch a player turn in a campaign that becomes legendary or, even better, transforming. The achievements of that season may garner iconic status because of historical significance, dramatic impact, defining nature, or statistical dominance. I don't think we've seen anything along these lines this season, at least not yet.

Now playoffs are where hockey players legacies are made. Without taking playoffs into account, I want to announce my first annual Legendary Season Award(s). The award(s) will be handed out on a season by season basis, and given to a player who I believe had a season that cements his status as a Legend of Hockey.

In 2006-07, I see only one winner: Vincent Lecavalier. While his season falls far short of the 10 greatest seasons in National Hockey League history, Lecavalier cemented his status as a hockey legend with his break-out campaign.

Vinny already has a Stanley Cup ring, a World Cup victory and MVP trophy, and an Olympics invite. But despite universal praise has perhaps the most skilled player in the game, he still lacked that breakout season to have truly earned all of his lofty praise.

This season Lecavalier erupted for 52 goals and 105 points to finish third in the league in scoring. His 52 goals led the league, earning him the coveted Maurice "Rocket" Richard trophy.

Moreover, he has made a great case for the most coveted individual trophy in the game - the Hart Trophy. The Hart is supposed to go to the player judged to be the most valuable to his team, but more often than not the MVP award is judged to be the best player in the league.

Either way, Lecavalier is a definite threat for the trophy.

As most valuable to his team goes, the Bolts are 32-12-1 when Lecavalier scores a goal, as compared to the Penguins being 21-4-4 when Crosby scores and the Sharks being 16-5-0 when Thornton lights the lamp. Lecavalier also has more goals in regulation, game-winning tallies, power-play goals, overtime goals and shorthanded goals than either of his two competitors. Lecavalier is also the NHL leader in road points with 60, and road goals with 25 (tied with Martin St. Louis).

He has also set four single-season Tampa Bay records, posting the most goals, points, power-play goals and shorthanded goals in franchise history.

I suspect Sidney Crosby is the favorite win the award. He is the media darling of the league, which will help him in voting. Regardless, he truly deserves the trophy. His team's turn around is one of the greatest in NHL history, and he led the league in scoring almost from beginning to end. His season was truly remarkable, though it is too early in his career to give him the Legendary Season Award that he will undoubtedly earn sooner rather than later.

Goalie Roberto Luongo unexpectedly delivered a division title to Vancouver, and is quite arguably the most valuable player to his team. I suspect Bobby Lou will finish second in voting.

Martin Brodeur, who earned his legendary status years ago, somehow turned in his best season yet. He probably deserves to be a finalist too, but perhaps the Devils firing of coach Claude Julien will sway a few voters away from Brodeur.

Which could let enough room for Lecavalier to slip into MVP voting.

Another possibility is Joe Thornton. Thornton has turned in yet another incredible regular season, highlighted by his third consecutive 90+ assist campaign. Only Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux have put together at least 3 straight years with as many assists. But Big Joe needs to deliver in the playoffs before he can earn his Legendary Season Award.

I suspect this just might be the year for Joe and the Sharks. He was absolutely dominant in every game I watched him play, and he played with a real bee in his bonnet against Vancouver in the final game of season on Saturday.

If Thortnon, or for that matter Crosby or another playoff hero, has an incredible playoff run a second Legendary Season Award will have to be handed out.

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